LYDIA JOHNSON Artistic Director & Choreographer
Originally from Massachusetts, Ms. Johnson began her dance training in Boston and moved to New York City to study on scholarship at The Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. She continued her studies in New York with Finis Jhung and Sara Rudner among others. As her goal was to create her own work, she started to choreograph phrases with one dancer in a small studio over a grocery store on Greenwich Street in the West Village.
Johnson founded One Night Stand, a series of co-operative showcases in order to allow choreographers to share the costs of presenting new work. She presented her early pieces in New York at Merce Cunningham's studio on Bethune Street and at dance spaces and lofts. She received a Monticello Foundation award sponsored by The National Association of Regional Ballet after dance critic Doris Hering spotted her work at an audition for The Riverside Dance Festival.
For a number of years Ms Johnson continued to work on her choreography keeping the focus on developing phrases, counterpoint, effective use of unison and understanding the flow and structure of a complete piece. Although the work she showed on shared programs received positive comments from critics and was accepted into the esteemed Riverside Dance Festival shortly before it closed, it continued to be rejected from the downtown venues where most minimal, conceptual dance and dance theater was being presented.
After the births of her first and second sons, Evan and Zander, Johnson and her husband felt they could no longer afford the costs of living in NYC and moved to nearby NJ. Choreographing was financially out of reach for a number of years as she now worked and cared for her children. Her 3rd child, a daughter Phoebe, was born in 1993.
When Phoebe was in kindergarten Johnson's desire to resume choreographing became intense and she started to work again in the city one evening a week on new phrases and musicality. She experimented with a broadening range of music including jazz and 20th century composers. Lydia Johnson Dance ( LJD ) was officially founded in 1999. The not -for- profit status of a 501c3 allowed Johnson to accept donations and to create a small Board which helped to maintain her ability to rent space and to pay dancers a stipend fee. Eventually her work began again to be recognized by a series of serious dance writers beginning with Jennifer Dunning in The New York Times who wrote reviews in 2002 and 2004 which caught the essence of Johnson's work.
At this time Johnson began to teach choreography workshops for children and teenagers. Her fascination with the way young dancers can create choreography if given the tools led to her start a school which today has over 100 young dancers in classes, a Student Performance Company and gives $20,000 a year in scholarships.
In 2008 the company was invited to perform at the Inside/Out series at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival as Johnson continued to produce annual New York seasons. She also committed to the company performing free shows in her community in New Jersey. She began to receive funding from The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation whose support became a key component to her company's survival. A small cluster of private donors gave donations which allowed LJD to rent space and perform her work annually.
In 2009 New York writer, Philip Gardner, who had founded a dance and music blog Oberon's Grove, saw Ms. Johnson's work in a studio showing at City Center. Mr. Gardner's immediate positive response and his in-depth writing on the Company (which continues today) became a crucial sustaining factor. Mr. Gardner's blog uses extensive photographs of the artists he covers not only in performance, but in studio rehearsal settings. Due largely to the evocative exposure Mr. Gardner's writing and photo galleries created, LJD attracted increasing numbers of highly skilled and nuanced dancers as well as Guest Artists from major ballet and modern companies. Dancers looking for choreography which allowed them to further their expressive qualities in work deeply linked to music found LJD to be a fulfilling experience. Mr Gardner introduced Deborah Wingert to Ms. Johnson's work in 2012. Ms. Wingert's background as a Balanchine dancer, and one of the very few who sets his work on other companies, was in sync with Johnson's musicality and her approach to form and emotional expression. Wingert became LJD's Ballet Mistress coaching Johnson's work with a deep understanding of its musicality, its emotional and technical aspects.
Johnson has now been consistently recognized for her distinctive choreography, which uses components of ballet woven seamlessly into a continually developing personal modern vocabulary. As a woman artist who has experienced the varied challenges, sorrows and joys that come over time her dances are now informed by a rich knowledge of life. In addition to The New York Times and Oberon's Grove, dance writers in The New Yorker, Backstage Magazine, Dance View Times, Dance Informa, Broadway Dance World and Critical Dance have commented on the musicality and emotional resonance of her work.
In addition to the Riverside Dance Festival and Jacob's Pillow Inside/Out, LJD has performed in the 92nd St Y’s Moving Forward: Women Ballet Choreographers East and West series and Friday's at Noon, The Great Friends Dance Festival in Rhode island and the Downtown Dance Festival. Most recently in 2022 the Company held its NY Season at New York Live Arts and was was in residence at Kaatsbaan developing new works. Lydia Johnson has received a Harkness Dance Center Space grant from the 92nd Street Y, an Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and is a Guest Artist teaching company repertory workshops at the Peridance Capezio Center in New York.
Ms. Johnson is the Director of the Lydia Johnson Dance School which serves as an alternative to commercial dance education offering a creative approach to both technique and choreography.