star tribune

Power Grab 
by Camille LeFevre

In her dance series “Windfarm,” Emily Johnson wrestles with  environmental threats and energy hopes for the future.

In her dance series “Windfarm,” Emily Johnson wrestles with 
environmental threats and energy hopes for the future.

This may be the first time wind farms and post-modern dance have appeared in he same story. But choreographer Emily Johnson, 29, finds her inspiration in places where humans, machines and nature intersect. Johnson also likes to self-produce her dance pieces on street corners, in sculpture parks, and in art galleries. So it’s no surprise the “Windfarm” addresses her concerns about environmental degradation.

“Right now, wind farms, for me, inspire a great deal of hope,” Johnson explained. “they’re a technology that really collaborated with nature. They’re huge and mechanical, with the wind turbines arranged in inspiring patterns. And they produce this thing we humans eat up like crazy: power.”

The first “Windfarm” segment, inspired in part by land in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that is threatened by oil drilling, was performed by members of her dance company (Catalyst, dances by Emily Johnson). While the work was often obscure, it included illuminating moments: delicately cupped hands that cradled an invisible bird, scraping movements that recalled the hoof pawing of caribou, dynamic industrial dancing performed in rubber boots.

The second installment, “Mass,” takes place Wednesday evening and includes 20-plus dancers and non-dancers (this writer included) whom Johnson invited to participate “because they’ve inspired or been part of or been related to the dance work I’ve done.” The group will perform simple walking patterns and gestures as the audience listens to music on Walkmans. (Bring headphones.)

As with wind farms, Johnson says, this segment “has something to do with creating power from huge masses of people. It’ll be kind of like at the State Fair when you’re watching crowds of people and random interactions.” The last segment, “one. for resolve,” on April 19, is Johnson’s first solo since 2001.

Eventually, these three segments will be incorporated into a larger work, said Johnson, who has earned a Bush Fellowship as well as several fellowships from the Jerome Foundation. But don’t call it activist dance.

“I call them dance experiments,” she says of the series. “And because my primary concerns outside of dance are environmental ones, I can’t help but investigate environmental problems and solutions through art.”

Johnson, a native of Alaska whose choreography can be as fierce as she is sweet, is one of the most entrepreneurial dance artists in town. She curates the Capture! dance-on film series at the Bryant Lake Bowl. Her feminist-cowgirl parable “Plain Old Andrea, with a Gun,” rigorously minimalist “Wingspan 5’2’’,” and post-post modern “Heat and Life” are available on DVD. She collaborates with musicians in her performances, particularly JG Everest (now her husband) and his ambient -electronica group, Lateduster.

The Walker Art Center, Southern Theater and Red Eye have all presented Johnson. In June, her company performs “Heat and Life” at the prestigious Dance Theater Workshop in New York City. But she’s determined to continue self-producing in nontheatrical venues.

“The way I present my dances is as much my work as the actual dance I make,” she explains, “Bringing elements of these places into the dance is an important part of the work I do. And I’m just determined to make this my livelihood, which takes both that independent spirit as well as the stubbornness I have.”