Emily Johnson is a director/choreographer/curator, originally from Alaska and currently based in Minneapolis. Since 1998, she has created work that considers the experience of sensing and seeing performance. Her dances often function as installations, engaging audiences within and through a space and environment—sights, sounds, smells—interacting with a place's architecture, history and role in community. She works to blur distinctions between performance and daily life and to create work that reveals and respects multiple perspectives. Allowing for the possibility of multiple meanings, her work stimulates reflection and emotional empathy between performer and audience, as well as between audience members. Johnson is a 2011 Native Arts and Cultures Fellow, a 2010 and 2009 MAP Fund Grant recipient, a 2009 McKnight Fellow and a 2009 and 2011 MANCC Choreographer Fellow.
Johnson grew up in her native Alaska playing basketball and running long distance. At eighteen, she left rural life, moved to Minneapolis, and quite by accident, learned to become a choreographer and performer. For the past sixteen years, city living has swirled around her, dragging her, literally, away from the physical space of Alaska and the family rituals of hunting and fishing, then smoking, drying, canning and freezing food. Emotionally, she is tied to the landscape of South Central Alaska where she was born and to the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta, where her father's family is from. Johnson is of Yup'ik descent, though she does not speak the language – yet. She is pulled back conceptually when Midwesterners and others ask her if she lived in an igloo (myth), if she has an “Eskimo” name (no) and if it is okay to say the word “Eskimo” (rarely).
Johnson takes her inspiration from the annual migration of salmon, in which the fish swim upstream for thousands of miles because they must. She has watched these salmon swim up waterfalls, and she believes humans can also be called to do amazing things. She has made large cast dances for public spaces with people of varied ages, cultures and physical abilities. She has collaborated with musicians, visual and video artists, sculptors, writers and geothermal scientists to make work born from the joining of creative forces. Recently, someone told her that she makes dance for "the dance-lovers" and she makes dance for "people-who-generally-don't-like-dance." She would like to think that is true; she would like to think that her dances are for every body and that maybe they enlighten small aspects of our existence.
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. I want to be grounded in my heritage, supported by my community, and giving back – always.