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