After a stormy week, Minneapolis-based choreographer Emily Johnson and the members of her Catalyst dance troupe likely breathed a collective sigh of relief when they stepped onto a dry Northrop Mall lawn on Friday evening to perform the world premiere of “Shore.”

The dancers swayed and sang in the balmy breeze until Johnson, her eyes ringed with red makeup, stood on a pedestal to talk about a dream of majestic birds in flight. She was ready to soar.

“Shore” is the third part of a trilogy exploring themes of displacement, home and the importance of gathering with others. This work dares to take up space — not just on the vast stripped-down Northrop theater stage where it eventually landed after the outdoors introduction but also throughout the Twin Cities. Volunteering, feasting, reading — all made the Alaska-born Johnson’s “Shore” a communal event defined by ritual, storytelling, raw movement drawn from the depths of the body’s capabilities and the resonant power of the human voice.

The work wandered with the languid logic of a dream, meaning that sometimes it sparked the senses but it also was possible to get lost along the way. For the first time, Johnson collaborated with a director, Ain Gordon. His thoughtful influence brought focus to the connections “Shore” wanted to emphasize, specifically between movement, sound and place.

A chorus including members of Anonymous Choir breathed rhythmically and chanted, filling the Northrop theater with atmospheric tone that seeped into the architecture. The sound score by James Everest and Nona Marie Invie with Fletcher Barnhill haunted, particularly when Invie sang. Known for her work with Dark Dark Dark, Invie’s voice is beautifully lonely. Even on a stage filled with over 50 souls, she inhabited her own private space.

Dancers Aretha Aoki and Krista Langberg joined Johnson. The three approached their movement with a no-holds-barred sensibility, at times performing as if possessed. As they ran to touch every part of the massive stage and their arms flapped against their bodies, we were reminded of the birds Johnson mentioned earlier.

Perhaps in this final part of the trilogy about missing home she finally has the means to return, even if it’s only within the weightless possibility of dreams. And when she goes, Johnson will take pieces of her new home with her.


Caroline Palmer writes about dance.