Blog

3.1.13

Production Residency: Emily Johnson, Catalyst/MASS MoCA

Steven Skerritt-Davis
Program Coordinator, NDP

For the last National Dance Project Year 2 PRD, Alaska-native and Minneapolis-based dance artist Emily Johnson (Yup’ik) spent ten days in November 2012 in residence with her company at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). This PRD followed the premiere of Emily’s work Niicugni and was focused on preparing the work to tour. 

Much of the company’s residency in North Adams, MA, was focused on refining the rigging for the piece’s 47 handmade fish skin lanterns. The time at MASS MoCA and the PRD funding allowed the company to bring in two expert riggers to find a more efficient (i.e. faster) model for hanging the lanterns and for flying them in both fly and non-fly spaces. This was important for the rest of the tour because at most venues load in and tech needed to be within a fairly short timeframe. Before the residency, it took the company up to three days just to hang the lanterns. By the end of the ten days, the rigging consultants had devised a system that cut down the hanging time to eight hours and streamlined the cabling to improve the overall look at of the piece, reducing visual distractions for the audience.  According to Emily, “the new system is vastly improved and looks so much better....”

Another benefit of the residency was having the opportunity to collect feedback at different intervals from the community performers and invited artists as well as from presenters who had hosted lantern making residencies and would present the piece on tour. At MASS MoCA, the company incorporated several local community groups into the work, including water polo players, young dancers, beekeepers, MASS MoCA crew, and farmers. Since this was only the second time the piece had been performed with community groups, having the time to collect responses from the local performers about their experience and refining the process for incorporating group notes from the dress rehearsal proved invaluable. In addition, Emily was able to meet and have follow up conversations with invited presenters. Emily reported that, “this type of feedback that engenders discussion about larger issues than those of the work itself is very fulfilling to me and my process… some notes were incorporated directly into our next run of Niicugni.”

Despite an injury that sent one performer to the hospital just before a dress rehearsal, the company made substantial progress during the PRD that was evident during its next run at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in January as part of the 2013 COIL festival. Like the residencies described in earlier posts, the success of this residency was aided by good communication between the artist and the residency partner before and during the residency. Emily sums it up quite nicely saying, “These past few days have really been the ultimate collaboration between artist and residency partner—a testament to the power and ability of good teamwork, communication and flexibility to overcome obstacles and achieve something great.” 

Click on the illustration to the right to view a lantern map created by Max Wirsing for the BAC engagment. These lanterns were handmade during creative residiences at sites across the country, including one at Vermont Perfomance Lab in 2011 with funding from NEFA's Native Arts Program. The map gives a sense of the intricacy of the Niicugni's rigging and details for each lantern. 

And for a preview of the piece, here's a video created by Chris Cameron during the company's residency at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreograpy (MANCC)

In the next and last of our posts in this PRD series, we will discuss how NDP staff incorporated lessons learned from the findings mentioned in the first post and from PRD artist and residency partner feedback in refining the program in Year 2 and Year 3. Stay tuned!

Be sure to catch my other posts in this NDP PRD blog series:

  1. Lessons from NDP's Production Residencies for Dance Pilot Phase (2.19.13)
  2. Production Residencies: Pilot Year Case Studies (2.22.13)
  3. Production Residency: Palissimo/Wexner Center for the Arts (2.25.13)
  4. Production Residency: Brian Brooks Moving Company/DANCEworks Santa Barbara (2.27.13)
  5. Production Residency: Emily Johnson, Catalyst/MASS MoCA (3.1.13)
  6. NDP's PRD Program Evaluation and Lessons Learned (3.4.13)