A two time United States Artists nominee in dance and Creative Capital award winner, as a teenager, Millicent Johnnie hosted a local social justice TV show met by protests from the KKK; she traces her professional determination and commitment to social issues in Black culture to this early opposition. Former choreographer for Walt Disney Creative Entertainment’s Frozen; receiving awards for “BEST DIRECTOR” and “BEST MUSICAL” for her direction and choreography of RENT produced by Ferndale Theater, Johnnie also directed and choreographed West Side Story in South Africa for the historic Howard Theater. Performing in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Brazil, Johnnie has also worked A&R through Marvelous Enterprises bringing together her diverse experiences in theater and dance into the music industry. After choreographing Thoughts of a Colored Man, a Broadway-bound play produced by Syracuse Stage and Baltimore Center Stage, Johnnie received her MFA in film with a specialization in producing and story development before launching her production companies, Millicent Johnnie Films and 319productions. She is currently an Associate Professor in Dance at UL Lafayette.
Who makes up your art circle?
Friends, family, colleagues, elders, mentors, guides, institutions, cultural centers who believe in connecting love with social change.
How do you expand your art circle?
Be open to meeting new people and discovering new things about yourself, your family, your history, your community and the planet. This openness will invite more abundance into your life, expanding your art circle.
What value do you see in having a creative community?
Having a creative community is invaluable. Creative communities are an invaluable source of resources and information, having value too great to measure; priceless.
How does your artistic approach contribute to your community?
Zora Neale Hurston once said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” I am here to help amplify the voices of the African American French Creole dancer/ culture bearer and storyteller. My artistic approach and practice contributes to my community in ways that reflect my upbringing as a child of South Louisiana and daughter of Dance. My kinesthetic language is robust; a patois of African, American and European ideals— from classical African dance to European classical forms, hip hop and folk dances found throughout the African diaspora. The infinite variation I offer through the work I create or perform whether; on large scale stage productions like Disney’s Frozen: Live at the Hyperion, and operas like Parable of the Sower, in academia, for commercial film and television such as the National Basketball Association and the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games/ Rio2016, on world renown ensembles like Cleo Parker Robinson Dance and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, or just a little diddy I’ve done in my living room, my creative work is layered with soul, intellectual rigor and curiosity, scholarship and grace.
My artistic practice is motivated by stories that amplify and give insight to the oppressed. My practice comes directly out of and in response to my upbringing in french speaking music and dance communities surviving on the pillars of race and racism in Southern Louisiana. Through the practice of telling stories, I realize how offering more insight of the oppressed helps my audiences understand conflict more comprehensively.
I credit Kaplan, LA as the birthplace of my storytelling and continued in the cities I grew up between, Lafayette and New Orleans. I observed how the foundations of race and racism continually functioned as barriers to community self-determination, self-sufficiency and engagement. For example, we were called “negresse” often in Kaplan. It occurred so much I thought it was a term of endearment from white families who hired my grandmother to clean their kitchens. Being one of two black children in my pre-school, I was prompted to say, “M is for monkey and Millicent” for our graduation ceremony. And, it wasn’t until college that I realized everyone on my grandmother’s side of town raised their own hogs, geese and chickens in their backyards out of necessity. Once I could identify and evaluate the racial and economic inequalities in my community, and the effect those specific inequalities had on my family, from there I began tracing back the path of the African Diaspora through the Caribbean, South America and the continent of Africa. What I learned confirmed for me that these observations around race, class and culture were essential to my work as a choreographer, dancer, teacher, filmmaker and storyteller.