Emily Johnson


AWARDEE:  Emily Johnson
LOCATION: Mannahatta, Lenapehoking
AWARD:  2021 SHIFT – Transformative Change and Indigenous Arts
DISCIPLINE:  Dance/Choreography
WEBSITE:  catalystdance.com
New York Live Arts – BIO

Emily Johnson is an artist who makes body-based work. She is a Bessie Award-winning choreographer, Guggenheim and United States Artists Fellow, and recipient of the Doris Duke Artist Award. Since 1998, she has created work that considers the experience of sensing and seeing performance. Her dances function as portals and care processions, they engage “audienceship” within and through space, time, and environment, interacting with a place’s architecture, peoples, history, and role in building futures. Johnson is trying to make a world where performance is part of life; where performance is an integral part of our connection to each other, our environment, our stories, our past, present, and future.

Johnson’s choreography and gatherings have been presented across the United States and Australia. Recently she choreographed the Santa Fe Opera production of Doctor Atomic, directed by Peter Sellars. Her large-scale project, “Then a Cunning Voice and A Night We Spend Gazing at Stars,” was an all-night outdoor performance gathering taking place amongst eighty-four community-hand-made quilts. It premiered in Lenapehoking (NYC) in 2017, and was presented in Zhigaagoong (Chicago) in 2019.

I love the processes involved in building ethical relationships and changing systemic harm, erasure, violence, and extraction. I love people who are in and committed to those processes and I love how collectively we will build that better future together day by day.

― Emily Johnson (Yup’ik)


Johnson’s SHIFT project, “Being Future Being” is a dance performance/process which asks audiences to consider stories with the power to sustain a world that must begin again. From desires for radically just, Indigenized futures emerges an inquiry into community processes flowing forward from performance. This process is supported by gatherings of experts: Branches of Knowledge, Scholarship, Making, Action—central partners who guide relational frameworks in this work and steward its values and impact. The organizational partner, New York Live Arts, will co-commission the work, which will also tour to Los Angeles and Portland, OR.


New York Live Arts (Live Arts) is located on the ancestral homeland of the Lenape people in New York City. Live Arts acknowledges and pays respect to the Lenape people and to all Indigenous people past, present and future, here and everywhere. Led by world-renowned artist Bill T. Jones, New York Live Arts produces and presents dance, music, and theater performances in its 20,000 square-foot home, including a 184-seat theater and two 1,200 square-foot studios. Live Arts offers an extensive range of participatory programs for adults and young people; it supports the continuing professional development of performing artists. New York Live Arts serves as home base for the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company; it is the company’s sole producer, providing support and the environment to originate innovative and challenging new work for the Company and New York’s creative community.

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