Dallas — At 32 years old, Terrance M. Johnson is taking a huge leap and starting out on his own as the choreographer and artistic director of the eponymously named Terrance M. Johnson Dance Project. Originally from Alexandria, La., Johnson has called Dallas home since 2007, but dance did not enter his life as a committed partner until he settled into the Big D. While an undergraduate at Southern University A&M College, he studied marketing and sales and was a member of a co-ed cheerleading team, and that was the closest thing to dance he had experienced thus far in his life. It was not until he moved to Dallas and discovered Dallas Black Dance Theatre, that he fell head over heels.
He began taking adult classes at Dallas Black Dance’s Academy, and in 2010, took a short leave of absence from his corporate job to train with Chicago’s Deeply Rooted Dance Theater in their pre-professional summer program. It was during this time that he found a real passion for dance, and when he returned to Dallas in the fall of 2010, he resigned from his corporate job, and auditioned for DBDT II and started his new life and career.
Since 2010, he has trained at The Ailey School, American Dance Festival, and Contemporary Ballet Dallas, as well as performing with CBD, Exhibit Dance Collective, Beckles Dance Company, and the Dallas Opera. Now, a recent MFA in Dance from Texas Woman’s University, Johnson has started his own company giving a voice and body to the thoughts in his head. The company will have their premiere performance Lynched, Aug. 19-21 at the South Dallas Cultural Center.
We spoke with Johnson as he prepares for his company’s first evening-length performance.
TheaterJones: What motivated you to start your own company?
Terrance M. Johnson: My dream has always been to be a successful business owner, so my motivation for starting my company was to create my own business. After developing a solid business structure for my company, I began to shift my thinking to how this business could be used for art, activism, and humanity. I’m motivated by the needs of people.
How did you go about selecting your dancers?
I met most of the artists in the company while taking dance classes in the city and through teaching adult classes. I liked their movement qualities, so I invited them to join the company.
What is the mission of your company and how does this premiere performance fit that goal?
The Terrance M. Johnson Dance Project is a nonprofit organization that uses the art of dance to promote community outreach, cultural awareness, social consciousness, art in education, and the preservation of live performance art. Our mission is to support the welfare of underserved communities through art and culture programs that are rooted in principles of humanity.
Our premiere performance fits directly into our mission being that it is live performance art, it is socially conscious, and it brings awareness to specific cultures and cultural identities.
Your premiere performance, Lynched, definitely carries a lot of weight, with just the title alone. What specifically inspired this show, was there a recent event that motivated you to pursue this concept and stage the work now?
It was inspired by the years of social inequalities and injustice experienced by black people in America. I wanted to use dance to create a platform for people to engage with this difficult conversation. As the work began to develop, my motivation has been fueled by the most recent acts of injustice and inhumanity experience by the black community.
Were you ever concerned that the title would divide audiences?
I was never concerned about it. I chose it because lynching is a part of American history. It happened in the past with trees and ropes. Today, it happens with bullets and streets. It was important to have this title because it speaks truth without having to say much at all.
Why did you choose ballet as the movement language to shape your narrative?
I love the aesthetic of ballet! I love seeing clean lines and clean technique! Honestly, I call it a “ballet” because its definition at its simplest form is dance; but there are several dance genres that could be used to describe the movement in this work.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the performance?
An experience that will continue the conversation.
What do you see as the future of the Terrance M. Johnson Dance Project? What do you hope to achieve with your company?
The Terrance M. Johnson Dance Project will be a full-time community outreach organization and performing company. We will be a leader in community investment and civic practices, and we will be creators of beautiful art. As our slogan says: “It is more than just dance…It is liberating art.”