Expressing the Language of Dance by Tenzin Yingsal ('16)

           What was the most joyous moment of my life? I don’t know yet! This is how part I of SHORE Catalyst dance performance ended at the basketball court of PS11 in Chelsea. The audience entered the first location where they were given name tags, which led one to wonder “So we interact with one another and get to know each other? Interesting!” Waiting for the performers to begin transforming from static to moving motion, one could constantly hear a basketball drop, but not sure if it was a swish. Then Emily Johnson, the Minneapolis choreographer/performer of SHORE, started giving a monologue and she concluded with something like: “What was the most joyous moment time of my life? I don’t know yet.”

           Following the scene in Chelsea, the audience and the performers walked to the New York Live Arts theater space, bundled in red blankets to cushion the frigid blow of the strong April winds of the city. Similar to the scene at PS 11, at the theater, the cast members were again in groups, but this time, swaying their upper bodies very slowly from left to rightto left - right . The cast was comprised of a diverse group in terms of age, gender, and ethnicity, which illustrates the beauty of how a community is formed. The stage space was relatively large and every meter was taken advantage of. Space is a boundless, open three-dimensional framework; however, when it is stepped on, the idea of filling and sensing the space arises.   

           Similar to the stage, where the body steps and emotions are displayed through dance, the body is a fundamental unit of life and includes the entire structure of a human being. For Johnson, she peeks beyond the physical structure - she questions and observes the ancestries, and the stories the body holds. Throughout the dance performance, the theme of ancestry constantly appears, such as the plants that are presented on the stage. The plant symbolizes the past, the present, and likely the future as well. In an interview conducted by Paul David Young for the New York Live Art blog, Johnson says, “We can access the future and the past in the moment. We are made of our ancestors. All of our thoughts and the possibility of our future thoughts reside inside us. Future joy connects us to the present and to past joy.” To further this point, she wears red paint around her eyes during the performance. She acknowledges that she is of Yup’ik ancestry, which impacted her curiosity and knowledge of masks. The mask comparatively connects as well as questions the physical appearance of who you really are, your identity, origin and inner self.

           In the middle of the act, some performers slightly alter the environment of the stage by playing basketball. The New York Live Arts webpage has a short article that shares Johnson’s biography. She is originally from Alaska and currently based in Minneapolis. She grew up in Alaska, playing basketball and running long distance. Johnson has incorporated her past and memories of playing basketball into this dance performance, demonstrating the performative nature of the sport through dance, by showing how one is feeling inside, at the very moment. Whether it is through voice or movement, SHORE conveys the message that dance is a form of language through which a sensation can be expressed and generated.

           For me, the story behind the dance performance was probably the most interesting. I saw the performance as bodies moving around the stage and taking control of the space and one’s emotions and reflection; however, the message that the dance and the objects presented on the stage were what drew me in to uncover more about the performance’s focus on the importance of interaction and community. In another interview conducted by Alexandra Pinel, which is published on the Culturebot website, Johnson states, “We have to pay attention to each other, we have to share resources, we have to share food, stories, we have to listen.” Johnson identifies that many people these days are so consumed in their work and busy schedules that the evolution of adapting to the community and appreciating what is around you, are becoming less and less significant. Therefore, she encourages taking out a little time to listen, to share, and to appreciate the people and the resources within and around the community.

[Photography by Erin Westover on Emily Johnson's Flickr]