Unlike most dancers I’ve met, Natalie is unafraid to voice her opinion and share her perspective. “My favorite bird is the phoenix!” she tells me excitedly. “Even though…it’s not real,” she quickly adds with laughter, just before revealing to me her distinctive “sock philosophy.” Natalie is bubbly and quirky at first glance, yet our further conversation and her works have shown that she possesses more depth and aptitude. Natalie Deryn Johnson, creator of NatalieInMotion and recent graduate of UC Irvine, is not only a dancer and choreographer, but also a photographer, filmmaker, and writer…in short, she is an all-around artist. Her passion for multimedia forms gives her movement perspective and meaning. Her honesty and willingness to be vulnerable, with her gestural and creature-like movements, sets her apart from other emerging artists. “You see movement, but you also see the human,” she explains.
‘NatalieInMotion’ was my email address from Middle School. When I came to New York City, I was submitting work to APAP Peridance and trying to validate myself. I asked, ‘Could I create my own company and brand?’ I just decided to just do it anyway. I also think that a big part of your true self comes from your childhood, so it made sense to use that name, and I’ve just stuck with the name since.
What was the inspiration behind NatalieInMotion?
I don’t exactly fit in with companies here and I am fairly new to the city. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to pursue my own creations, where I like working with all various facets of my artistry, working with artists of various mediums, and being immersed in collaborative art processes. There are all these areas I am interested in, but sometimes working in certain companies require you to work in a more narrow frame of the performing self – I value totality and want to honor the integrity of my body. At this point in my life at least, I don’t want to be limited in a box. I want to do something with more imagination in play – with more artistic freedom and critical thinking. Dance is not enough for me. It’s easier when I make my own work because it’s unsatisfying to have to limit myself. Not everyone will like it and maybe not many will see it, but it is honest and a valid endeavor. Society doesn’t always accept art, but accepting yourself and having a voice that is brave enough will make what you do so much more vibrant. Art is important as it is
a part of experiencing quality of life. I believe in authenticity and vulnerability. I strive to be honest and experiential, giving movement intention and dialogue; freshness of embodying each movement and experiencing the details are important, I work with small intricate interactions between people. And I also add humor and quirkiness to it!
So then what motivated you to move to New York City after college?
New York City wasn’t completely intentional. I have always been interested in dance photography and I moved here because I landed an internship with legendary photographer, Lois Greenfield. Photography was what got me to the city. I also got to meet other dancers and artists, and got to know the city better in the process.
So what have been the greatest obstacles in establishing yourself as an artist here?
There are so many struggles as a dancer! I was recovering from a knee injury during a partnering accident in college. I moved into the city and had to focus on a knee surgery and my other health issues. It was difficult adapting to a new environment and figuring myself out as a person. Then I had to focus getting myself back to dance classes and then to start creating. The city doesn’t make room for you when you arrive, so it was difficult to get exposure and to build a network. People don’t know you, so it’s hard to find support – to find a place to perform, to find an audience, to get funding. But once you understand the essentials that you need in the city, it gets a little easier. It isn’t like school, so it’s difficult to see people on a regular basis. Navigating through the city and adjusting to real life was hard enough, then you had to think about being an artist too! You have to be the one who is motivated. The art world is small. The dance world is small. So as you work harder, the city becomes smaller and easier too.
And you mention that you have multiple interests and perspectives in art. With merging these media forms, where do you find the intersections between these art forms?
I grew up photographing and making dance films. As a child, whatever project I was given, I would incorporate images with it. I would write about the human experience. I love the idea of using multimedia for dance theater. I would improvise and then the text and sound would come later. I like to use voices or conversations as the sound score. Movement doesn’t mean anything on its own, but you give it intention and perspective. All media go together and give you the experience…basically, everything is everything.
Would you say that your main form is dance?
I grew up as a competition dancer, but I’m no longer interested in just dance and tricks. I would say that I’m a movement artist.
I noticed that your movement involves a lot of quirky and gestural movements, where do they come from?
In college, movement became more about finding my own voice. One time, I danced in the woods, and through movement research in a piece called, “The Raven” – after experiencing being out there, I realized I can’t not be a person when I create movement. It is about experiencing the body, not just about creating shapes. I use gestural movements, focusing on the hands. In college, I joked that I wasn’t a ballet dancer, “I’m just a gestural artist.” But it is true! I take small, detailed movements and flow in and out of more spacious movements. I was a competition dancer, so I reference qualities from hip hop in an organic fusion of intimate expression, but I also have an appreciation for ballet, contemporary, and jazz. There is a balance between performance and experience. You see movement, but you also see the human.
And what about your film and photography aesthetics, the tone of the shots seemed to have this vintage quality to them? What is the inspiration behind these choices?
That is right. I have an appreciation for time eras (even in dance). I reference vintage aesthetics in my photography as well as in costuming. There is an attachment to nostalgia. I used to do black and white photography, and loved being in the dark room. There is something about about an old photo; it takes on its own time and place! I don’t like vivid, saturated colors. I like contrast, or black and white. The tone of color is then added to the images later, depending on my mood, kind of like in dance, how I improvise then add music later.
Are there any on-going or future projects that we should look out for?
I am going back to my hometown and putting on a performance, “not just another summer night” at the Uptown Center in Michigan, Indiana, on August 22nd be bringing some dancers and we will be doing filming and photography in the woods and other locations. Then we will put it together that weekend and show it. I am going to be doing a fundraiser soon in the city, but there is also a Kickstarter to help raise funds for this project! It’s been a difficult year, so I am positive about moving forward, and this will be something positive for me and the people I’m working with. I am also working on another show that will combine dancing and talking; I’m writing a script to perform a one-lady show, a metadance performance where I will move and speak about the movement in that moment. You can check back on my website for updates. I’m also going to Los Angeles this summer for an intensive, to learn some repertoire and see how I feel about doing others’ movements – something I haven’t done in a while because I’ve been doing my own thing. There are so many possibilities, but my core value is to focus on health and a holistic approach to art.
And lastly, what are some of your other interests outside of this arts world?
This isn’t a secret, but I love pumpkin and kale! I also like to buy myself flowers and eat alone sometimes. My favorite bird is the phoenix, even though I know it’s not real…Oh! I also have a “sock philosophy”: I tend to have unmatching socks, so when they do match…It means “Uh Oh.”
For more information, please refer to Natalie’s blog at ladyderyn.weebly.com.