Emily Johnson brings “SHORE” to Northrop

Choreographer Emily Johnson looks for connection in her newest piece, “SHORE.”

ByJoe Kellen June 18, 2014
Choreographer Emily Johnson said she has a broad definition of what dance can be.

  Performer Aretha Aoki rehearses part of “SHORE” at Jawaahir Dance Company’s studio on June 12, 2014

Performer Aretha Aoki rehearses part of “SHORE” at Jawaahir Dance Company’s studio on June 12, 2014

“I look at the world in terms of movement and spatial relationships,” she said. “Birds flying, traffic — I try to think about how my dances relate to all this stuff already happening.”

For Johnson, every part of what she does acts in concert with the rhythm of the world. “SHORE,” the third piece in a trilogy Johnson has been working on for the past seven years, uses that as its theme.

The trilogy didn’t start as such, but 2010’s “The Thank-you Bar” spawned so much material that it proved a springboard for “Niicugni (Listen)” in 2012. “SHORE” will end the series with a massive bang — it has four different parts and takes place over an entire week.

The first part of the experience took place Tuesday. Titled “STORY,” the event featured local authors sharing stories of their conceptions of home. On Friday, the “PERFORMANCE” section premieres at Northrop Auditorium. Saturday brings the “COMMUNITY ACTION” component of Johnson’s work to a head, with Sunday marking the culminating “FEAST,” a culinary celebration of all that passed.

"Each event is curated in that it is its own standalone event. Each day is different, and knowing that, we wanted to make all of them equal,” she said. “If you've come to the reading, you've come to ‘SHORE,’ much like if you come to the performance, you've come to ‘SHORE.’ That being said, if you come to multiple events, you'll start to find common things and build patterns within them."

The “PERFORMANCE” element of “SHORE” is compellingly epic in scale. It showcases the work of James Everest — Johnson’s musical collaborator of 13 years — the Anonymous Choir and more than 20 dancers.

“PERFORMANCE” starts outside Northrop on the mall, but audiences may not realize the precise beginning, as Johnson’s piece promises to start subtly, with choreography that focuses on how bodies can layer over one another in a space. There are moments of extreme stillness along with quick, jagged gestures.

Slowly, the performance will make its way inside to more conventional confines.

"I wouldn't say that the work I make ever requires a passive audience. But you can sit still and be contemplative,” Johnson said. “You're watching them move through something; you're watching them traverse something internally. I don't want to just show a physical movement; I want to show something internal.”

The original music of composer James Everest augments Johnson’s expansive installation even further. Everest’s work balances moments of dissonance and moments of melody to create a collage of sound that punctuates the choreography’s multiple rhythm changes.

“How can we join the song that is always there?” Everest said. “This is a way of activating our awareness.”

The “COMMUNITY ACTION” portion of “SHORE” reflects Johnson’s desire to show that everything is connected. Over the past month, she worked around Minnesota with her artistic collaborators to sustain community gardens and green areas in the state.

"I was having a conversation with a woman I was weeding with, and I told her that this is part of this performance project I'm developing,” Johnson said.

“I asked her, ‘What do you think about that?' Her response was so inspiring to me, because she said, 'Yes, of course. How else would I get to know you? I think it's great.' It was this idea that we were out in the world together, and she accepted it so quickly and inclusively."

This sense of inclusiveness is exactly what Johnson desires for “SHORE,” and it’s what most deeply inspired the piece’s final section. “FEAST” takes place in Osceola, Wis., and involves a meal shared by the artists and the audience.

"I'm really interested in the world effort,” she said. “Gathering with your community, making art, getting out to the farm — that all takes effort. It's a performance with which you have to engage."


What: “SHORE: PERFORMANCE”
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Northrop Auditorium, 84 Church St. SE, Minneapolis
Cost: $10–20