Earlier this week, performer and choreographer Emily Johnson spoke with Ivan Talijancic for The Brooklyn Rail on the creation of her work, connecting to ancestry and home, and the intentionality of community and theater. Johnson/Catalyst Dance first received a MAP Fund grant in 2004. “SHORE” (MAP 2013) part three in her Alaska-based trilogy (The Thank-you Bar, Niicugni, SHORE), opened earlier this spring at New York Live Arts with four parts: COMMUNITY ACTION, STORY, PERFORMANCE and FEAST. Read on for an excerpt on the trilogy’s concentric nature from the full interview.
Rail: Some trilogies are presented as the sum of three equal parts. I sense that with your work, there’s a progression of performative works, and SHORE represents a culmination: it presents itself as the most elaborate undertaking in the trilogy. Can you talk a little about that progression, and how it informed the overall concept?
Johnson: To me, they go like this [She makes concentric circles with her hands]. I like that visual, because it means that one piece is held by the next. SHORE relates back to Niicugni, which refers back to The Thank-you Bar, because of this circular, rippling nature. They really do hold and inform each other.
Rail: It’s like the way in which oysters grow—
Johnson: Exactly! I didn’t start out making a trilogy at all. But after The Thank-you Bar, I wasn’t done thinking about home, about how we create communities, and how we find ourselves constantly adapting to each other. Niicugni led me into looking at connections with ancestors. Who do we come from and how does that relate to acknowledging who’s here—here in this room, here on this sidewalk right now—and the many stories that reverberate from us all the time? I’ve been interested in that, how I may not get to know that lady’s story but I know she has one, and I can relate to her on a more visceral level. In Niicugni, we built a set out of fish skin. Learning that craft, learning that skill, and then sharing it and teaching it all throughout the country made me appreciate how invested all these people were in this performance work years before it was done. And their physical labor made me want to create something that requires that responsibility from a lot of people, and also offers a lot to people.
Read the full interview here.