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Jon Johnson, 52; Dancer, Choreographer Formed Repertory Company

February 12, 2003|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Jon Johnson, 52, a dancer and choreographer who brought a distinctive fusion of movement styles to the local dance community, died Jan. 24 in Los Angeles of complications from AIDS.

Born in Mississippi in 1950, Johnson began dancing professionally in Memphis with rhythm and blues groups. In 1970, he came to Los Angeles to hone his dance skills, and soon began training low-income teenagers under various federal programs.

In 1981, he formed Repertory Dance Theater of Los Angeles, choreographing works combining ballet and jazz-dance vocabularies with African American street idioms. The company toured Europe and the Far East in the 1980s.

Throughout his career, Johnson received more acclaim as a dancer than as a choreographer, but his sense of mission mattered more to him.

"It's time to show America, and especially L.A.," he said in a 1987 Times interview, "just how textured and full of variety the black experience in dance expression can be."

Johnson dropped out of dance for nearly a decade in the '90s. In an interview in 2000, he attributed that hiatus to drug addiction and his pain over losing more than 200 friends and colleagues to AIDS.

He reappeared on stage that same year at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in the autobiographical "Coming of Age," a work he called "a dance of rejuvenation and healing at the end."

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