Sarah East Johnson


Born in Los Altos, California, where she was free to play with GI Joe, wear brown corduroys, black high tops, and become enamored by rocks, Johnson fell in love with dancing at the age of 14. After hours, days, weeks, months, and years in classes and studios, her practice evoked a passionate willingness to commit her life to dance. Her teachers then shared their advice: lose the blue hair. Lose the muscles. Lose ten pounds.

She didn't know it at the time, but that devastation was the first of many empowering encounters with creative destruction. She moved to New York, and in 1985 began her professional dance career at the Merce Cunningham Studio, where she at last found a world that valued harmony over hierarchy. Still drawn to anthropology and geology, she studied at Columbia University and Empire State College and began performing with other choreographers including Circus Amok, where for the first time, she was celebrated for her strength and became and integral part of a diverse ensemble. Inspired by that work, she decided to deepen her circus training at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts in 1996.

Throughout the 90's, as Johnson continued to deconstruct her dance training, she met other women who wanted to work in alternative ways to the rigid stereotypes of the dance world. In 1998, she founded LAVA, naming it for a substance that has the capacity to be what it wants - a liquid and a solid, creative and destructive, rapid explosions of movement from tectonic shifts too slow to perceive.

Johnson has been awarded both a New York Dance and Performance Award (Bessie) and a Village Voice Off-Broadway Theater Award (Obie) for her choreographic work with the company, and has received residencies and fellowships from The Jerome Foundation, The Heathcote Foundation, The Bossak-Heilbron Charitable Trust, Meet the Composer, Red Cinder (Hawaii), The Djerassi Resident Artist Program, The Puffin Foundation, and the New York State Council on the Arts. In 2004, she opened the LAVA Studio in Prospect Heights (Brooklyn) to house the company's burgeoning community and outreach programs, which serve over 500 people each year, as well as a school, which served over 5,000 adults and children during its ten-year life span.