A World Where Performance is Part of Life

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Yup’ik dancer and choreographer Emily Johnson galvanized four large urban centers in the country and her hometown of Homer, Alaska, with her multi-disciplinary project SHORE – one of NACF’s Community Inspiration Pilot projects. Story, volunteerism, performance and feasting engaged local communities who were willing to show up and be open to the possibilities.

SHORE is the third and final piece of a trilogy that began with “The Thank-You Bar” (2009), a work that yielded Emily Johnson the Bessie Award, and was followed by “Niicugni” (2012). In developing her concept for SHORE Johnson began by exploring the meaning and implications of convergence – comings and goings of people, communities, and elements, such as land and sea. SHORE premiered in June of 2014 in Minneapolis, MN. Funding from NACF enabled Johnson and her company Catalyst to take SHORE to other parts of the country. The tour began in April of 2015 in New York City, followed by Homer, Alaska, in June, San Francisco in August, and lastly Seattle in mid-October.

In each of these locations Johnson and her team created partnerships with local schools, non-profits, neighborhood associations and other organizations. Together they identified a volunteer activity or an issue that would engage the community and lend itself as a starting point for gathering and converging, and also have the potential to last beyond the week-long series of SHORE events.

Johnson partnered with local writers and schools for the story component leading to curated readings that were integrated into the actual performance. The performance itself always began with the audience outside the theatre. Local performers, who had been working with Johnson’s company during the week, would interact with the audience through movement and sound ultimately inviting them in a ritualistic walk over to the theatre to participate in the rest of the event.

“I am trying to make a world where performance is part of life,” said Johnson, ”where performance is an integral connection to each other, our environment, our stories, our past, presents, and futures.” Johnson is a magnetic performer and yet she graciously shared the stage with her company (Catalyst) and audience participants alike. In SHORE the boundaries between the theatre and outside world and the artists and the audience are blurred – a defiant act to the widespread sense of separation and isolation that besets individuals in the modern world.

It is no coincidence that in each of its iterations SHORE culminated with a feast, the ultimate expression of gathering and one that comes naturally to all cultures and communities. SHORE’s feast participants were asked to bring dishes to share and encouraged to talk about the food they had prepared and why they had chosen it.

Through the weeklong series of SHORE activities community members worked together, told stories to each other, danced, sang and ate together. They intentionally converged and at those moments of intersection they were a community, a feeling that has the power to transform. In the words of a SHORE participant: “It changed the way I see community and completely opened my eyes to dance and performance. I had no idea that I could reach so deep.”

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