Rethinking Performance: Emily Johnson’ SHORE Program Notes | By Marie Tollon

Spanning over a week and activating multiple spaces and communities throughout the city, Emily Johnson’s SHORE reimagines the nature of performance. With four significant choreographed moments -a curated reading, a performance, a volunteer community action and a feast- the piece breathes and transforms according to the city it takes place in: its vocal and movement choirs are selected among the local community; the volunteer project is the result of a consultation with citywide organizations. In each location, SHORE takes on a different form.

Emily Johnson's SHORE Photo by Erin Westover

Emily Johnson’s SHORE
Photo by Erin Westover

Allowing this amorphous quality, SHORE’s walls are porous. Land and humans intertwine in the stories told by the performers, and continue to merge throughout the installation, such as during the planting of native species at Candlestick State Park. Audience and performers gather, sit at the same table, exchange food and recipes during the feast. Wearing nametags, they call each other by name.

Johnson herself proves amorphous. From storyteller to dancer, from performer to community organizer, she manifests the multiplicity of the shape shifter whose role is here to rally, to involve, to entice and to connect. Whether she invites us to watch a movement, to listen to a story, to hear a song, to plant a seed or to share a recipe, she weaves art and activism, creating a platform where a multitude of voices can come and act together.

When, at the beginning of the performance of SHORE, Johnson stands on a wooden box and tells the crowd gathered in Clarion Alley a story, she conjures the past and brings up the possibility of a joyful present and future. Later, during the feast, audience members can write what they wish this future will look like, and attach their writing to a larger quilt. Similar to SHORE’s predecessors The Thank-you Bar and Niicugni in Johnson’s trilogy, this installation becomes a temporal experience, where we are invited to both recall the past and simultaneously plant the seeds for a future that we want to envision together.

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