Myron Johnson made his indelible impression on the Twin Cities art scene in the late 1980s, when he returned from his studies in Paris with a theatrical, bad-boy sensibility that loomed large over the staid ballet aesthetic. He and his fiercely outfitted, take-no-prisoners company made other troupes, performing in perfectly pressed pink tutus in perfect square boxes look like, well, squares. With Ballet of the Dolls, Johnson was the John Waters of the dance world, so smart in his deconstruction of sacred cows that you couldn’t help taking him seriously even as refused to take himself too seriously. Now older and wiser, he shares what he’s learned along the way.
Q: You studied dance and mime in Paris. How did that shape the performer you’ve become?
Myron Johnson: In Paris, artists are a different class than they’re considered here. Being an artist in Paris is highly respected, the way we treat rock stars. Nothing to do with money, mind you, just respect. And the work ethic is different. It’s not about working less, it’s just more of being part of a craft, what people have done for thousands of years.
Q: You studied with Marcel Marceau, the master of mime. What was that like?
MJ: It would change anybody’s life. His ego was huge. He had some Italian boys who were his bodyguards. But we worked seven hours a day: modern ballet, jazz dance, gymnastics, all these different disciplines. That’s when I started thinking of myself not just as a dancer but as a artist. And when I came home, I didn’t want to have to decide—theater or dance or mime—so I just did all of them.
Q: You’ve always wanted to surprise your audience, and sometimes you shocked them. Do you regret any of that?
MJ: I never card what anyone thought. I never thought that was part of being an artist. I thought it was the duty of one, in fact, to provoke. But I’ve done shows that were totally inappropriate. And now I’ve learned—you learn a lot from having to look at your own crap.
Q: Now that you are an institution in town, do you still feel like you’re rebelling against something?
MJ: I see the world as one juxtaposition after another, that’s how I perceive things. Just now, for instance, a mouse ran across the carpet right here in the grandest theater in town [the Orpheum]. And I’m a part of that. I feel very uncomfortable when I try to fit in.
Here, a short documentary on Myron, shown when he accepted a Sally Award from the Ordway Center in 2009: