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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Heritage inspires creative workshops

    This Saturday and Sunday, the Tucson Pima Arts Council will be hosting “Place, Poiesis and Indigeneity,” a weekend of workshops focused on Native American culture and dance. 

    Native American dancer Emily Johnson will lead two dance workshops at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. in a series called, “Awareness, Environment and Identity.”

    The following day, Diné poet Sherwin Bitsui will present a writing workshop, “Locations — A conversation about artistic practices,” from 1-3 p.m.

    “[The workshops] provide professional development for part of the community,” said Roberto Bedoya, executive director of the Tucson Pima Arts Council. 

    Johnson, an Alaskan native and Minneapolis resident, is a current fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota and a 2014 Fellow at the Robert Rauschenberg Residency. 

    Johnson, of Yup’ik descent from South Central Alaska , says she is influenced by her heritage when she choreographs her dances. 

    Johnson captivates her viewers with uniquely revealing performances and encourages the audience to connect their five senses to the environment. Blending the distinction between performance and daily life offers her audience unique insight into their cultural backgrounds as well as highlighting aspects of her own heritage. 

    “We will conjure future joy,” Johnson said. “We will let nothing exist. What do you want for yourself, your family, your neighborhood, your city? We will talk about this. We will come up with some ideas we can make happen. And we’ll dance.”

    The workshop will focus on improvising movement and exchanging stories, creating a divide between what people believe about themselves and what they make up. The stories will focus on positive experiences, but some stories will be voiced and others will remain silent. Johnson said she believes that by understanding silence and becoming comfortable with a lack of sound, people can truly watch others with keen interest, respect and love. 

    “I told someone once that it might feel like watching a tree,” Johnson said. “You sit or stand or lay on the ground and watch the wind move through a tree; you notice it is green or brown and that it rests with the sky.”

    Johnson is a distinguished performer and the founder of Emily Johnson/Catalyst, her Minneapolis-based dance company. 

    She is also the co-curator of “THIS IS DISPLACEMENT,” a visual art exhibit featuring the work of 43 artists from 19 tribal nations. Johnson has received many accolades for her talents including a Bessie, a New York Dance and Performance Award, in 2012 for outstanding production on her work, “The Thank-you Bar,” which was an installation at New York Live Arts. Additionally, she won a Doris Duke Artist Award for dance in 2014.

    Her co-performer, Sherwin Bitsui, is Diné from the Navajo reservation in White Cone, Ariz.

    Bitsui’s awards include the 2011 Lannan Literary Fellowship for Poetry, a Native Arts & Culture Foundation Fellowship for Literature, a PEN Open Book Award, an American Book Award and a Whiting Writers Award.

    In addition to giving workshops, Bitsui teaches at the Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing programs of both San Diego State University and Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M..


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