Performance artist contemplates people, place, past and present
KEENE, N.H. -- The Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College and Vermont Performance Lab are joining forces to present "Niicugni" -- the latest performance work by Bessie Award-winning Native Alaskan choreographer Emily Johnson and Catalyst Dance.
"Niicugni" is the second in a trilogy of performance works related to Johnson’s Yup’ik heritage and investigates community, place, memory and identity and will be performed on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 7:30 p.m. in the Main Theatre of the Redfern Arts Center. Tickets are $20 for adults; $13 for senior citizens, children, KSC alumni, faculty and staff; and $5 for KSC students. Call the Redfern Box Office at 603-358-2168 or visit www.keene.edu/racbp.
For this performance Johnson has invited 40 community members from New Hampshire and Vermont to participate in "Niicugni."
People are invited to arrive early to view a lobby art exhibit and video showing community members making fish-skin lanterns and stay after the show for a discussion with Johnson and the other performers.
Two years ago Johnson began creating "Niicugni" at VPL in Guilford, where she developed movement and sound material, and worked with a group of local sewers to create 11 of the 50 hand-sewn salmon skin lanterns that light the work.
Redfern Director Shannon Mayers said, "This has been a great partnership with Emily Johnson and Vermont Performance Lab. It is very exciting to present a work that has been developed and now performed by members of our community -- it speaks to the heart of the Redfern’s mission to provide opportunities for artists and community members to discover a work of art together."
"Niicugni" is the Y’upik word for "listen" -- a directive to pay attention.
A recent New York Times preview of "Niicugni" stated "Ms. Johnson is the anchor of this installation of movement, stories and song. Š her presence, at first, seems gentle. Ms. Johnson’s soft, clear voice makes her a seductive storyteller. Still, her words and, at times, disembodied delivery have bite."
Johnson said of her work, "’Niicugni’ is about how land, or place, like our bodies, is a repository of past, present, and future. It holds, at once, myth and truth, magic and evil, hope and death, laughter and monsters, as well as ancestral histories and cultural identities. In the moment of each performance, ‘Niicugni’ wonders if we can recognize the importance of everyone in the room. Can we see ourselves as part of the whole? Can we absorb that everyone we see is here now and will be gone?"
Johnson’s performance works often function as installations, engaging audiences within and through a space and environment using sights, sounds, smells, as well as a place’s architecture, history, and role in community. Her performance works blur distinctions between performance and daily life to create work that reveals and respects multiple perspectives. This allows for multiple meanings with a goal of stimulating reflection and emotional empathy between performer and audience.
This performance is made possible by the MetLife Community Connections Fund of the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project. Major support for NDP is also provided by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with additional support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Johnson is an artist and writer who makes body-based work. Originally from Alaska, she is now based in Minneapolis, Minn. Johnson received a 2012 Bessie (New York Dance and Performance) Award for Outstanding Production for her work, "The Thank-you Bar" at New York Live Arts. She is a 2012 Headlands and MacDowell Artist in Residence, a 2011 Native Arts and Cultures Fellow, a 2012, 2010 and 2009 MAP Fund Grant recipient, and a 2009 McKnight Fellow.
Working with the notion that rural communities of Southern Vermont can be a fertile laboratory for incubating new contemporary performance works, Vermont Performance Lab founded its Lab Program in 2006. Over the last five years, VPL has brought artists of regional, national and international stature to the grange halls, studios and classrooms of rural Vermont through its innovative artist residency program. Last year VPL’s community and education programs served more than 500 students, families and seniors in Windham County through workshops, informal performances and art-making experiences. VPL often partners with local organizations to host such residencies and create meaningful connections between artists and communities. Visit www.vermontperformancelab.org or follow VPL on Facebook and Twitter.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.