anchorage press

Out of Place 
by Christina Ashby

To build a house, you have cut down a tree, leaving any creatures that used to call that tree home shelterless. The house itself becomes home to generations who live in it, love in it and leave it to find a new place to call home. Each being moves on and adapts. But the memory of where they began sticks with them. A sense of longing overtakes them. They feel displaced.

The idea of displacement drives The Thank-You Bar, a performance art piece created by choreographer Emily Johnson with composers/musicians James Everest and Joel Pickard. The piece combines dance, live music, storytelling and visual imagery to create connections between ideas of displacement and longing.

Originally from Alaska and now based out of Minneapolis, Johnson knows firsthand the unrest of being physically in one place and emotionally in another. She believes this feeling ties everyone together.

Displacement is something that all creatures know something about, Johnson says in the development video of The Thank-You Bar that is featured on her website.

Johnson, who is of Yup’ik descent, grew up in South central Alaska. She moved to Minneapolis at the age of 18 where she became a choreographer and performer. Her company, Catalyst, has been performing since 1998, including works commissioned by the Walker Art Center, Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, and Macalester College as well as Out North Contemporary Art House here in Anchorage.

Johnson’s performances and teachings have brought her to all parts of the globe, including Montreal, St. Petersburg and Amsterdam, but she still feels emotionally drawn to her home state, even though she has adapted to 14 years of life outside Alaska.

The Thank-You Bar will bring Johnson back to Alaska where she will perform in Anchorage and in Homer. This piece commissioned by Out North and Minneapolis’ Franconia Sculpture Park is a collaborative effort between multiple artists to create a complete emotional experience.

“I know there is no one picture of displacement, no one story that matters most,” Johnson says in a press release.

“I want to offer audiences a wide spectrum of images to contemplate.”

Johnson developed The Thank-You Bar with James Everest and Joel Pickard of Blackfish at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography. Johnson performs alongside Everest and Pickard, who provide live music in The Thank-You Bar—Everest on nylon and steel string acoustic guitars, Pickard on pedal steel guitar. These instruments are played through effects and looping pedals to create sounds that are both jarring and beautiful. The piece is designed to limit audience seating to 30, allowing the audience to sit in three semi-circles on the stage. In the intimate studio setting of Out North, Johnson will give the audience a place to call home for an hour.

Acting as a companion piece, the art exhibit This is Displacement: Native Artists Consider the Relationship Between Land and Identity, will appear alongside The Thank-You Bar. The exhibit features original pieces by emerging indigenous artists that include Carolyn L. Anderson and Johnson, as well as Jim Denomie, Star Wallowing Bull, and Andrew Okpeaha Maclean.

Co-curated by Johnson and Anderson, the exhibit further stresses the idea of displacement and asks the question: What is a true home?

Anderson also understands the effects that displacement can have.

“I was born and raised in Minnesota, but my maternal heritage is Diné,” Anderson says in a press release.

“It’s as if half of my heart is here in Minnesota and the other half is in Dinetah.”