The BroadStage plays host to the revolutionary expression of an indigenous choreographer from the Yup’ik Nation and an indigenous composer from the Diné (Navajo) Nation.
By John Lavitt
Santa Monica, CA (The Hollywood Times) 09/11/22 – As an indigenous artist of the Yup’ik Nation, choreographer Emily Johnson is creating art in the perfect historical moment for her work to be seen at a major venue like the BroadStage. A world premiere from September 8- 10, Being Future Being is an honest, forthright attempt to be artistic and revolutionary simultaneously. If it fails to succeed in all its goals, it remains a genuine and passionate attempt to express conflict through dance and music.
In her work, Emily Johnson wants to engage audiences in shared experiences of movement and sound. Her goal is to inspire collective action by fostering a deeper connection to the grounded stories that she tells without telling. She believes these stories reside in the land we walk on but often ignore. With a score by Diné composer Raven Chacon, the first Indigenous person to win the Pulitzer Prize for music, the music is a cry from the soul of the composer’s roots in the Navajo Nation. Together, the two artists want to delve into the power of creation and reveal the potential of human beings.
In the beginning, the show starts outside the BroadStage at the back of the building. Emily Johnson stands on the stage loading dock and uses a mini bullhorn to communicate with the standing audience. She wants to connect with us about the issues she loves. Connection is the opening that leads to communication, but for connection to happen, access is required. Being Future Being cries out for the specificity of access.
By creating connection, can you foster a revolution of mind and soul? Perhaps it is possible, but you need to make a connection first. An issue is that the show does not do enough in the beginning to foster a link with the audience. Instead, Emily Johnson and her four female dancers often seem more engaged with each other. They remain distant.
Even bringing twenty audience members on stage, virtually making them a part of the show, does not raise the level of engagement. It only leads to a noticeable level of bewilderment. The difficulty is the narrative rejects the conventions of meaning. The artists are terrified of being direct because they are terrified of being obvious. The performance sometimes feels like an existential version of STOMP that refuses to reveal the mechanics behind the crisis.
Perhaps the most compelling and meaningful moment in the indoor portion of the show happens when the audience first enters the theatre. At the onset, three dancers dressed in patchwork quilts moved around the stage where the twenty audience members stood and waited. The patchwork symbolism offers a resonant metaphor for a post-pandemic world. Very few of us feel whole today, but we are not entirely broken. Instead, we are disparate pieces stitched together, searching for an identity to satisfy all our parts. The quilted souls flitter about, searching for a meaningful moment that never quite seems to arrive.
Once the quilts are shed, clarity is sacrificed for Emily Johnson’s artistry that chooses to obfuscate as opposed to communicating with her audience. The message about standing on the land and feeling the world’s energy has been expressed hundreds of times before by other artists, writers, poets, and activists. Passion is not enough to make a performance transcendent in relation to meaning and overall impact. All impassioned expression must strive to communicate with precision. As Samuel Beckett once wrote, “In the landscape of extinction, precision is next to godliness.”