Emily Johnson

Emily Johnson is an artist who makes body-based work. A Bessie Award winning choreographer and Guggenheim Fellow in Choreography, she is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and New York City. Originally from Alaska, she is of Yup’ik descent and since 1998 has created work that considers the experience of sensing and seeing performance. Her dances function as installations, engaging audiences within and through a space and environment—interacting with a place's architecture, history, and role in community. Emily received a 2014 Doris Duke Artist Award and her work is supported by Creative Capital, Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, Map Fund, a Joyce Award, the McKnight Foundation, New England Foundation for the Arts, and The Doris Duke Residency to Build Demand for the Arts. Emily is a current Mellon Choreography Fellow at Williams College and was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota from 2013 - 2015. She received an inaugural 2014 fellowship at the Robert Rauschenberg Residency, a 2012 Headlands Center for the Arts and MacDowell residency. Emily is a Native Arts and Cultures Fellow (2011), a MANCC Choreographic Fellow (2009/2010/2012/2014/2016), a MAP Fund Grant recipient (2009/2010/2012/2013), and McKnight Fellow (2009, 2012). Emily and her collaborators received a 2012 New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award for Outstanding Performance for her work, The Thank-you Bar, at New York Live Arts. Her work, Niicugni, finished its ten city US tour in 2014 and her work, SHORE - which is equal parts feast, volunteerism, story, and performance - premiered in Minneapolis, MN in June 2014 and toured to New York City, Seattle, San Francisco, and Alaska through 2015. Her newest work, Then a Cunning Voice and a Night We Spend Gazing At Stars will premiere in Williamstown in 2017.

Partnership Project: McKnight Artist Fellow | February 21 - March 6, 2016

Then a Cunning Voice and a Night We Spend Gazing at Stars

Emily Johnson/Catalyst returned to MANCC to develop Then a Cunning Voice and a Night We Spend Gazing at Stars, a multi-year project focused in equal measure on making quilts, performance, storytelling, song, and a night of stargazing. The work relies upon people gathering to voice intentions, witness, work, experience time, rest, and imagine.

While at MANCC, Johnson and collaborators explored three layers of community engagement— visioning sessions, quilting, and performance. The visioning sessions, which were originally created in partnership with the Minneapolis-based Native American Community Development Institute, drew participants from FSU’s American Indian Student Association, Schools of Theatre and Dance, DREAM and the FAMU Dream Defenders Student Organization. Attendees were asked to consider, “What do you want for your well-being? For your family and friends? Your greater community? These intention statements were incorporated into quilt squares at a community sewing bee. Eventually, what was made in Tallahassee  will be brought together with those of other communities, to become one 4,000 square foot area, designed by textile artist Maggie Thompson (Ojibwe) and be the site for an all night stargazing. Stargazing was simulated at an informal showing as Johnson and her collaborators performed excerpts of the work for and with the audience during a School of Dance Forum.

In addition to the showing for the School of Dance, Johnson opened her creative practice to four School of Dance students (Jocelyn Perez, Heather Boni, Taylor Ennen and Sydney Roberts) who were invited to serve as scribes during the residency. The students were given access to the rehearsal process to document the project as it developed. Johnson asked the group to translate their interpretations creatively by generating a material artifact of their choice in response. Along with working with the scribes, Johnson also connected with students during a session with Dr.Hannah Schwadron’s Contemporary Perspectives on Dance class.

This residency was supported, in part, by a partnership with McKnight Choreographer Fellowships, funded by The McKnight Foundation and administered by The Cowles Center For Dance & The Performing Arts.

  • Emily Johnson, Aretha Aoki and Krista Langberg in rehearsal for <i> Then a Cunning Voice...</i>
  • Aretha Aoki and Krista Langberg in rehearsal with Emily Johnson for <i> Then a Cunning Voice...</i>
  • Emily Johnson, collaborators and scribe, FSU School of Dance student Jocelyn Perez, in rehearsal.
  • Emily Johnson, Krista Langberg and scribe, FSU School of Dance student Taylor Ennen, in rehearsal.</i>
  • Emily Johnson, Aretha Aoki and Krista Langberg in rehearsal for <i> Then a Cunning Voice...</i>
  • Emily Johnson, Aretha Aoki and Krista Langberg in rehearsal for <i> Then a Cunning Voice...</i>
  • Emily Johnson and Krista Langberg during the informal showing of <i> Then a Cunning Voice...</i>
  • Emily Johnson, Aretha Aoki and Julia Bither during the informal showing of <i> Then a Cunning Voice...</i>
  • Krista Langberg telling students a story during the informal showing of <i> Then a Cunning Voice...</i>
  • Krista Langberg during the informal showing of <i> Then a Cunning Voice...</i>
  • Emily Johnson and Krista Langberg during the informal showing of <i> Then a Cunning Voice...</i>
  • FSU School of Dance Students, Ross Daniel and Jasmine Booker, participating in the Community Visioning Session
  • FSU students participating in the Community Visioning Session
  • Emily Johnson, Aretha Aoki and Ain Gordon in rehearsal for <i> Then a Cunning Voice...</i>
  • Julia Bither, Aretha Aoki and scribes, Heather Boni and Taylor Ennen in rehearsal
  • Emily Johnson meeting with Dr. Hannah Schwadron's Contemporary Perspectives in Dance class
  • Emily Johnson and Aretha Aoki in rehearsal for <i> Then a Cunning Voice...</i>
  • Julia Bither and Maggie Thompson stitching quilts for <i> Then a Cunning Voice...</i>
  • Emily Johnson and Maggie Thompson with community members at the Sewing Bee
  • Community members at the Sewing Bee
  • Sewing Bee at the Council on Culture & Arts
  • Sewing Bee at the Council on Culture & Arts

Collaborators in Residence: Aretha Aoki and Krista Langberg [Performers}, Maggie Thompson [Textile Designer], Ain Gordon [Director], Julia Bither [Company Administrator]

Returning Choreographic Fellow | March 10 - 21, 2014

SHORE

Emily Johnson returned to MANCC to develop her latest work, SHORE, the third in the trilogy of works developed at MANCC that include The Thank-you Bar and NiicugniSHORE is a multi-day performance/installation of four equal parts: dance, storytelling, volunteerism, and feasting.  At MANCC, Johnson utilized the period of spring break as an intensive with FSU students and Tallahassee community members.  She and her collaborators focused on developing the transition of the work from a large group of performers singing and dancing outdoors on FSU’s Landis Green to a small group of performers on stage.  Choir members from the Tallahassee Civic Chorale joined dance and theater students to work with Johnson, culminating in a work-in-progress showing for the School of Dance.

Along with developing the performative elements of the piece, Johnson and collaborators worked with FSU’s Campus Sustainability to organize a Landis Green clean-up the evening before the showing as a way to further connect with the environment and encourage volunteerism.  Additionally, Johnson collaborator James Everest met with Mr. David MacManus, FSU’s Assistant Director of Grounds and Landscape Operations to learn more about the history of the trees on Landis Green to augment the storytelling elements of SHORE.

Near the end of the residency, Johnson met with Dr. Kris Harper from FSU’s History Department.  Dr. Harper specializes in the history of science and was able to offer Johnson insight into the relationship Americans have had toward waterways and water usage and how this influences contemporary attitudes towards water.

SHORE will premiere at Northrop Presents Grand Reopening June 20-21, 2014.

This residency is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

  • Emily Johnson, Krista Langberg and Aretha Aoki rehearse <i>SHORE</i>
  • Johnson, Langberg and Aoki rehearse <i>SHORE</i>
  • Aretha Aoki rehearses <i>SHORE</i>
  • Johnson and Langberg rehearse <i>SHORE</i>
  • Johnson and Langberg rehearse <i>SHORE</i>
  • Johnson, Langberg and Aoki rehearse <i>SHORE</i>
  • Aoki rehearses <i>SHORE</i>
  • Johnson and Aretha Aoki rehearse <i>SHORE</i>
  • Johnson, Langberg and Aoki rehearse <i>SHORE</i>
  • Johnson with collaborators Everest and Eckwall rehearse <i>SHORE</i> on Landis Green
  • FSU students rehearse <i>SHORE</i> on Landis Green
  • FSU students rehearse <i>SHORE</i> on Landis Green
  • FSU students rehearse <i>SHORE</i> on Landis Green
  • FSU students rehearse <i>SHORE</i> on Landis Green
  • Johnson and Everest prepare participants for Landis Green clean-up
  • Ain Gordon picks up trash during the Landis Green clean-up
  • Johnson collaborators pick up trash during the Landis Green clean-up
  • Johnson meets with FSU History professor, Dr. Kristine Harper to discuss water issues
  • Johnson and collaborators rehearse <i>SHORE</i> with FSU students
  • FSU students rehearse <i>SHORE</i>
  • Everest works with FSU graduate student Samantha Pazos on <i>SHORE</i>
  • Everest leads FSU students during rehearsal for <i>SHORE</i>
  • Composer Nona Marie Invie rehearses vocals for <i>SHORE</i>
  • FSU students Samantha Pazos, Jee Ahn, Kristin Bernier rehearse <i>SHORE</i>
  • <i>SHORE</i> rehearsal
  • <i>SHORE</i> rehearsal
  • <i>SHORE</i> rehearsal
  • <i>SHORE</i> rehearsal
  • Johnson and Langberg rehearse <i>SHORE</i>
  • Ain Gordon rehearses <i>SHORE</i>
  • Emily Johnson rehearses <i>SHORE</i>
  • Emily Johnson
  • <i>SHORE</i> rehearsal
  • Nona Marie Invie rehearses <i>SHORE</i>
  • Nona Marie Invie
  • Emily Johnson rehearses <i>SHORE</i>
  • James Everest rehearses <i>SHORE</i>
  • Emily Johnson with collaborators
  • FSU students and Tallahassee Civic Chorale perform <i>SHORE</i>’s work-in-progress
  • <i>SHORE</i> work-in-progress showing
  • <i>SHORE</i> work-in-progress showing
  • <i>SHORE</i> work-in-progress showing
  • <i>SHORE</i> work-in-progress showing
  • <i>SHORE</i> work-in-progress showing
  • <i>SHORE</i> work-in-progress showing
  • <i>SHORE</i> work-in-progress showing
  • <i>SHORE</i> work-in-progress showing
  • <i>SHORE</i> work-in-progress showing
Collaborators in residence: Ain Gordon [director], James Everest, Nona Marie Invie [composers/performers], Aretha Aoki, Krista Langberg [performers], Heidi Eckwall [lighting design], Fletcher Barnhill [musician], Meredith L. Boggia [manager/creative producer], Julia Bither [company administrator] Slideshow photos by Chris Cameron

Returning Choreographic Fellow | September 9 - 23, 2012

Niicugni (Listen) Fall 2012

Choreographic Fellow Emily Johnson returned to FSU for the final production residency and world premiere of Niicugni (Listen).  Niicugni (Listen) was presented on September 21, 2012 as part of FSU’s Seven Days of Opening Nights Festival. The piece marks the first time a MANCC artist has premiered their work in Tallahassee. Niicugni (Listen) is the second in a trilogy of works defining story and place as they relate to Johnson’s Yup'ik heritage and personal confluences of cultural traditions and contemporary performance work. The first part of the trilogy, The Thank-you Bar, also developed at MANCC, was awarded the 2012 Bessie for Outstanding Performance. 

Using a Yup’ik word, Johnson titled the piece, Niicugni (Listen), which is a directive to pay attention.  The work compels attentiveness through its layering of multiple dances, live music, stories, and histories.  Housed within a light/sound installation of handmade, functional fish-skin lanterns, created specifically for the work by community volunteers across the country, Niicugni (Listen) questions the ways we do and do not listen to our bodies, histories, impulses, and environments.  Equating the molecules of land with the cells that comprise our bodies, Niicugni (Listen) is also about how land or place, like our bodies, is a repository of everything past, present, and future. 

Based on research from previous residencies, Johnson incorporated 40 members of the local Tallahassee community, creating a parallel dance whose cyclical entrances and exits in the work alter the landscape of the stage.  Catalyst will tour Niicugni (Listen) to eight cities throughout 2012–13. The work will receive its New York premiere in January 2013, as part of Performance Space 122’s 8th Annual COIL Festival.

This residency was made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The presentation of Niicugni at FSU was made possible by the MetLife Community Connections Fund of the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project. Major support for NDP is also provided by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with additional support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

  • Johnson and Aoki rehearse <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i>.
  • Aretha Aoki and Emily Johnson
  • James Everest rehearses walking patterns.
  • Fish skin lanterns waiting to be hung in the theatre.
  • Bethany Lacktorin finalizes <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> sound elements.
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> costumes.
  • Wirsing and Eckwall raise and lower fish skin lanterns back stage at <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> rehearsal.
  • Eckwall works to hang the 38 fish skin lanterns in the Nancy Smith Fichter Dance Theatre.
  • Fish skin lanterns were made by community members across the country for <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i>.
  • James Everest
  • James Everest and Aretha Aoki
  • Aoki and Johnson rehearse their duet.
  • James Everest
  • Johnson explains fish skin lantern construction to FAMU's Architectural Design students.
  • FAMU students work with Johnson to draw a mapped interpretation of the lantern grid
  • Johnson discusses <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> with the Tallahassee Roller-Derby Girls.
  • FSU School of Dance students and Emily Johnson.
  • School of Dance student Samantha Pazos and colleagues work with Johnson.
  • Professional caregivers collaborate with Johnson to find a vocationally pertinent motion.
  • Yogi group seeks to find complete stillness of the body during rehearsal.
  • FSU dancers join Aretha Aoki and James Everest on stage dring dress rehearsal.
  • Johnson brings all five community groups together on stage during dress rehearsal.
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> Premiere

Collaborators in Residence: Aretha Aoki [performer], Heidi Eckwall [lighting designer], James Everest [composer and multi-instrumentalist], Bethany Lacktorin [violinist/electronic musician], Max Wirsing [company administrator and dramaturgical feedback] Slideshow photos by Al Hall and Chris Cameron

Returning Choreographic Fellow | January 16 - February 6, 2012

Niicugni (Listen) Spring 2012

Johnson was in residence at MANCC in 2012 to further the development of the performance/installation, Niicugni (Listen).  Movement, story and sound are housed within an audiovisual installation of hand-made fish skin lanterns created specifically for the work by community volunteers across the country.  Niicugni (Listen) equates the land we live on with the cells that comprise our bodies and calls upon audiences to remember that land is alive with ancestry, memory, and possibility, and that our bodies also hold these things. It takes into account the simultaneous forces that build and break down our bodies and earth, bringing life and death - the ultimate contradiction - into the conversation.

Guided in part by her initial inspiration for the work, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and resulting map of her families' land parcel, Johnson met with FSU Geography Professor Dr. Victor Mesev and Map Quilt Artist and FAMU Professor of Architecture Dr. Valerie Goodwin (www.quiltsbyvalerie.com). Johnson asked both scholars to consider how their respective fields might approach the task of creating a map of her work.  

During the residency Johnson continued to explore how to layer groups of community members into the work. She met with knitters, wind instrument players and gardeners from the local community to distill small common motions that were then incorporated into the piece. Her residency culminated in a public showing in which the community members participated by joining Emily on stage to perform their common movement. 
     
This residency was made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

  • Fish skin lanterns for Emily Johnson's <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> waiting to be unpacked and hung in the Black Box.
  • <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i> fish skin lanterns.
  • Emily Johnson and performer Aretha Aoki prep the lanterns to be hung.
  • Musician Bethany Lacktorin adds audio equipment to the lanterns.
  • Emily Johnson works with local knitters to distill a common gesture.
  • A group of Tallahassee community gardeners uncover a shared gesture together with Johnson.
  • Johnson collaborates with Tallahassee wind instrumentalists to find a shared gesture for <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i>.
  • Aretha Aoki in a rehearsal of <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i>, fish skin lanterns light the background.
  • Johnson, Eckwall, Lacktorin, Aoki and Everest rehearse <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i>.
  • Johnson, Eckwall, Lacktorin, Aoki and Everest rehearse <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i>.
  • Johnson and Aoki explore movement for their final duet.
  • Johnson whispers the fox story to Aoki during a scene of the Informal Showing of <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i>.
  • Emily Johnson and Aretha Aoki perform amidst the fish skin lanterns.
  •  Informal Showing of <i>Niicugni (Listen)</i>.
  • Emily Johnson, Aretha Aoki, and Bethany Lacktorin share movement generated to date.
  • Johnson and Aoki perform a duet during the <i>Niicugni (Listen) </i> Informal Showing.
  • Aoki, Lacktorin, Everest and Eckwall perform Johnson's monster dance during the Informal Showing.

Collaborators in Residence: Aretha Aoki [performer], Heidi Eckwall [lighting designer], James Everest [composer and multi-instrumentalist], Bethany Lacktorin [violinist/electronic musician], Max Wirsing [company administrator and dramaturgical feedback], Slideshow photos by Al Hall and Chris Cameron.

Returning Choreographic Fellow | February 20 – March 8, 2011

Niicugni (Listen) 2011

Johnson was in residence at MANCC in 2011 to begin developing a new performance/installation,  Niicugni (Listen). During the 2011 residency, Johnson worked with groups of community members, specifically, artists, hula hoopers, roller derby girls, tango dancers and knitters, to collectively find a sound and movement gesture related to their common interest. Emily worked with the groups to find the small, common gesture: the bend in the knees before a backspring or the twist of the hips required of a hula hooper before she swings the hoop into motion. She is researched how these tiny, known actions layer individually with cooperation and how the actions and interests of our neighbors might create the landscapes we live in. She explored if she can layer this small community dance upon Niicugni, interested to know if the presence of individuals and their actions is heightened by their appearance on stage or by the moments after their departure.

Johnson also shared nine performances of The Thank-You Bar at the 2011 Southeastern American College Dance Festival, which took place at FSU in the days that followed her Niicugni residency. 

This residency was made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

  • Emily Johnson's fish skin lanterns hang in the Black Box Studio.
  • Lighting Designer Heidi Eckwall hangs Johnson's fish skin lanterns in the Black Box Studio.
  • Electronic Musician and Composer Bethany Lacktorin.
  • Emily Johnson works in Black Box Studio.
  • Composer and Multi-Instrumentalist James Everest.
  • FSU Geology Professor Leroy Odom speaks with Emily Johnson about her research for <i>Niicugni</i>.
  • FSU Geology Professor Leroy Odom speaks with Emily Johnson and James Everest.
  • <i>Niicugni</i> Fish Skin Lantern
  • Johnson, Everest and Aoki work with Tallahassee community hula hoopers.
  •  Hula Hoopers Laura Guinessey, Page Armstrong, Claire Vastola, Chelsea  Finch, Bri Regis
  • Hula hoopers explore a small shared motion at the direction of Emily Johnson.
  • Johnson and Aoki with Tallahassee hula hoopers.
  • Tallahassee hula hoopers with Johnson and Aoki.
  • Johnson talks with Tallahassee painters about finding a small common motion among the group.
  • Joe McFadden, Joan Matey, Jennifer Clinard, Kim Pisano, Patrick Pisano, Kathleen Carter, James Carter, Bill Rice, Pam Talley
  • Electronic Musician and Composer Bethany Lacktorin records audio from a Tallahassee painter's process.
  • Electronic Musician and Composer Bethany Lacktorin records audio from a Tallahassee painter's process.
  • Johnson talks with Tallahassee tango dancers to distill a common motion among the group.
  • Tallahassee tango dancers
  • Tallahassee tango dancers work to find one small shared motion within their group.
  • Tallahassee tango dancers work to find one small shared motion within their group.
  • Tallahassee tango dancers work with Johnson in Black Box Studio.
  • Johnson and Everest talk with Tallahassee Roller Derby Girls.
  • Amber Schultheis, Elaina Schultheis, Hope Stewart, Amy Fox, Erin Foley, Joy Sheilds, LaDawna McDonald
  • Johnson, Everest and Aoki work with Tallahassee Roller Derby Girls.
  • Tallahassee Roller Derby Girls with Emily Johnson
  • Emily Johnson and James Everest work with Tallahassee Roller Derby Girls.
  • Tallahassee Roller Derby Girls
  • Johnson works with knitters Bethany Kocher, Ashley Ivey and Sally Crayton.
  • Johnson works with knitters to fine one small common motion.
  • Knitters Bethany Kocher, Ashley Ivey and Sally Crayton experiment with small knitting motions.
  • Aretha Aoki and Emily Johnson rehearse in the Black Box Studio.
  • Aretha Aoki and Emily Johnson rehearse <i>Niicugni</i> in the Black Box Studio.
  • Emily Johnson rehearses <i>Niicugni</i> in the Black Box Studio.
  • Aretha Aoki and Emily Johnson rehearse <i>Niicugni</i> in the Black Box Studio.
  • Aretha Aoki and Emily Johnson rehearse <i>Niicugni</i> in the Black Box Studio.
  • Aretha Aoki and Emily Johnson rehearse <i>Niicugni</i> in the Black Box Studio.
  • Emily Johnson rehearses <i>Niicugni</i> in the Black Box Studio.

Collaborators in Residence: Aretha Aoki [performer], James Everest [composer and multi-instrumentalist], Bethany Lacktorin [violinist/electronic musician], Heidi Eckwall [lighting designer]. Slideshow photos by Al Hall and Bayard Stern.

Choreographic Fellow | January 24 – February 14, 2009 and August 9-16, 2009

The Thank-you Bar

Johnson conducted research on home, origin and displacement, partially by way of roving outdoor experiments with students, and by meeting with local animal behaviorists and a storyteller from the Pine Arbor Creek Community. The Thank-you Bar is a performance/installation of dance, live music, storytelling and visual image connecting ideas of displacement, longing, and language to history, pre-conceived notions, architecture, and igloo-myth.

The Thank-You Bar premiered at Out North, in Anchorage, Alaska in 2009 and toured to TBA Festival, ODC Theater, Vermont Performance Lab, DiverseWorks, Living Arts, New York Live Arts, The Dance Center at Columbia College, Northrop Auditorium, and ACDFA through 2011.

Collaborators in Residence: James Everest and Joel Pickard [multi-instrumentalists + composers]. Slideshow photos by Kathryn Noletto Felis. 

Featured Artist

Beth Gill

Catacomb
April 6 - 9
Wexner Center
for the Arts, (OH)

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