Members of the Dance Department faculty at CSULB brought home multiple honors in the recent Lester Horton Awards, earning recognition for their performances and choreography.
Keith Johnson, who joined the university in 1997, received a Lester Horton Award in the category of long-form choreography for his work "Girl Falling Towards the Sky." Also recognized for her short-form choreography was Regina Klenjoski. In addition, Holly Johnston earned distinction for Outstanding Female Performance.
The Lester Horton Dance Awards were founded by the Dance Resource Center of Greater Los Angeles to honor excellence in concert dance by Southland artists, technicians, teachers, and others devoted to the field. "The Hortons" have honored individual and ensemble performances as well as achievements in technical craftsmanship, excellence in music for dance, set design, lighting design, and costume design (both Western and Non-Western styles).
Through the Horton Dance Awards, the organization supports both Western and non-Western dance influences, classical and contemporary visions, small and large ensembles, and works ranging in scope from under 15 minutes in length to full evening events.
"Of course, I was very honored and flattered that people on these committees recognized the hard work I put into the dance," said Johnson, a longtime professional dancer who began as a competitive gymnast through Brigham Young University. "I was also shocked that I won it because I'm usually the type that is nominated but never wins."
Johnson believes one reason for his recognition is the quality of his craft. "I think that my work is different than a lot of choreographers right now," he said. "It's physical in a different way and the thematic material is very personal to what is happening in my life around me."
"Girl Falling" started for Johnson as a dance to give courage to a CSULB student with cancer. "The title reflected the idea that we were all here on earth, not ready to let her go to the heavens, so the image of someone falling up and being pulled down stuck with me," he said. "The first section was dedicated to another dancer with the same illness who died within a month of the school premiere of this dance and then the duet had some imagery about a dancer/friend who fell off a building in a site-specific show and how she came back. Basically, the piece is about three American girls who have had challenges and in each of their own ways they inspired me immensely."
Johnson received his bachelor's in geography from Brigham Young University on a gymnastics scholarship. He received his MFA in dance with an emphasis in choreography from the University of Utah in 1992 where he received the Dee R. Winterton Award for Excellence in Dance.
Johnston, who joined CSULB in 2007, was pleased to be selected. "I am thankful to the Dance Resource Center members for their recognition and support of my work," she said. "It means so much to know that your own community appreciates what you do as an artist."
Johnston described her award-winning performance as a chance to push her physical instinct and primal response to momentum, music and the audience. "'Experiment One' was a solo I performed at Emerging Above Ground, which was a festival for emerging choreographers that I produced in May 2007," she explained. "I took the opportunity to do a solo improvisation which I had not yet done in performance. The solo is seven minutes long, the music was selected at random right before the performance and the lights were simultaneously created in the moment."
Johnston started her career as a dancer, rehearsal director and collaborator for Tongue Contemporary Dance under artistic director Stephanie Gilliland from 1997-2005. She earned her B.A. in dance from Loyola Marymount University. She works in downtown Los Angeles with her own dance company, the Ledges and Bones Dance Project, which she founded in 2005, and will extend her work to San Francisco in 2009 as an artist in residence at OCD Theater.
Klenjoski, who joined the Dance Department this spring, was recognized for her choreography of three 10-minute duets titled "The Museum Project" for their original site-specific bow last year in the Torrance Art Museum.
"I was so surprised to win," said the Austrian-born immigrant from Macedonia. "My group, the Regina Klenjoski Dance Company, has been nominated 24 times and received two Lester Horton Awards in costume design and music for dance, but this was the first win just for me. I wasn't prepared for it, but when it happened, it felt great."
Klenjoski believes one reason for her recognition was the dance community's acceptance of her work for its strong artistic integrity. "It is important to me that a work feels concise and cohesive," she said. "If you can gauge a good movie by its script or cast, it is possible to judge choreography by, say, its music and movement. I think good production elements are just as important as the movement. If the work has good movement structure, good costumes and good music, all complementing each other in a purposeful, intelligent manner, then the dance is most like a strong piece."
Her award-winning choreography represented a new direction for Klenjoski. "I've danced outside and choreographed site-specific work before but most of my dances have been created for the stage," she said. "The idea of exploring abstract concepts interested me. This was a new direction for my work in that it showed the power and passion of movement alone without a linear story line. Plus, it was a fantastic opportunity to choreograph dance in a museum space."