Attending BroadStage in Santa Monica, with its perfect theater space, lovely outdoor entry area and easy parking, is always a pleasure. The shows are well-curated, worthwhile events. I’ve seen many topnotch dance companies here, which is why I was baffled at what was presented by Emily Johnson’s, World Premier of “Being Future Being” this past Saturday, Sept. 10th.
In preparing for this review, I read and watched everything I could find online about this company, as well as reading the press info I had received, yet I could not decipher what the show was actually about. My guess was this would be a “performance dance piece” with an emphasis on inclusion, the environment and our Indigenous communities. I imagined that the live show would clear up any questions I might have but it did not.
Ms. Johnson uses the title of “Catalyst” and thus she takes responsibility for what we are seeing. Everyone involved, from the performers to the creative team, have Indigenous heritage and are committed to the betterment of their people. Using these ideas to entertain and educate the audience is a laudable goal. However, we are left to deduce what is presented and to guess at the symbolism. Apparently, there are four segments, or “branches,” that make up this work, but there is no clear differentiation between sections, so this becomes one endlessly long and ultimately spiritless piece.
Upon arrival the audience was asked to wait in the outdoor terrace area. We were welcomed and then requested to walk to the loading dock behind the theater. The accommodations that were made for those with disabilities or other mobility issues were not readily apparent and those who needed assistance had to search out the volunteers standing on the perimeters. Once gathered, Artistic Director, Choreographer, Writer, Catalyst, Emily Johnson came through the doors onto the dock. She used a small megaphone to ask unanswerable “what if “questions such as “What if this is all we’re meant to be?” She let these questions hang in dead air and offered no insight or conclusion. She asked the participants to stand with their feet apart, bend their knees and jump in place, they did so willingly and created an interesting earthy rhythm that petered out, due to Ms. Johnson’s waning interest. Concluding her incomprehensible talk she dissolved into a poorly acted rage, spouting, “We will destroy you” for reasons unknown. Finally, she asked for twenty-one (Why twenty-one?) volunteers to join her on the dock. They did so eagerly thinking they would perhaps be pulled into an exciting experience. She took this group, which included several small children, through the doors and left the rest of us behind with no instructions. Eventually the ushers guided the crowd to a stairwell and into the theater. Those of us who could not negotiate the stairs, were left with a long uphill climb around to the side entrance. This was an inexcusable oversight for a show that claims to be inclusive. One has to wonder what was gained by this pointless outdoor introduction in the first place.
Once inside the theater, the twenty-one volunteers were placed randomly about the stage, while three “Quilt Beings” stood frozen among them. The costumes, by Korina Emmerich, resembled Kabuki/Kachina Dolls as rendered by a child piling quilts on a body form. These “Beings” might have been interesting if we understood who they were and what they represented. Or, if they had not worn out their welcome by unfreezing and meandering around in silence and through the onstage patrons until boredom set in.
When the onstage audience was finally seated stage left, the purported dancing began along with a “Noisescape,” by Raven Chacon and Chloe Alexander Thompson. Unfortunately, we go from boredom to disbelief, as the performer/dancers deliver a less than exciting performance. They awkwardly, sometimes embarrassingly, improvise movement, creating a world in which the audience is not considered or regarded and we are left out of their rumination. Often these movers resorted to the wide legged stance, introduced at the loading dock, and jumped in place for long monotonous periods of time. On several occasions the performers stood directly in front of and very close, to the onstage audience in a confrontational manner, jumping or moving aggressively. With no means of escape, I am sure this was a very unnerving experience for those stuck onstage. There was no discernible choreography.
Again, Ms. Johnson seemed to feel that more is more and allowed this meaningless movement to test the patience of the by now, inattentive audience. Going by the program notes this show was to run for 80 minutes, but instead spanned an uncomfortably long 105 minutes without an intermission.
Ms. Johnson has everything to learn about storytelling and connecting to an audience. Her performers played “at” the audience rather than with them or for them in what felt like an affront. Ms. Johnson herself did next to no movement but mainly stood on stage with her back to the audience.
Ultimately, the weakness of this presentation does a disservice to the vaunted tradition of storytelling, which is so rich in every culture. This show was not up to the usual high standards of BroadStage, and for me, no amount of support could overcome the problems of “Being Future Being.”
Additional credits: The Performer, Collaborators included Ashley Pierre-Louis, Jasmine Shorty, Stacy Lynn Smith, and Sugar Vendil.
Lighting Design was by Itohan Edoloyi.
Scenic Design was by Emily Johnson and Joseph Silovsky
To learn more about Emily Johnson/Catalyst, please visit their website.
To learn more about BroadStage, please visit their website.
This article was edited on September 22, 2022.
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: “Being Future Being” at BroadStage – Pictured: Stacy Lynn Smith – Photo by Skye Schmidt