productions | catalyst, dances by emily johnson


SHORE • world premiere June 2014back to top

SHORE SHORE is the third in a trilogy of works that began with The Thank-you Bar and continued with Niicugni. SHORE expands beyond the theater into the world. SHORE is a multi-day performance installation of dance, story, volunteerism, and feasting. It is a celebration of the places where we meet and merge - land and water, performer and audience, art and community, past, present, and future.

Over the course of a week, SHORE includes four parts: COMMUNITY ACTIONS (volunteerism) in partnership with community organizations, STORY - a curated reading by local authors, PERFORMANCE that begins outdoors and moves into a theater, and a festive, culminating potluck FEAST to which participants bring the stories and recipes of the dishes they bring to share.

SHORE performances feature live music with a choir and a large cast of 20 local dancers.

SHORE premieres at Northrop's grand re-opening celebrations in June 2014, in conjunction with the Dance USA conference, with events throughout the week of June 14-22. .

Concept, choreography, writing by Emily Johnson 
Directed by Ain Gordon
Music direction and lead collaboration by James Everest 
Soundscore composed by James Everest and Nona Marie Invie with Fletcher Barnhill
Performed by Aretha Aoki, Emily Johnson, Krista Langberg, James Everest, Fletcher Barnhill, Nona Marie Invie, Julia Bither, The Anonymous Choir, and a large cast of 20 local dancers
Lighting design by Heidi Eckwall 
Costumes by Angie Vo 
Scenic Desgin by Emily Johnson, Ain Gordon, James Everest, Heidi Eckwall
Research and Special Projects: Julia Bither 
Creative Producer/ Manager: Meredith Boggia 
Press Representative: Janet Stapleton

see more "in-progress" photos from SHORE Residencies on our Flickr Page.

SHORE: STORY (Minneapolis) from Emily Johnson on Vimeo.

SHORE In-Progress Short Documentary from Emily Johnson on Vimeo.

Emily Johnson "SHORE" Research in 2014 from MANCC on Vimeo.


SHORE is A Project of Creative Capital, made with support from The McKnight Foundation, a Joyce Award, Carolyn Foundation, and MAP Fund, a program of Creative Capital supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andew W. Mellon Foundation. SHORE has been supported by residencies at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography and the Robert Rauchenberg Residency. Research for SHORE is supported by a grant from the Doris Duke Foundation to Build Demand for the Arts.

SHORE is supported by a National Dance Project Touring Award from the New England Foundation for the Arts. Additional US Tour dates include New York (NewYork LIve Arts), Seattle (On The Boards), San Francisco (ODC), and Alaska (Bunnel Street Arts Center) thru 2016.

SHORE in Minneapolis is made possible in partnership with Native American Community Development Institute, Minneapolis Parks, River Life, Park Siding Park, Friends of Loring Park, Grand Marais Park Board, Grand Marais Garden Club, Grand Marais Art Colony, Young Dance, The Loft Literary Center, Allies Media, Foxtail Farm, Kim Bartmann and The Red Stag Supper Club, The CornerStone Group, Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota, University Honors Program at the University of Minnesota, and Northrop Presents.

niicugni (listen) • 2012back to top

"I want to be on the land my ancestors dug into, pulled from, rose up from - and fell into. I want to be on this land, listening, and I also want to let the land be."


Niicugni ― the word ― is a directive to pay attention, to listen. Niicugni the dance quietly compels such attentiveness through its layering of multiple dances, live music, stories, and histories. Housed within a light/sound installation of hand-made, functional fish-skin lanterns, Niicugni asks – can we pay attention to 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 is also about how land, or place, like our bodies, is a repository of past, present, and future. It holds, at once, myth and truth, magic and evil, hope and death, laughter and monsters, as well as ancestral histories and cultural identities. In the moment of each performance, Niicugni wonders if we can recognize the importance of everyone in the room? Can we see ourselves as part of the whole? Can we absorb that everyone we see is here now and will be gone?

Spurred by these questions, Niicugni provides two distinct dances layered into each other: one performed by the company, the other by local community participants reflecting the audience back to itself at regular intervals throughout the performance. Farmers, Librarians, Dance students, Beekeepers, Archetects, Skateboarders, Mothers with Young Children, Weavers,a Rollerderby team - a different set of participants from each performance community. Thanks to all who have joined us! For More Information on the Local Groups in Niicugni see this video from our MANCC residency.

Thank you to the volunteers in Vermont, Alaska, California, Minnesota, and Arizona who made fish skin lanterns. Quyana to Audrey Armstrong who taught me how to sew with fish-skin.

Niicugni created by Emily Johnson and James Everest in collaboration with
Aretha Aoki, Heidi Eckwall, Max Wirsing, Bethany Lacktorin
Concept, choreography, writing, and direction by Emily Johnson
Performed by Emily Johnson, Aretha Aoki, James Everest, Bethany Lacktorin, and Heidi Eckwall,
with understudies Rachel Golub and Lynn Bechtold (violinists)
Music & Sound Direction by James Everest
Music composition and sound design by James Everest and Bethany Lacktorin; Slow Walk/Sound Boxes composed and arranged by James Everest with Joel Pickard
Lighting design by Heidi Eckwall
Costumes by Angie Vo
Lantern Maps by Max Wirsing
Company administration, dramaturgical advice, and prop construction: Max Wirsing
Additional set and prop construction: Jonathan Whitney (Whale Mouth & Soundboxes)
Press Representative: Janet Stapleton
Intern: Julia Bither
Fish-skin lanterns created by volunteers in Minneapolis, Vermont, Alaska, and California
Sewing Fish Lamps

Making a Fish Skin Lantern (the first one!)

Vermont Performance Lab Artist, January 2011 Fish Skin Sewing Residency

Highlights from our Residency at Vermont Performance Lab

Niicugni (Listen), Faces

Salmon Brings Us Together
Writing about making fish-skin lanterns at Vermont Performance Lab

boatsThis has been happening my whole life. Salmon brings me to harvest with my family, brings me across Kachemak Bay in Alaska to learn fish-skin sewing from Audrey Armstrong, brings me to awe as I watch them swim upstream, brings people to my table again and again, and brings me here, to Vermont Performance Lab. Of course, in this case, we had to arrange for the wild salmon to be here.

There used to be a healthy Atlantic Salmon population in the Connecticut River, all through Vermont. Wild, of course (before the designation "wild" was needed), but in 1798, a dam built on the lower end of the Connecticut River blocked the migration path and decimated the salmon. Today, in conversation with a biologist at Vermont Fish and Wildlife, I learned that there is still a small - very small - population of wild Atlantic salmon here. They are borne from wild, natural reproduction. In fact, some swam up the river, right past where I am now, in Brattleboro, this year. The population has to be supported now by the Connecticut River Program, a hatchery program, but out of 6 million fry stocked in the river, less than 100 per year have been coming back (51 last year)! It's pollution, dams, and something in the ocean that is causing the massive decrease in Atlantic salmon survival. Obviously, Atlantic salmon are protected in the Connecticut River and should have been protected long before we got to this point. For our fish-skin lantern making project this week we could have gone fishing for landlocked salmon in Lake Champlain and Lake Memphremagog, but then we would have had to rely on our fishing prowess. And, we would have had to get a lot more fish since landlocked salmon are smaller. So, we ordered our big, wild salmon from a fishmonger.

The salmon have met me here and we are about to begin. Judy Dow is here too, a master basket-maker. We met for the first time in person in the hotel lobby and for me, it was like meeting an old friend. Immediate comfort, immediate conversation about things important to our lives. She is someone who like me, makes things. And I think we are both dedicated to actively remembering and knowing where the things we make come from. I think we both actively pursue the "why" in our making. Though our answers may be different, it is the question that is important.

mountainsWhy am I making a dance that will be housed within an installation of hand made, functional fish-skin lanterns? Because as I walked along Bishop Beach in Homer, Alaska, the image of these lanterns flooded my mind. I had seen the exhibit Skin Sisters at Bunnell Street Gallery a year before. It was an exhibit of art work - sculpture, baskets, jewelry - all made of fish skin. The show was dedicated to the artists' teacher, Fran Reed. It was amazing visual work. I wanted to learn. I met Audrey Armstrong at that opening and her words in relation to fish-skin sewing, memory, knowledge, and love stay with me. Being back in Homer absolutely influenced the appearance of this strong image of fish-skin lanterns. I imagined a stage full of them. And it made me start to learn how to make this thing I imagined.

--Interlude --  at this moment I am receiving text after text from my collaborators - Aretha Aoki, Bethany Lacktorin, James Everest, Eric Beach -- they know Brattleboro, where I am at the moment, and know the delicious menu of food and beer I am privy to as I write this. I am told by them to say hi to Sara and Dave (aka Vermont Performance Lab), to have fun as I make things, and to win big at bingo...

The salmon entered my mind as I walked the beach in Homer, but of course, they have been with me all along. From age 0 to high school the salmon brought my entire extended family together, yearly. Cousins, second cousins, third cousins (all cousins), aunts, uncles, and grandma were joined by my parents, brothers, and me at the beach for a glorious week of really hard work. I remember the waves making their extremely regular and continuously mesmerizing sound as we went to sleep in the tent each night. I remember rolling down dirt cliffs again and again with my brothers and cousins and running through the woods, pretending I was a deer. I remember beach-combing in the off hours with mom and grandma, food cooked over the fire, and the constant hum of my adults in motion, conversation, and work. The work! Yes, I remember the work.

First of all, as a child, you learn to bonk. Bonk the heads of the salmon we catch. I know, it sounds horrible. And I admit, as an adult, it is more difficult. But this is our food - for the entire year, for the entire extended family. We need this fish and we are thankful for them. We celebrate them and we want them to die quickly. These days, when I see people land fish and let them flop in the sand, I am angry and disappointed with how removed some humans are with other creatures of this world.

As children, bonking meant that we were part of it - this important and celebratory time for our family. We chose our rocks well and we were always accompanied by a stronger adult who was ready to step in if needed. We sat on the beach and watched the salmon swim into the nets. We acknowledged each and every one. We watched our fathers and uncles and older cousins go out in the boat to haul in the fish from the net so it didn't get too heavy. When the tide went out, we all helped disentangle the fish.

Totes of salmon were brought to grandma's house where in shifts, the rest of the work began. Scaling (something else us kids could do), cleaning, filleting, stripping, (work we graduated to due to the knives, the fast pace, and the precision needed) and tying. Tying. At this point, it is late in the night. No knives are necessary once we are ready to tie, just mounds and mounds of strips of salmon and circles of string. The only precision required is that the string be tied one inch (or so) below the end and that strips of equal size be strung together. Precision that us older kids could handle as the adults took a much needed break.Perhaps I am exaggerating, or my memory fails me, but my cousin and I (yes, 2 of us) would be on that fish cleaning hill tying strips till the wee hours of the morning. Complaining (of course) that we were the only ones working. I guess it didn't register to us that there was still the brining, the drying, the hanging of rows and rows of strips in the multi-story smokehouse. Not to mention the stoking of the fire - not too hot, not too burned out - for the hours, hours, and days ahead. Still, we felt justified. And perhaps that is key; every moment with these fish is important. Our moments growing up, learning the skills necessary, building relationships with each other and with the fish, prepares us for a life of working with them and each other. My cousin and I got to bond over our chore and when my mom or one of the other adults came out to join us, we felt incredibly part of something.

We learn how to respect the rivers and ocean because that is where the fish are. We learn how to treat them once they are caught, how to protect them from sand and sun, how to prepare them and take care of them all along the way. I haven't even gotten to the assembly line that happens in the smokehouse once a certain amount of fish is partially smoked and ready for canning and kippuring... but the rack of venison with blackberry demi glace, root vegetable, and chevre & thyme crust on my table at the Tap Room in Brattleboro is almost consumed and I am compelled to tell one more story about the table.

A few years ago, my collaborator and friend Karen Beaver and I had dinner together at my house. Karen is also from Alaska but hadn't been back in years so I wanted to give her a little taste of home. We had salmon for dinner and for dessert, my grandma's akutaq. We shared stories of home (Alaska) and home (Minnesota and South Dakota) and our lives and our work. We remembered things we thought we had forgotten.  And we kept commenting on how good the salmon (and salmon berries) shared between us was. I am so grateful we had that food to share. We have to fiercely protect and love our salmon. Salmon brings us together.

Love Wild Salmon like Emily does? Help stop Pebble Mine. It is the wrong mine in the wrong place. It would devastate irrevocably one of the largest salmon hatcheries left in the world.

the thank-you bar • 2010back to top

Thank You Bar

**In October 2012, THE THANK-YOU BAR received a "Bessie" (New York Dance and Performance) Award for Outstanding Production (at New York Live Arts in Nov 2011). We are so humbled and grateful - Thank you to everyone who supported and attended this work!

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.

Created and performed by choreographer Emily Johnson with composers/musicians James Everest and Joel Pickard. Featuring beadwork by celebrated artist Karen Beaver, costumes by Angie Vo and Kari Multz , lighting design by Heidi Eckwall and paper sculptures by Krista Kelley Walsh. Includes companion concerts by experimental music duo BLACKFISH (James Everest + Joel Pickard).

Download The Thank-you Bar One Sheet (pdf).
Watch The Thank-you Bar slide show.
Join or follow the post-performance conversation on the Northrop Blog.

Research highlights from our residency at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography where we developed The Thank-you Bar.

this week in new york ( • november 9, 2011back to top

"I want to make work that looks at identity and cultural responsibility — that is beautiful and powerful — full of myth and truth at the same time," choreographer Emily Johnson explains in her mission statement. "I want to be grounded in my heritage, supported by my community, and giving back — always." Born in Alaska of Yup'ik descent and based in Minneapolis, Johnson has been creating site-specific dance installations in collaboration with visual artists and musicians since 1998, exploring ideas of home, identity, and the natural world through different modes of storytelling. Her latest multimedia performance piece is The Thank-you Bar, running at New York Live Arts from November 9 to 12. A collaboration with musicians James Everest and Joel Pickard of BLACKFISH, who will play a special set on the final night, the performance installation also includes beadwork by Karen Beaver and paper sculptures by Krista Kelley Walsh. The extremely eloquent and thoughtful Johnson carefully considered our questions for our latest twi-ny talk; she will also participate in a preshow chat on November 9 with NYLA artistic director Carla Peterson as well as a discussion on November 11 with dancer-choreographer Reggie Wilson following the 9:30 show.

twi-ny: In her Context Notes about The Thank-you Bar on the New York Live Arts blog, Biba Bell is taken by your voiceover "What is becoming more clear to me is what I'm missing," asking the questions "How many moments are passed, paused or pregnant with the sense of what is missed — something, someone, someplace? What do they sound like, smell like, and how do they feel?" What are some of the things you are missing, and how do they drive your artistic creation?

Emily Johnson: I said that — about the missing — because I am feeling years accumulate. What is absent is becoming an acute pain and it makes me feel old, most simply because of what has already gone by. I have missed my niece and nephew growing up because I was in Minneapolis, making dance, while they were in Alaska. I miss many, many mornings with my grandma — casual mornings of coffee, where we sit around, she doing crosswords until a story comes out. If I'm not around, I simply miss the story and I miss the time. And this creates the yearning — or heightens it, at the very least. I long for these stories. I long for the time with my elders, the time with my niece and nephew and rest of my family. And it points to what might not be: How much longer can I wait to learn the Yup'ik language, helped along by my grandma — the only one in my family who speaks it? How much longer can my body make do without feeling the ground of Alaska beneath my feet on a regular, day in and day out basis? What disservice do I do my life when I let these things pass me by?

Eventually, time runs out. Every summer I go home for the salmon run and I am trying to imprint the process of putting the salmon up (cleaning, smoking, kippuring, freezing . . .) into my brain so that when it comes my time to take charge of making it happen I will be able to do so. These are some of the things I am missing, and the absence and the longing are so real that it creates a new version of life. Biba's questions about sounds, smell, feel — this is exactly what drives me. As I created The Thank-you Bar, a work very much about missing home/land, I thought about how our bodies miss, how our minds remember — not a scientific how, but a how related to our own perceptions of our experiences. When a thread of a Crystal Gayle song comes on, I am brought back to the jukebox at my grandma's bar; when I think about the mountains near my Alaskan home, my chest aches and for some reason it also feels like I am diving into a very cold lake, exhilarating my being. And the thoughts about where and when also make me think of the future.

When I make dances, I try to imagine the future. I get curious about what images, reactions, or stories the audience might remember four days after seeing a performance. This leads me to structure dances with a focused attention on the smallest of details: what the audience might walk on as they enter the space, what they might smell during a particular story. . . . It makes me consider what I can leave out of the equation so as to let conjecture and interpretation have a role in the room.

twi-ny: The Thank-you Bar and its companion exhibit, "This Is Displacement," explore the idea of home. You were born in Alaska, you're based in Minneapolis, and you're now presenting the New York premiere of a work that has previously been performed in Oklahoma, Houston, and other locations. Where is home for you?

Emily Johnson: The most specific, locating answer is that I have two homes: one in Minneapolis, the other in Alaska. I love both places, and the home in Minneapolis is actually more concrete: it has my stuff in it. The home in Alaska feels expansive and like it goes on for thousands of years, probably because it doesn't actually have any walls. I don't have a living space in Alaska, but it's where I come from and where I continually return to.

To be honest, I try to build another home for myself and audiences in The Thank-you Bar. Does this mean I am searching? Does this mean I believe we can adapt to any longing, and dislocation? I build the home by trying to bring attention to the building we are in and the people who are gathered in the room. I try to imagine the walls gone; I try to imagine what was here before the current incarnation. I want the feeling of "home" to lead to a kind of intimacy so that people feel comfortable, responsible even, for it. I think we tend to look at things as static when, in reality, our bodies and places house past, present, and future, at once. It's anything but static and it's kind of exciting to tap into.

twi-ny: You collaborated with James Everest and Joel Pickard of BLACKFISH on The Thank-you Bar, and the duo will be playing a special concert on November 12. What is it about their music that draws you to them and made you want to work with them?

Emily Johnson: BLACKFISH music is dramatically mind altering for me. When James [Everest], Joel [Pickard], and I started work, part of our process was to improvise together in a room, daily. We've continued that process, as much as we can when we tour, and out of it James and Joel created their project, BLACKFISH. As BLACKFISH, they perform improvised concerts in conjunction with our tours. I love their concerts — and I love that they've developed this entire project out of The Thank-you Bar. On the twelfth, they're releasing a gorgeous limited edition, letter-pressed, eight-CD collection of some of the concerts they've recorded over the past two years. John Scott heard their concert in Vermont this summer and has since worked with them for music for his new work. He very endearingly asked my permission first.

In The Thank-you Bar, they don't play as BLACKFISH; they play as James and Joel. What I most appreciate about them is their specificity and dedication to improvisation. The music they composed for The Thank-you Bar is set; it came from improvisations, from bouts of memory and discussions of the jukebox I mentioned (that at my grandma's was filled with classic country). The sound of dislocation and rerouting to find home is what they built for The Thank-you Bar. It makes me want to work with them again and again.

One day, early in the process, I was rehearsing in a separate studio. I came down and they told me to sit on the floor. They proceeded to play music that layered inch by inch and sound by sound, as they appeared and disappeared, until a reverberating chorus echoed off the walls. I remember slapping the floor and exclaiming/laughing at the genius of it. Them: missing. Music: building. We've kept it. They basically choreographed the beginning of the dance.

Context Notes: Biba Bell for Emily Johnson
new york live arts • november 1, 2011

Halfway through the video by Emily Johnson that documents her process and concerns while making the multi-media performance piece The Thank-you Bar, the pace of its narration rapidly shifts. It transitions from a discussion of displacement to her interests in storytelling, specifically oral traditions as they enable a sense of belonging. This shift is abruptly demonstrated through an edit in the video, a sharp pause between images. After a moment her contemplative voice enters and says, "What is becoming more clear to me is what I'm missing."

Something about this utterance struck me, be it the rhythm of its delivery, the disembodied quality of the voiceover, or the quiet observing of an empty space within one's creative process. How many moments are passed, paused or pregnant with the sense of what is missed—something, someone, someplace? What do they sound like, smell like, and how do they feel? Then, from within this pause, there is the impulse to locate, and the creative engine begins its acceleration.

Johnson, an Alaskan native of Yup'ik descent, makes work that engages the geographic with a personal topography that weaves together cultural, affective and historical impulses. Architecture and landscape enacts sites of remembrance, where sensorial engagement can bring the traces of practices ingrained in these sites into an embodied and communal context. Performance provides a space to enact investigations in real time, bringing the audience into a fluid space of action, empathy and participation.

Johnson struggles with displacement as a primary force driving her work: Alaska to Minneapolis, rural to urban, past to present. Could displacement be thought a primary condition of our contemporary world? Be it actual or virtual, issues of home(less)ness articulate a politics of the proper as it relates to the body, place, identity, community. In this sense, the ontological question of being-there is deferred… or multiplied into a situation of here, there and every/elsewhere. Displacement entails a perceptual split—bifocal, mutlivocal—juxtaposing spaces, times, stories or perspectives by asking them to relate and mingle despite threats of impasse. It implies a site of loss, while activating movements toward remembrance, retrieval, recognition.

Johnson's process articulates a movement towards negotiating what is missing, the homesickness that afflicts us when the spaces of our past, familial, ancestral, cultural and mythical have been razed, renovated, gentrified or (re)developed. But she also proposes an intervention into these challenging spaces of alterity so that they can be transformed into sites of familiarity, intimacy and home. Johnson's process implies a loosening of these spaces. Allowing for embodied memory to emerge; it's an act of communion. Walking through the homes of past lives, past selves, like Michel de Certeau's pedestrian speech-act, stories are performed as a simple act of translation.

At one point in this same video, Johnson interviews a professor of biological science during her residency at Florida State University. Describing the process of adaptation that animals in the wild undergo with respect environmental changes, urbanization or the human population he notes that within the novelty of transitioned space these animals will continue to do what they know how to do. A hawk for instance: "Instead of nesting in cliffs or in trees, they'll make their nest in skyscrapers and in gargoyles on rooftops." Forces of adaptation set these spaces in motion. What appears counter, incompatible or even impossible collides. The hawk swoops, glides, perches and sees its landscape through. This dwelling narrates continuity by enunciating a certain past-ness so that the present can be had. Such storytelling intervenes within these breaks, it does not reconcile but creates bridges. It attends to the cut of dislocation.

terrible things • 2009back to top

Created by Lisa D'Amour, Katie Pearl and Emily Johnson

Featuring Katie Pearl, Morgan Thorson, Karen Sherman, Emily Johnson and two Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Players, Adrien Czmielewski and Rudy De La Cruz.

Terrible Things

Science Tuesday meets Oklahoma angst as we flip P.S. 122 into a low-rent IMAX and get up close and in between molecules, quarks and memories. Have you ever wondered if all those lives you’ve imagined yourself living are actually happening in a parallel world(s)? Terrible Things takes audiences on a T-R-I-P inside the many lives of Katie Pearl and her action-figure literary mom.  We want to give you an in-your-body out-of-body experience.  We want to touch your quarks…

pamela • 2008back to top

Created collaboratively by Jessica Cressey, Emily Johnson, Hannah Kramer.
Directed by Emily Johnson.


Pamela resembles a dance and conjures a woman. Cressey, Kramer, and Johnson resemble Pamela and conjure a dance. Who is Pamela and why is she performing for you? She's flaunting her attributes and hiding her flaws. What is Pamela? The mundane becomes ritual, ritual becomes spectacle. Can Pamela exist without you?

"the dark matter holding together the frippery of the visible universe..."

something more useful then / reaching for more hope than is possible • 2007back to top

something more useful than / reaching for more hope than is possible

A walk in a park, a dance on a stage, a song sung, a shirt made, a boy born, and a mouse found, dead.

Performed by Emily Johnson & Nadine Sures (Montreal).
Music and sound by James Everest.

bird eye blue print • 2007back to top

bird eye blu print

With Lisa D'Amour, Katie Pearl, and Krista Walsh

A site-specific performance imagined for a vacant office space in the World Financial Center. A mysterious woman known only as the Blue Dress Lady tours you through her habitat.

Presented in the Word of Mouth festival at the World Financial Center in New York, May 2007. Commissioned and presented by arts World Financial Center, which is sponsored by American Express, Merrill Lynch, Battery Park City Authority and Brookfield Properties with additional support from the New York Mercantile Exchange.

love letter to minn-nnea-polis • 2007back to top

love letter to minn-nnea-polis

An obvious and ironic ode to home. We sing the entire time we dance. Here's one verse:
"I've been here a lo-ng time
 and I want to go ho-me
 And here in the Mid West
 We're so close to everything
 And we're so close to nothing, nothing at all"

one for resolve/sarah • 2007back to top

one for resolve

This is a dance-story of life, love, work, commitment, natural forces, adversity, fields, and death. Sarah acts as host and dancer. When she performed this solo for her family in Nebraska she used a fischer-price car ramp that her and her cousins used to play with while at the farm. And she wore a cowboy hat. When she performed this solo at the Rogue Buddha Art Gallery in Minneapolis she wore some of her old, sequined costumes from the studio dance days. And she walked on stilts. Original music by Beseppy.

one for resolve/emily • 2006back to top

one for resolve

Exhaustion meets resolve meets exhaustion.
A move from aiming to please to stating the obvious.
A move from living to dying.
A story follows and precedes death.
This dance, in its entirety is 25 minutes long.
Music by JG Everest & Roma Di Luna.

f**k nature • 2006back to top

“...delicately cupped hands that cradled an invisible bird, scraping movements that recalled the hoof pawing of caribou, dynamic industrial dancing....” - Star Tribune

fuck nature

A stark piece calling for a sane approach to land management; it recalls nature, death and the permanence of drilling. In the world premiere Bethany Lacktorin ( was tattooed on the left arm. She also played violin with Jessica Hayssen as Melissa Kennedy, Vanessa Voskuil, Natasha Hassett, and Allison Lorenzen danced. See more photos

mass • 2006 back to top


Improvised rules. Dancers and non-dancers mix in a realm of everyday action - juxtaposed by a choreographed finish. Audience members receive a specific aural experience; they wear headphones and pass 20 portable CD players, each playing different music selections, amongst themselves at scheduled intervals. Some audience members correlate their experience of interdependence and cooperation with that of the performers. Sound design by James Everest.

wingspan 5'2"back to top

Time and repetition amid mountaintops, lakes, intersections, and a burned out forest. Requiring only a little trespassing, Wingspan 5'2'' celebrates the physicality and resolve required to remain engaged in the ever-changing landscapes of our personal histories.

WINGSPAN 5'2" / 2006
Directed and Choreographed by Emily Johnson
Cinematography by Emily Johnson, James Everest, and Randy Kramer
Edited by Randy Kramer
Performed by Natasha Hassett


Cinema Revolution Society's Minnesota Dance Film Festival (2010)
Chicago Cultural Center's Dance for the Camera Festival (2008)
Macalester College's Rolling Footage Film Festival (2007)
Earth Fusion Festival, Minneapolis (2007)
Links Hall, Chicago (2007)
Dance Theater Workshop's Captured Video-Dance Series (2007)
The Walker Art Center's Women with Vision Film Series (2006)
capture! Dance Film Series, Minneapolis (2006)

heat and life 2004back to top

heat and life

"It will challenge, if not completely transform, your understanding of dance as an art form.”- Mpls. St. Paul Magazine

"Heat and Life" depicts a frenetic world fueled by anxiety, paranoia and fear—a world Catalyst uses to explore connections between global warming, overpopulation, degradation of natural & urban environments, insatiable greed and how we contribute and respond to these human-made disasters. Negotiating rough terrain, each other and the edginess of having nothing to lose, seven dancers aim to thrive in an ever-changing landscape. Using walkie-talkies, electrical cords, 80 pounds of sod, industrial flashlights, gas masks, helmets and a bicycle to adapt, the lines are blurred: Are they emergency workers or disaster survivors? Friends or foes? In this brutal world, it’s hard to pause to take a deep, clean breath.

Multi-instrumentalist composer JG Everest performs his original score live on stage, a hybrid of electronic, acoustic and site-specific found sounds. Randy Kramer’s stark video design enhances the sense of loss and disorientation with “grass so green it makes your eyes hurt” and Heidi Eckwall’s scrappy guerilla lighting sets mobile boundaries through which the dance unfolds.

"Heat and Life" was originally commissioned by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and is performed by Catalyst dancers Sarah Baumert, Jessica Cressey, Natasha Hassett, Melissa Kennedy, Susan Scalf, Andrea Zimmerman and musician/composer James Everest. Score composed and performed by James Everest.

“...a blend of furious dance, haunting live music...” - Flavorpill

“uncompromising intensity... there is no release here - only energized, high-powered dancing - Gay City News

Heat and Life, excerpt

To read an interview with choreographer Emily Johnson and Mental Contagion go to To hear a podcast interview on Great Dance Blog go to To hear an interview with Emily on Minnesota Public Radio go to

Originally commissioned by the Walker Art Center. Funded by the Jerome Foundation, Archibald Bush Foundation, The Moore Family Fund of the Minneapolis Foundation, The Puffin Foundation, the Elmer E. and Eleanor L. Andersen Foundation and private donations.

heat and life archives

heat and life: 50-state-tour 2004back to top

“Here is politics and a language to speak it.” -

Catalyst intends to bring Heat and Life to each of the 50 United States of America. This 50-State-Tour will cover enough literal ground to define the USA as a site where art-based work can be seen and be an impetus for change.

“We're led along a hero story, then suddenly uprooted by the consequences, made to face our responsibility in creating situations we need to be rescued from.” -

Catalyst has performed "Heat and Life" in Alaska, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, Iowa, Nebraska, Florida, South Dakota, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arizona, California, and Illinois.

This 50-State-Tour of Heat and Life aims to reach audiences both within and outside of the normal theatrical setting. The interworkings of movement, sound and video are adapted to fit the particulars of each location and audience. Appropriate venues include theaters, warehouses, parks, sidewalks, and expos.

“Like giant birds, the dancers slowly bow their heads, raise and lower their arms—or are they signaling through the flames?” - Dance Magazine

Catalyst works with environmental organizations such as Minnesotans for an Energy Efficient Economy, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, The Living Green Expo, and The Will Steger Foundation to facilitate understanding, cross-pollinate audiences, and present the idea that art can be an essential part of policy and be of social/political importance. These connections are made in post show discussions, Q&A sessions, workshops for environmental organizers/volunteers on how to reach and meet people through human interaction and art in addition to science, and distribution of environmental materials at shows. Catalyst also offsets the carbon put into the atmosphere due to touring "Heat and Life" by donating to

on the spit/sluice we are outlaws 2004back to top

On the Spit Sluice We Are Outlaws

Emily Johnson’s 5th duet with Susan Scalf, On the Spit/Sluice confronts sham militarism in the face of real environmental danger. Sound design by James Everest.

give me a story, tell me you love me • 2003back to top

Give Me a Story, Tell Me You Love Me

Give Me a Story, Tell Me You Love Me demands vulnerability and resolve as susceptibility threatens security and deception replaces truth. A duet rigorously performed by Catalyst dancers Emily Johnson and Andrea Zimmerman with an original sound score composed & performed by Lateduster (JG Everest, Bryan Olson, Martin Dosh).

close to giving up • 2003back to top

“...lush and mysterious...the five dancers, dressed in white pantaloons and camisoles, are both awkward and elegant, coquettish and athletic...” - Star Tribune

Close to Giving Up

Created with support from the Jerome Foundation. Incorporating a fine tuned sense of the tragic, an unscrupulous determination, and a reverence for the rowdy. Rhoda Reighard, piano diva and fanciful French singer graces the stage with Catalyst in this company ensemble piece.

never meant to hurt • 2003back to top

“...a rigorous diet of tension and release, grasping and flinging away...The boldness of their moves enhance the work’s mystery.”- Star Tribune

Never Meant to Hurt

An irreverent look at love lost and love gained in an offbeat, overdressed, take your breath away, and “don’t ever forget me” kind of way.

fair luck • 2002back to top

“...polished, concise movements are like bones assembled to show the skeleton of an emotionally charged relationship.” - Star Tribune

Fair Luck

Created with support from the Jerome Foundation. A taut and gestural duet calling into question the luck and fate that plays a role in who raises us and how those early influences guide or misguide our lives into and through adulthood.

plain old andrea, with a gun • 2002back to top

“...a fascinating, ritualistic look at the cultural perils that arise from the refusal to communicate....And with its strong composition and inventive choreography, “Plain Old Andrea” signals a fresh, vital presence on the Twin Cities dance scene.” - Star Tribune

Plain Old Andrea, with a Gun

Commissioned in part by the Walker Art Center and Southern Theater with funds provided by the Jerome Foundation. Exploring the temperamental states of pride and hate by demonstrating the vitality inherent in their varied experiences, 5 dancers’ individual stories become intertwined with entertainment and the actual recording of events. Original music composed and performed by Lateduster.

face control • 2001back to top

Face Control

Created with support from the Minnesota State Arts Board and Red Eye Theater. Performed by Emily Johnson and Susan Scalf who preserve dignity at all costs.

if i shut my eyes, you can't see me • 2001back to top

“Rapid moves and gestures are like words composed into gleans an intriguing dance narrative about focus and control.” - Star Tribune

If I Shut My Eyes,You Can't See Me

Created with support from the Minnesota State Arts Board and Red Eye Theater. Illuminated under the glare of bare light bulbs, the audience gaze is drawn to a delicate moment: what is revealed when we think no one is looking?

power play • 2001back to top

Power Play

Set to a live recording of a high school girls basketball game, a "tongue-in-cheek" glimpse into fierce competition and the assertion of power.

i could quit if i wanted to • 2001back to top

I Could Quit If I Wanted To

Created with support from 3 Legged Race. Pushing the boundaries of physically and emotionally capacity.