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Choreographer, Poet, Playwright Robert Henry Johnson, 54

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Robert Henry Johnson. Facebook profile photo.

By Zoe Jung

Robert Henry Johnson, a Bay Area dancer, choreographer, and playwright, passed away on Dec. 16, 2022. His body was identified in March.

Johnson will be missed deeply. He worked in the Bay Area for decades, teaching a generation of Black artists.

He was born Jan. 30, 1968, to Robert Gonzales, a guitarist, and jazz singer Lady Mem’fis. He grew up in the Western Addition neighborhood showing early talent in theatre and dance.

One of the first students to graduate from the San Francisco School of Performing Arts, Johnson went on to receive a full scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School in 1985, where he studied for four years. After graduating, he moved further into the world of writing and choreography.

He applied for a playwrights’ residency at Sugar Shack Performance Gallery in 1992 where he staged, directed and developed several of his plays. For his poetic and lively writing style, he was honored with the Levi’s & Strauss Certificate of Literary Appreciation that same year.

In 1993, he founded the Robert Henry Johnson Dance Company the same year his first play, “Poison Ground,” was featured in the Bay Area Playwrights Festival and was produced by the Hartford Stage Company two years later.

Over time he created works for the Bavarian State Ballet, Ballet British Columbia, Oakland Ballet, and others.

Although his troupe performed for several years, earning local and national acclaim, he disbanded it to focus on solo efforts.

Among those efforts were writing plays and poetry. In the months before his passing, he had taken up a challenge to create poems just for his Facebook audience.

At the turn of the year, Facebook posts from friends showed they were concerned that they couldn’t get in touch with him, especially around his birthday.

When his death was announced, there was an outpouring of grief on social media.

On March 27, Wanda Sabir of Wanda’s Picks radio held an online memorial for Johnson. Each person attending was given a five-minute window to remember Johnson, tell stories about him, speak to his passing, and celebrate his life.

More than 80 people came to watch the memorial on YouTube, which ran for about two hours.

Dancer, teacher, and author Halifu Osumare began the memorial with a libation, invoking the spirits of the ancestors to help mourners through their grief and help Johnson’s spirit find its way.

Raissa Simpson, the founder of PUSH Dance Company, said, “He was young, gifted, and Black, the epitome of it. And he also mentored so many of us, so many of us young Black choreographers. He stood up for us, he protected us . . . he did a lot for us.”

Sherrie Taylor, Johnson’s cousin, said, “He was such an inspiration to everyone here. He will always be a bright light in my life because that’s what he did. He shined like a bright light. He was a wonderful person, and I just wish I could have spent some more time with him.”

Antoine Hunter said it was “a time to celebrate that light that was lit from the day I met him.” At the end of his speaking window, Hunter shared that the last words he said to Johnson were “I love you.”

Another celebration of Johnson’s memory will be held April 8 at the Zaccho Dance Theatre at 1777 Yosemite Ave., San Francisco, and another on May 27 at the African American Art and Culture Complex at 762 Fulton St, San Francisco. Time to be announced.

The post Choreographer, Poet, Playwright Robert Henry Johnson, 54 first appeared on Post News Group. This article originally appeared in Post News Group.

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