Johnny McMillan, a fleet, boyish fellow of 20, is a fluid yet expertly articulated dancer who instantly catches your eye. But it was his high-profile choreographic effort, Path and Observations—created as part of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s 2012 danc(e)volve project at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art—that really knocked audiences out. Sophisticated in its structure, impressive for the way it sustained its distinctive modern-primitive style while also suggesting intimate relationships, this piece for six dancers (now part of Hubbard Street 2’s repertoire) feels like an intriguingly autumnal variation on Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring. Though McMillan began devising his movement to Beyoncé and the blues, it was a National Geographic article about the Sami, an indigenous people of the Arctic, that set him on course. McMillan grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, spent his childhood playing hockey and dancing around the living room, and began taking lessons at age 12. He caught the choreographic bug at the Interlochen Arts Academy and ultimately created about 20 pieces before graduating.
- Hedy Weiss, Dance Magazine
Instead of entering a refined version of his 2011 "Inside/Out" piece, he created a brand-new sextet. McMillan describes a magpie process of collecting images, music, and movement to use in the piece, Path and Observations; you might see traces of Beyonce and Nancy Sinatra moves. But it's all unified by a soundtrack of music from the Sami people, indigenous to the arctic regions of Nordic countries. Anyone expecting commensurately arctic choreography will be shocked by the passion and sensuality of Path and Observations, which has the raw intensity of Nijinsky's Rite of Spring.
- Laura Molzahn, Chicago Reader
McMillan’s “Paths and Observations” combines animalistic instinct and human intellect as the dancers mimic reindeer and throw themselves – and each other – on the ground with abandon.
- Lauren Whalen, Chicago Theater Magazine
McMillan’s new work Path and Observations takes a more earthy, grounded path. With a soundscape of Sami folkloric music (Pekka Lehti, Mari Boine), he incorporates autumnal leaves and emotional movement with moments of stillness. “The first 40 seconds of the piece are two people on stage in stillness,” McMillan (who just turned 20 on Tuesday) tells me. “It allows the audience to take in everything, to sit there and think, maybe go off in their own thoughts before they have to watch the dancing.” Promoted from apprentice to HS2 this season, he’s always been interested in choreography and created his first dance at age 16. “It was a ballet piece with 21 girls. It wasn’t very good. There were a lot of bourrés.”
- Vick Crain, Rogue Ballerina
Johnny McMillan, the name has a hypnotic sound: McMillan - a choreographic association immediately sets in, even if the ancestor Sir Kenneth MacMillan, creator of exquisite creatures like «Manon», added an a to the name. As a creature, Johnny McMillan (who was of course neither related nor related by marriage to the long-dead grandmaster) first caused a stir at the Staatsballett Berlin. There he came as a hairy full-body shaggy in Alexander Ekman's "LIB" and cut a casual figure next to three star ballerinas. That was in 2019, thanks to Corona it felt like ten years ago...
The Canadian has apparently used the meantime to immerse himself in choreographic experiments. And so he managed a coup at the second attempt with "Oh Captain" and by far the best piece at the "Lab_Works 2022" evening in the Komische Oper. McMillan, who has already danced at Hubbard Street in Chicago, for Sasha Waltz and in the Royal Swedish Ballet, gathers nine men around him and declines love, sorrow, the hopes of yesterday with them - what seems like a dark aftermath of the «YMCA »-era in the late 1970s, when AIDS was not yet an issue and the breakthrough was in full swing. In the end, McMillan is all alone under the freezing, aseptic neon lights. A contemporary image, yet comforting and possibly full of promise: McMillan without an a, the name could soon have an internationally attractive sound.
- Dorion Weickman, Tanz Jarhbuch 2022, Der Theaterverlag
OH CAPTAIN is a piece for 10 dancers coming to terms with their masculinity. At first they cower almost anxiously, before they dare to separate and soon romp around spiritedly. Cautious tenderness finally leads to a kiss. The audience showed on 13.06. sense of reality and rewarded this courage with strong applause.
The past few weeks have been pretty good for Johnny McMillan. In late April, he was promoted from HS2, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s (HSDC) second company, to the main company. He was immediately cast in William Forsythe’s Quintett, which he danced with veteran company members in the Summer Series at the Harris Theater earlier this month. In addition to Forsythe, he performed a tiny part in resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s Malditos – “I was a cross-over girl.” – and sections of the group work by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin THREE TO MAX. He’s now setting a new work for HSDC’s in-house choreographic workshop Inside/Out, which will be the third piece he’s made since joining HS2 in 2010. Did I mention he’s only 20.
That’s a lot to absorb for his petite 5’6″ frame, but he’s enjoying every minute. “I wasn’t really nervous for Malditos at first, because I was just going on stage and doing three counts of eight,” he said last week from HSDC’s West Loop studio. “But the first night, I run out on stage, slide, and my whole body goes ‘oh no, there are people here’. That’s when it hit me. I’m dancing with the main company. Everything I’ve wanted in dance is happening.” That he got to dance a Forsythe piece in his first show is a testament to his talent and maturity. Dancing alongside Ana Lopez, Alejandro Cerrudo, Jacqueline Burnett and Jesse Bechard, McMillan fit right in. “It was a surreal experience,” he said. “The nice thing about starting with Forsythe was…it wasn’t directed at the audience. From the moment you’re on stage, you don’t have time to think about anything but the people you’re dancing with and what you’re doing. That was nice. It was just being on stage for 25 minutes and having a blast. That’s the most fun I’ve ever had with a piece.”
Hitting the ground running, so to speak, he’s already learning tons of rep like Twyla Tharp’s speedy marathon Scarlatti and Sharon Eyal’s brain-twister Too Beacoup, while also rehearsing the three works he’ll perform at Inside/Out, as well as setting a solo on HSDC dancer Penny Saunders set to “Goin’ Out of My Head” by Little Anthony and the Imperials. “It’s really groovy. We were in Kansas (on tour) in the airport and I heard this song. I was outside smoking a cigarette and it was on and – shazam! – this is it”, McMillan said. “I’m really liking the solo and everything Penny is doing with it. He’s taking a new approach with this piece, working more with improv than strict, set steps and patterns. Inspired by memories of entertaining his parent as a child and watching videos of HS2 artistic director Taryn Kaschock Russell’s son Donovan, McMillan found his groove. “Kids have this carelessness. It’s always about the music. I really want to play with this lack of counts and just hearing and feeling the music…not even choreographing to the music, but the way it makes you feel.”
McMillan’s work premieres this weekend along with 17 new works from HSDC dancers and artistic staff in the intimate UIC Theater. Tickets are still available, but going quickly. The thing I find most intriguing about Inside/Out and new works programs (there are a ton in Chicago) is that when the tables are turned and the dancers have the opportunity to create the movement, you really get a glimpse at who they are as people, not just as performers. Don’t miss this chance to see you favorite HSDC-ers in a new light.
- Vicki Crain, Rogue Ballerina
“The work by Johnny McMillan "Parliament" is particularly symbolic of this period, in which seven dancers stand with their backs to the audience and move on the spot to the music of Pink Floyd, so that there is always the distance to the neighbour is guaranteed. Symbol of a time when dance is restricted.”
-Dieter Hartwig, tanznetz
The other highlight came at the end: Johnny McMillan's “PARLIAMENT ” shows a group of 7 dancers trying to move evenly and uniformly. Their clothes are also uniform: everyone is wearing black trousers, the upper body is bare.
Monotonous music is supposed to bring the collective into harmony, but the movements still remain individual.
Only when new tones dominate the room and the music of Pink Floyd's "Shine on your crazy Diamond" begins, everyone begins to vibrate in unison. Here, too, we reach a climax until finally the music stops and we only hear the panting of the body. Wow!
- Jacob Holger, kultur24 Berlin
And completely different “Parliament”, Johnny McMillan choreographed, in compliance with all the “rules of conduct”, as it says on the program. They act as if firmly rooted, their bare backs turned towards the audience, without their agitation ever suffering. And yet some things are different. And suddenly there is a hesitant smile that gives you hope for the future.
- Hartmut Regitz, Die Deutsche Bühne
For the finale, Johnny McMillan rehearsed “Parliament” with six colleagues: a mass of heaving, ecstatically twitching bodies, but translated to the Corona period: Each individual is for himself, isolated.
- Konrad Koegler, Das Kultur Blog
with skin and hair_____________
_______Chicago, Stockholm, Berlin - and now Reset: Same location, but out of the State Ballet and into Sharon Eyal's company L-E-V. Johnny McMillan stands out as a dancer and as a choreographer. Dorion Weickmann met him
So there he is, on a farewell tour in the middle of the canteen of the Deutsche Oper – a touch of a high-class restaurant with an attached theatre venue. Johnny McMillan has just cleared out his compartment, said goodbye to most of his colleagues, and shed a tear or two – a “sentimental journey”. In the evening he will be on stage again with the others in Pina Bausch's “Rite of Spring”, then it will finally be over. Over and over, after five years with the Berlin State Ballet, the Canadian is breaking new ground. At least from an employer perspective. He joined L-E-V, the company owned by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, a loose agglomeration. The ensemble comes together for rehearsals, premieres, events and tours, which is why McMillan remains based in the German capital. Giving up a place to stay here now? He would be ill-advised. The notorious housing shortage was rampant among the newcomers brought in by the newly appointed director Christian Spuck. A total of 21 dancers have left the troupe, but quite a few keep more than just one suitcase in the city.
For Johnny McMillan there was no alternative anyway: a few summer months in Berlin – and then it was over for him. Well, almost... He laughs and lets his lightning blue eyes light up. Discreet silver jewellery in his ears, around his neck and fingers, a blue-and-white striped shirt and cargo pants over the obligatory sneakers – just past his thirties, the dancer and choreographer could easily pass for a student. Maybe because there's nothing pretentious about him. McMillan is humble, self-critical and approachable in conversation – more of a low-life than a PR fuzzier on his own behalf. This proves once again the old adage that you can never draw conclusions about the person behind it from the stage appearance. If it were otherwise, this John Leonard McMillan, who inherited his grandfathers' first names, would have to be a rather shadowy, torn and worn man. More of a prince of darkness than a counterpart blessed with plenty of humour. McMillan can have a lot of fun with himself and quickly eat a lunch plate full of Bionade. He is exactly what others say about him: “such a sweetheart.”
Vibration of the mirror neuron’s
When did Johnny McMillan first get noticed? Don't know what else to say. Because he is one of those dancers whose performances resemble magnetic natural phenomena. They dance as if there was nothing else in the world and communicate through their bodies like others use language.
The matter-of-factness with which McMillan does this transforms the act of watching into a process of identification without eliminating the distance. McMillan's performance seems like a hallucination that creates the paradox of a double perception: you feel like you slip into his skin and at the same time remain an observer. Not many dancers trigger such an empathic vibration of the mirror neuron's.
The blonde boy (the only one in the family!) was never a star ballerino, and he won't be one anymore. McMillan's dance is purely contemporary; at the Staatsballett it has the utmost limit
to classic territory with David Dawson's neo-classical "Voices" (2021) and William Forsythe's "The Second Detail" (2019). He often shone in stylistically variable roles that went beyond all traditional burdens: with Alexander Ekman, Sharon Eyal, Anouk van Dijk, Emanuel Gat, Jefta van Dinther... He often crossed the stage powerfully and with intensive jumps, enticing people with his unmistakably unique movement qualities , which draw entirely from themselves even in nervous passages. His last great feat as a soloist was nevertheless out of line. McMillan inspired Mats Ek's "A sort of ..." with body-melodic arcs full of suppleness, then he switched to a solid argument partnering with Danielle Muir for Alexander Ekman's “Cacti".
Left-handed player with talent on both sides
Johnny McMillan originally wanted something completely different: “Bournonville, I dreamed of that, I wanted to dance that. Because I love challenges." It turned out differently, and it started completely differently. McMillan was born in Sault Ste. Marie, a city on the border with the USA with 75,000 inhabitants. The father works for a software company, the mother is a stylist, two older siblings who won't end up in art - but the whole family is passionate about sports and relevant activities. Johnny plays ice hockey “with his left hand” and later golf “with his right hand”. Actually left-handed, he developed talents on both sides and started shaking up his parents' parties early on: "I tried my hand at dancing until I ended up at her school at the invitation of a teacher." He started teaching at the age of 13, completely unaware that it would turn into a career leaves. It was only a guest teacher who gave him the idea, and from then on there was no stopping him. Of course, he is literally glued to everything that can be seen on YouTube: “It influenced my entire generation. We probably saw more than all of our teachers combined.”
An entry way up high? Why not? So audition before a committee at the Juilliard School, New York. But when the trainers want to know something about his motivation, sources of inspiration, key moments - he literally can't think of anything. He's just not the kind of person who constantly questions himself. What he experiences becomes the starting point for his work. After the failure, the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan comes into play - a fantastic place, located between two lakes, with a view of the water from everywhere. Here Johnny McMillan learns everything imaginable and collects tools from all directions, from the Graham technique to somatic procedures to the subtleties of the Bournonville style. He's aiming for a correspondingly classic commitment, but quickly realises: "I'm too small, I'm just not the type for it." Nevertheless, in his final year of training in 2010, he won first prize at the American Ballet Competition (“classical and contemporary division”), and his application to Hubbard Street Dance in Chicago was crowned with success. He was accepted with a kiss, first for the junior squad, then in the main company. Five happy years have passed: “I have a feeling for when something has to end. And then I’m very decisive.” In this case that means: “I wanted to go to Europe because they Companies can cover a larger spectrum here.” Definitely larger than in the USA, where private financing is also common in the art sector.
From Stockholm to Berlin
He ends up at the Royal Swedish Ballet, which grows and thrives and blooms prolifically under the direction of Johannes Öhman. They include Mats Ek’s “Juliet and Romeo” and the take on Sasha Waltz’s “Body”. Johnny McMillan dances in both productions and even plays the lead role in the Shakespeare adaptation of the reprise. He is in good hands in Stockholm, in good hands with Öhman. When the boss gets the offer to direct the Staatsballett Berlin together with Waltz, he asks a handful of dancers if they would like to join in. McMillan is immediately involved. Berlin is a good place for him; he now has work and cooperation opportunities here - and friends. Some he has been associated with for ages, others have joined over the last few years. Which is no wonder, since he says of himself: “I always fall in love with people.” By this he doesn't mean short-term relationships, but rather his ability to quickly find a connection with others, establish a connection and still remain completely with himself.
The ability to get involved with skin and hair also characterises McMillan's choreographies. He started creating short stories for neighbourhood children while he was in his parents' garage. Thinking in images and movement and implementing one's own imagination on stage has accompanied his entire career. His passion for invention grew and flourished, without breaks or dips. Last summer he delivered “Oh Captain” in Berlin At Komische Opera is a kind of journeyman's piece that recommends him for much greater things: a man - McMillan himself - among his peers, caressing, arguing and stumbling, ultimately completely alone in the ice-cold neon light. “Oh Captain” – the title and mystique of masculinity are borrowed from a poem by Walt Whitman about US President Abraham Lincoln, who was murdered in 1865 – resonates like a disturbing echo of loners like James Dean or Montgomery Clift. A great little piece that definitely calls for a sequel. McMillan wants to answer the call. He sees his future in choreography – with good reason.
He loves working together in the studio and the collective trip that a whip like Bausch's “Riot of Spring” sends everyone involved on: “You can't hide anything, absolutely nothing.” It's no different with the muscle work en bloc by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar: "Total effort, beyond all limits, I love it!" McMillan is initially planning a solo format for himself: “A search process that I undertake alone.” Despite all his euphoria for the future, he still has to cope with leaving the state ballet and a personal separation.
Three more hours until the last performance at the Deutsche Oper. Three days break, then Johnny McMillan flies to the south of France to premiere “Into the Hairy” at “Montpellier Danse” with L-E-V. A new chapter in life begins. It remains: more than one suitcase in Berlin.
McMillan is dancing in “Into the Hairy” in October in Cergy-Pontoise as well as in Bruges and Antwerp, dates and details: www.sharoneyaldance.com “Oh Captain” is available in its entirety at www.johnnymcmillan.ca