Keith Johnson and Stephanie Nugent Share the Results of
a Decade’s Collaboration

by Elizabeth Schwyzer

Stephanie_Nugent.jpgThroughout the course
of the past 15 years, UCSB Associate Professor of Dance Stephanie
Nugent has built an impressive career as a choreographer and
teacher, traveling the country to offer dance improvisation
workshops, performing in her own solo and group works, and setting
her work on a changing company of professional dancers. At the same
time, she has continued to perform in other artists’ work,
maintaining an especially close relationship with choreographer
Keith Johnson — once a fellow dancer with Ririe-Woodbury Dance
Company in Utah, and later one of her graduate school instructors
at Cal State University Long Beach, where Johnson still teaches.
This weekend at Center Stage Theater, Nugent will perform in two
group works and one solo choreographed by Johnson, as well as
present her own quintet, “Frame/Reframe,” last shown in November at
Dance New Amsterdam in New York.

In her philosophical yet instinctual approach to making dances,
as well as her athletic and technically rigorous dance vocabulary,
Nugent shares common ground with Johnson as an artist. She’s also
one of the prime interpreters of his work, having cocreated and
performed his dances for more than a decade.

Johnson is a dance artist with impressive credentials, including
work with New York choreographers Bill T. Jones and Doug Varone. An
Arizona native, he went to Brigham Young University on a gymnastics
scholarship, only discovering dance in his senior year. “I took to
it easily,” said Johnson, who has remained immersed in the world of
dance ever since, though his journey has taken him far from the
conservative religious environment of BYU. Reflecting on his
college experience, Johnson said, “I was gay, I was Catholic; I was
a minority. I felt like I had no voice there, and I felt a lot of
parallels with women. I had a memory of wanting to say things and
always biting the inside of my mouth — I always had that vague
taste of blood.” In 2005, Johnson returned to BYU to create a solo
about a young woman who was about to graduate and get married, and
was feeling pressure to start a family. “‘The Last Sliver of
Sunlight’ is about the frustration of not being able to find your
voice,” Johnson said. This weekend, Nugent will perform a
reconstruction of “The Last Sliver,” and Johnson claimed she brings
a very different tone to the work. “Steph brings maturity to
it — she’s a woman who’s not a victim. She comes out with
fierceness, and then retreats into vulnerability.”

In addition to “The Last Sliver,” Johnson will also present
“Outside Looking Up (Still)/Blueprint for a Goodbye,” a trio
created in 2001 shortly after his mother died of cancer and in the
aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center. “It was my way
of going through the steps of letting go, after trying so hard to
hold on,” Johnson said. “It’s about all the things you never know
about the people who are closest to you.” Nugent will dance in
“Outside Looking Up” and will also appear in the premiere of
Johnson’s most recent work, “I Dream a Highway.” The duet is an
exploration of the stoicism and longing of the Dustbowl generation,
inspired by old photographs of migrant farmworkers.

As for Stephanie Nugent, she’ll always be at the heart of
Johnson’s work. “She’s such an amazing dancer, it kind of floors
me,” he said. “She’s my muse. She picks up my material quickly, and
she can take it to the next level intuitively. It’s the kind of
working relationship every choreographer wants.”


Iridian Arts presents Stephanie Nugent and Keith
at Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo),
Saturday, February 10 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, February 11 at 2 and 8
p.m. For tickets, call 963-0408 or visit To
learn more about Iridian Arts or to see this year’s lineup of
events, visit
or call 569-2391.


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