Commissioned by BroadStage, Emily Johnson /Catalyst presented the world premier of “Being Future Being,” a highly engaging and multi-dimensional performance piece that integrates movement, story, imagery, ritual, social practice art in the context of honoring an indigenous perspective to how we relate to our humanity and the environment we share. The work was created by Doris Duke and Bessie Award-winning choreographer and writer Emily Johnson, who belongs to the Yup’ik Nation, and features a commissioned score by Pulitzer Prize-winning Diné composer Raven Chacon.
We initially gathered outside in the theater courtyard under a dark sky, cool breeze and light drizzle where we are welcomed, with a statement common to many public gatherings in Santa Monica, to recognize that the land on which BroadStage currently stands is the ancestral unceded territory of the Tongva, Gabrielino, and Kizh peoples.
Emily Johnson, wearing shorts and megaphone in hand, and whose demeanor is warm, casual and comforting, invites us to follow her around the building to a starting place at the rear of the theater. Here she tells some family anecdotes and poses a few reflective questions, “What if we were meant to be right here, right now?” and “Notice all the gifts we brought?” She then leads us, with legs bent, to stomp on the ground, and to consider “What if the land lifts us up?
This movement and idea, a theme that runs through the evening’s performance. As she is known to blur the boundary between audience and performers, she invites 21 people to join her and enter the theater to take places on the stage and to be present there throughout the performance. I choose to be one of these people. After we take our places standing on assigned marks and the audience is seated, the performance more formally begins as a trio of ”Quilt Beings” moving sculptures hum and float amongst us.
Afterwards chairs are brought out for us as we continue to “witness” the ritualistic movements of the dancers. We are then motioned to take our chairs to the side of the stage as the dancers begin a sustained choreographed performance. The scene and mood evokes a shadowy cavernous primordial mountain setting where the earth quakes as the dancers explore the environment, rush about and stomp in energetic emotional release.. Sitting calmly on stage with the lights in my eyes, I am able to closely see the dancers expressions, hear their heavy breathing and feel the vibrations of their movements. As the performance concludes with rousing applause, I slowly rise to leave the stage, relaxed in-my-body feeling in a slight altered state as I navigate through the theater into the rainy night.
There is so much to appreciate about Johnson’s work that is described in the program notes as well as in a cover story article in the September 2022 issue of “Dance Magazine.” She takes her work into social action feeling that we need a better future now and “Being Future Being” relates to what she calls the “Speculative Architecture of the Overflow”, which is Indigenous-led and developed in collaboration with community organizers, land defenders, and water protectors in ways that foster Indigenous kinship, accomplices, and audience relationships.
The creative team includes choreographer/writer/performer Emily Johnson; composer Raven Chacon; sound designer Chloe Alexandra Thompson, who is Cree; visual artist, designer, and traditional tattooer Holly Mititquq Nordlum, who is Iñupiaq; IV Castellanos, who is mx Indige Quechua/Guaraní, made the masks and wearables and is production manager and interconnector for the “Speculative Architecture of the Overflow.” Quilt-Beings are designed by Korina Emmerich, who is Puyallup, with quilts (redistributed from Johnson’s “Then a Cunning Voice and A Night We Spend Gazing at Stars)” designed by Maggie Thompson, who is Fond du Lac Ojibwe. Costumes are by Raphael Regan, who is Sisseton-Wahpeton, Eastern Band of Cherokee and Diné. Scenic fabricator is Joseph Silovsky, lighting designer is Itohan Edoloyi, and performers are Ashley Pierre-Louis, Jasmine Shorty, who is Diné, Stacy Lynn Smith, and Sugar Vendil. “Being Future Being” is produced by George Lugg. The administrative steward is Kevin Holden, who is Diné.