Texan Damien Johnson of London’s Ballet Black returns for the Civic Ballet’s summer programme
After wowing ballet fans at the Bermuda Festival in January, a dancer from the prestigious London dance company, Ballet Black, is returning to Bermuda to work with young people in the Bermuda Civic Ballet’s summer programme.
“While I was here in January, I taught a master class,” said Damien Johnson, Senior Artist with Ballet Black. “At that time I spoke to Coral Waddell about possibly coming back in the summer. The result is that I will be teaching the Bermuda Civic Ballet’s summer programme for two weeks, and I will also be taking part in their performance at the end of it.”
Mr Johnson is originally from Dallas, Texas, and got a late start in ballet.
“I started late, when I was 14 years old,” he said. “There were two sisters who lived near me who did ballet. They needed a boy in The Nutcracker Ballet to be a soldier in the party scene. It took a lot of persuading, but I enjoyed it so much I continued. The teacher gave me a free scholarship to her ballet school because I was a boy, and they are always trying to recruit boys.”
Other than a brief after school programme, he hadn’t done any dancing before taking part in The Nutcracker. His sudden interest in dance rather surprised the people he knew, but his family were supportive.
“My family weren’t really familiar with ballet,” he said. “My family come from a southern background with most of their time spent at church.
“There were a couple of boys that teased me, but after they saw a performance they encouraged me.”
He received his training from Etgen-Atkinson School of Ballet in Dallas and the Booker T Washington School of the Arts, also in Dallas.
He went on to study on a full scholarship at the School of American Ballet in New York City.
In 2002, Mr Johnson joined the American Repertory Ballet and then the Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble in 2003.
He first joined Ballet Black in 2005, left for a time and then came back a few years later.
Ballet Black was started by Cassa Pancho as a way to provide dancers and students of black and Asian descent with inspiring opportunities in classical ballet.
As the longest serving member of Ballet Black, Mr Johnson has been featured in many Company works by choreographers that include Irek Mukhamedov, Antonia Franceschi, Liam Scarlett, Richard Alston and Bawren Tavaziva, and created the title role of Orpheus in Will Tuckett’s 2011 production for Ballet Black.
In 2012, he created the role of The Lover in Christopher Hampson’s Storyville. He also teaches regularly for the Ballet Black Associate Programme, and also teaches in an outreach programme at the Royal Opera House in London. His students are anywhere from 13 years old to 50.
“I had a wonderful teacher in New York who really encouraged me, Willy Burmann of Steps on Broadway. I spent a lot of time working with him. He really inspired me, and still does.”
Mr Johnson described himself as a “very musical ballet teacher”.
“I think the music is the most important thing,” he said. “I try to base my classes on the musicality. I also make sure the dancers emphasise clean technique.”
At the Bermuda Civic Ballet summer programme, Mr Johnson will be joined by ballet teacher Laura Hussey from London, Bermuda’s own James Waddell, who is presently under contract to the Royal Ballet of Flanders, and modern dance teachers Anastasia Soroczynski and Brian Flynn from Rioult in New York.
The summer school runs from July 7 to July 31. Dancers from 12 years old to adult, and interested choreographers, can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bermuda Civic Ballet end of programme performance will be held on August 8 and 9 at the Earl Cameron Theatre at City Hall.
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