Elizabeth Johnson, dancing on her own graveDecember 14th, 2010 |
Elizabeth Johnson will dance to her own obituary this weekend (Dec. 17-19), 0n a program by Johnson’s Your Mother Dances company at UWM.
She’s a mere 42 and just fine, thank you, but when mentor and friend Sara Hook suggested the obituary angle, Johnson jumped at it. Hook originally made the piece, called Beau Geste, for Mary Cochran, a long-time member of the Paul Taylor Company. She adapted it substantially for Johnson, with some input from the not-yet-deceased. Hook made the piece more balletic, to reflect Johnson’s classical background. And Hook, a dance professor at the University of Illinois, had to write Johnson’s obit, to be heard in voice-over (along with a Mozart piano sonata) during the piece.
“She quotes some reviews,” Johnson said, “including some by Tom Strini.”
“A lot of personal truths are in this dance,” she said. “They’re tragic and morbid — and funny, in a personal, public sort of way. You learn things about yourself from this and about how people perceive you. I’ll say that Sara pegged me.”
This piece is a little different for Johnson, but not new ground. Much of the work she’s shown since establishing YMB in 2006 has been autobiographical in one way or another. Johnson, a mother of three, often laces her work with feminist satire and irony. And she often uses pop sexual imagery — women in lingerie, for example — in ambiguous ways. She is an edgy, provocative artist, but perhaps not so much as usual this Christmas.
This program includes 15 minutes from David Parker’s Nut/Cracked, a completely charming suite of dances that, among other things, finds the true meaning of disco in Tchaikovsky. Johnson staged the full Nut/Cracked here in 2008 and got a great response. It allows her to be thoroughly post-modern while indulging her life-long love of the one ballet that everyone knows.
“My parents took me when I was 5, and I was totally lovesick for The Nutcracker from then on,” she said. “I would be Clara creeping down the steps with a candle to dance around the tree.”
Sounds like great obit material.
“We make tableaux,” she said. “We have a rotating creche scene — everybody gets to be baby Jesus. It makes a statement: No one is excluded. I appreciate a culture of inclusion. That would be my Christmas wish.”
But enough eggnog. Two intense, technical dances are also on this program: Luc Vanier’s Triptych, a quintet that features a killer close-partnered duet, and Johnson’s Burn into the Wick, for six women. They dance to ’70s-vintage rock songs by Heart. Wick premiered in August at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. This will be the Milwaukee debut.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about pop dance to pop music,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about how So You Think You Can Dance and how the judges behave are acculturating us to expect adolescent angst and razzle-dazzle.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In Burn into the Wick — the title comes from a line in Heart’s Barracuda — Johnson set out to deliver the goods in spades.
“It’s about dancing to the music,” she said. “It’s about endurance, burning into the wick. I love the music and I love the influences. It’s contemporary with jazz influences, with little nods to Bob Fosse and Gus Giordano. We give lots of attention to butts. There’s a feminist nod and wink in it, and some visual jokes. But it’s just for fun, to have fun dancing.”
The Cast: Paula Biasi, Sarah Bromann, Bethany Engel, Jaimi Patterson, Steven Moses, Christal Wagner, Maryhelen Wesner, Andrew Zanoni, Megan Zintek.
Performance Info: 7:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Dec. 17, 18 & 19 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Dance Studio Theater, Mitchell Hall 254, 3203 N. Downer Ave . Tickets are $25 reserved, $20 general admission, $15 for students and seniors. Call the UWM Peck School of the Arts box office, 414-229-4308. Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets will also be available at the Studio Theater prior to performances.