Myron Johnson is continuing his renaissance by bringing his signature holiday show to the Cowles Center in downtown Minneapolis.
Johnson, whose Ballet of the Dolls company is in dormancy, will stage the iconic "Nutcracker (Not So) Suite" with James Sewell Ballet. He has been teaching with the company since last spring.
"We hope this will be a new artistic home for Myron," Sewell said recently. "Myron was one of my first teachers and primary inspiration for getting going in this."
Johnson suffered an emotional breakdown in early 2014, succumbing to the constant pressures of running the Dolls in a time of diminishing resources and funding. He spent nine weeks in a hospital and then continued his recuperation on his own.
In an interview last April, he said he had started to teach with Sewell. That involvement deepened when the Cowles Center asked Sewell's executive director, George Sutton, about making a holiday show. Johnson's "Nutcracker" seemed a natural possibility.
"We see it as an annual project with Myron's involvement every year," Sewell said.
For his part, Johnson said he agrees this marks a new chapter in his creative life at age 62.
"I ended up dealing with challenges rather than creating work," he said of the period leading up to his crisis. "It took a while for me to admit that. Now I'm going back to where I started — focused on the work."
Johnson's "Nutcracker (Not So) Suite" had been an alternative staple of holiday programming for many years with the Dolls. It has a gritty edge and urban sensibility. This year's version (Johnson builds it anew each time) has a design evoking the 1960s "Mad Men" era, with the rats portrayed as beatniks. Deanna Gooding will dance the role of Marie, with Kelly Vittetoe portraying a Barbie doll. In addition to the three-weekend run of the "Suite," Johnson will craft a late night "Naughty Nutcracker," another tradition.
Sewell said he is still trying to figure out his role in mounting the production, conceding that it is "Myron's show — he has the reputation."
"I don't see myself as a choreographer," Johnson said. "I'm more of a showman, telling the story. James is a choreographer."
Sutton said the company intends Johnson's involvement as part of a greater push to collaborate with other artists. It's evident in the new season.
Minneapolis composer Steven Rydberg is writing music for "New Moves," the fall concert, Oct. 23-25. Rydberg is also a visual artist who designed scenery for the 2014 fall show.
New York choreographer Belinda McGuire will be a guest at the Ballet Works Project, Feb. 19-28; pianist Tadeusz Majewski will accompany the spring show, April 22-May 1. Majewski, a noted Chopin interpreter, is a frequent Sewell associate.
None of these partnerships seems to go quite as deep as Johnson's new involvement, however.
"We're trying to engage Myron in every way in this company," Sewell said.