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Community Highlights: Meet Will Johnston of Entity Contemporary Dance

Today we’d like to introduce you to Will Johnston.

Hi Will, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
I am a dancer/choreographer/creator based in Los Angeles, CA. I was born and raised in San Jose, CA and started dancing when I was four years old. My dance career was solely recreational until around 7th grade when I met Kelly Velasquez, who really changed the way I saw and trained in dance. She transformed me as a dancer and creator and I credit my time with her as the reason I fell in love with dance. Once graduating from high school, I spent five years at The University of California: Irvine, where I graduated with a BFA in Dance Performance, a BFA in Dance Performance, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering. I then went continued on for an additional two years to receive my MFA in Dance at UCI as well. Within my seven years at UCI, I started my LA-based dance company, Entity Contemporary Dance, co-founded/directed with UCI Alum, Marissa Osato Moreno. I also simultaneously worked professionally as a dancer for Tayeh Dance (Dir. Sonya Tayeh), Still Motion (Dir. Stacey Tookey), Soul Escape (Dir. Justin Giles), Wade Robson Creations, So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, Dance Camera West, Glee, Son Lux, Sigur Ros, FARR, Deborah Cox, Jordin Sparks, X Ambassadors, Sofia Reyes, Katy Perry, Rita Ora, Khalid, and Ben Platt. I am now a faculty member at Chapman University, West Coast Dance Explosion, and have taught and choreographed across the United States, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, and South Korea.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I would say for the most part, the trajectory of my career has been mostly smooth. I really credit this to a “goal-less” career. What I mean by that is I never had a strong desire to be a dancer. I didn’t really even know what a career in dance entailed. A lot of my focus on goal setting had to do with engineering. I therefore never really had distinct goals within dance and therefore never really found myself not meeting expectations in terms of my career. What I did do, was always stay momentous and active, no matter the task or project. I didn’t have any judgment or big opinion (preference of course) on what I was doing, as long as I was doing something (ie improvising, creating, writing, taking class, etc.). I think this sheer activity of my day to day dance journey is what helped my progression feel smooth. I think the hardest times I can recall as a dancer, physically and mentally, were the times when I was most idle. Once college ended, it took me a second to figure out to how to fill my time with things that I wasn’t necessarily instructed to do. So I most definitely am not promoting artist to rid themselves of goals as for some, they provide a sense of clarity and destination amongst many other things, but when I reflect back on my path, I feel strongly about this “goal-less” mindset assisting my progression as a dancer. I also should say that small goals were of course present in my education and career, but as far as really precise, big, long-term goals, I never really found myself connecting to those. If I were to have any desire within my career, it would be to have longevity. In whatever capacity, I want to be able to do this forever and I want to love it forever.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Entity Contemporary Dance was founded in 2009 by myself, Marissa Osato Moreno, and Elm Pizarro with the intent to forge connections between the Southern California hip hop and contemporary dance communities. Entity Contemporary Dance is a professional contemporary dance company that interweaves modern, jazz, and hip hop dance techniques to present dynamic repertory that explores the nuances of human emotionality and connectivity. Fostering communal collaboration and emphasizing a cross-genre dance education, Entity Contemporary Dance’s mission is to bridge the gaps between commercial and concert dance in Los Angeles. Entity has created four evening length works—”Braxon vs. Oregon” (2014/15: Los Angeles, San Francisco), “PEEL” (2016/17: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Singapore, Hong Kong), “Transparent/see” (2019: Los Angeles, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico), and “The Spectacular Society” (2019/2020: Los Angeles, Jacob’s Pillow Inside/Out series *performance canceled due to the pandemic), in addition to performing in numerous festivals, benefit shows, and industry showcases. After winning the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards grand prize, Entity premiered its evening length work “Transparent/see” in Los Angeles and Asia and set excerpts of the work at University at Buffalo Department of Theatre and Dance in New York. Entity has taught workshops across the U.S., Mexico, Asia, and Australia and hosts open company class every first Wednesday of the month as well as annual summer and winter intensives. Entity was a company-in-residence at Edge Performing Arts Center from 2016-2020 and is currently a resident company at Stomping Ground L.A. Entity most recently premiered “EntityFeatures”—a series of movement films created by company directors, members, and guest artists—at a live screening & performance event at the James Irvine Japanese Garden at JACCC.

One of the most exciting things about our company is that every artist with us has a successful individual career ranging from education, performance, choreography, and direction. Entity is a place for all of us to come together to celebrate and harbor these various backgrounds and career trajectories into work that honors the multitude of opportunities and experiences here in Los Angeles. We have a schedule that fosters consistency without the necessity of full-time commitment. We have found longevity and success in this format and it makes for a very unique and special dance company experience. These dancers are some of my favorite people, artist, and friends in the world. I am very grateful for them.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?
If I had any advice for dancers or creators starting out, it would be to stay momentous/active and be as true to your artistic voice as possible. I think being influenced as an artist is a huge aspect of development but I know I find myself sometimes overriding my creative intuition because of an overpowered influence. I use the term overpowered in the sense that it, involuntarily, takes priority over my instinct. I always want to be conscious and in control of my choices as a creator whether those choices stem from intuition or strategy. No one will ever be able to duplicate your genuine perspective or creative intuition so staying as true to that and honoring it amongst your influence and inspirations is something I try to implement and encourage others to do as well.

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Image Credits:

Camryn Eakes, Vince Horiuchi, Alex Laya, Mike Esperanza, Lee Gumbs, Jay Swuen

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