Sara keeps doing a solo...and thank goodness for that!
Opening tonight as part of Summerworks, Sara Porter's well-travelled "Sara Does a Solo" returns to Toronto, a constantly evolving creature on a quest for honesty and free-ranging engagement in performance. She is an unforgettable being on stage, and this work reveals the intelligent mechanisms that allow her such range and possibility.
LR: Sara does a Solo has had quite a life so far. This is well deserved and yet so unusual these days. How did this solo get its (forgive the pun) legs? How did the touring happen for you?
SP: Yes. I’ve been fortunate to perform the work in several locations to different audiences. I built the piece (through 2014) with the help of the wonderful Gerry Trentham and Katherine Duncanson, and did a studio showing – to some invited people – in the spring of 2014. The first public performances were produced by Gerry’s company – pounds per square inch performance – as part of Double Bill: Porter/Trentham, a show we shared at the Intergalactic Arts Collective Studio at Artscape Youngplace in March 2015.
photo by Omer Yukseker
After that, I was wondering what to do next. So, I applied to the Performance Mix Festival in New York City , to present an edited version of the piece. I knew of Karen Bernard – festival director – from my days in Montreal – she and Studio 303, where I’d worked, had done some exchange– and we’d performed at a festival together in Ottawa years ago. I knew she ran a festival that included performance art and contemporary dance, and I knew some Montrealers who had presented work there.
So, I was accepted and did one performance of the edited 25-minute version. It went well, and after the show, I was approached by two artists – choreographer Douglas Dunn and Niegel Smith of the The Flea Theatre – to bring the full version down to NYC. Niegel Smith recommended me to a San Francisco producer, Laura Lundy-Paine of Blue Panther productions and she co-produced the show at the San Francisco Internationl Arts Festival in May.
I took the piece to Montreal’s Studio 303 and was invited to the Guelph Festival. I’m also headed off the Newfoundland’s Festival in the fall, and to Hamilton. I think something about the honesty in the work appeals to people.
LR: After getting a chance to perform the work in many places over a sustained amount of time, what have you learned about the work, how has it changed or shifted?
SP: The piece is partially improvised, and it’s a solo, so I have plenty of room to shift things around as I feel in the present moment. It’s very much about where I’m at in the present, so each performance is slightly different. The piece has developed over two years because I have developed as a dancer, an artist, a mother.
What I have learned is that some things are always hard. You never master vulnerability. It’s always a challenge. You never overcome the rawness of performing. It’s always raw.
But I suppose, I’ve learned about the craft of performing more, simply from having performed more. There is a certain ineffable aspect to performing that you can’t truly master. It’s always new, every time.
photo by Laura Lundy-Payne
The work has become more produced over the years. The first iteration was raw, in studio, I ran all the sound from onstage. There were no lights. Now there’s a video, a technician who tours with me, special stage lights. It’s still a flexible show – we do it in a variety of kinds of spaces – but the production side has definitely grown.
LR: I hope you don't mind my saying this but you have such a beautiful quirky mind, such an interesting and articulate way of questioning and expressing yourself in our past conversations. I wonder, how does that thinking guide you in the creative process, or shape your choices in making work on yourself? Not to divorce body from mind, of course. I am curious how you see your thought processes unravelling in the form of a “dance”?
SP: I have a quirky mind? Okay, I’ll try to answer that. As I age, I’ve come to realize that trying to make sense of everything is a fool’s errand. Sense melds with nonsense, imagination feeds practicality, efficiency can be devastating to a day’s joy. Is that what you mean? Everything dances, moves, changes all the time. I think choreography is just trying to make order out of the stuff of life.
LR: That was a ridiculously hard, slightly inadequately-put question I asked. So that is a sensational answer! Can you tell me a bit about your journey to becoming a dance artist?
SP: I come from a very musical Maritime family, and play several instruments, and I was a jock-science-nerd girl all through school. I’d taken some jazz dance classes in high school in Halifax and participated in the school musicals, but they didn’t feel quite right to me. I didn’t have long legs or a taste for the kind of sexy femininity they offered.I took a ballet class as a child and hated it. I didn’t want sparkles on my toes.
I always had an active body, did gymnastics, track and field, basketball. I was provincial high jump champion and played university level volleyball. I entered university in Nova Scotia as a full scholarship biochemistry student but soon felt I was not amongst my people, so I transferred through various disciplines, ending up in the theatre department to take movement and acting classes, and graduated at the top of the school because I realized I’d found my métier and did independent shows, and choreographed theatre productions. I was very full on. I did plies in the hallway of my apartment every day. The blend of acting and dancing opened up my imagination.
I did a summer school session at Toronto Dance Theatre but knew they were not quite my people either. Because I loved studying, I pursued an MA in Dance Studies the following year in England, pursuing both academic and studio work, training in Cunningham technique and learning choreography from the fantastic political feminist choreographer Emilyn Claid.
On graduating, I decided I really wanted to dance – not be an academic – so I moved back to Canada, to Montreal, and spent five years there, dancing for Isabelle van Grimde, and making my own work, and writing about the city’s dance artists for the weekly newspaper.
I moved back to work in the UK, teaching and making work for a few years, before landing in Toronto. I focused on teaching (in York’s dance department) for five years), then researched and wrote a book about Peter Boneham. I had three kids.
It’s been a journey to find my own voice as an artist. But I think it’s simply been a process of synthesizing all the various strands – and passions – of my life. The work integrates my music, writing, dancing, theatrics, clowning, costumes, stories, parenting … it’s all there.
photo by Omer Yukseker
LR: Sara Does a Solo is such a personal narrative, such an expedition into you, not in a navel-gazing way but the most exposing, brilliant, welcoming way. How did it become compelling or necessary to make this work?
SP: I’d stopped dancing for a few years. Not from any intentional decision, but from life circumstances. I was writing a book and I had three small kids at home. There simply wasn’t enough time in the day. I’ve always loved writing, and thought perhaps my dancing days were behind me. Aging can try to convince you of strange things.
After completing the book about Peter (Boneham), someone suggested I write about my own life. Well, I had no other creative projects on the go, so I thought I’d try. I churned out several very short stories and began a small collection of (sort of) memoir pieces. Then I was invited to join a studio collective that needed a new member. I thought, ‘At least I’d have a quiet place to write’ away from my busy, kid-centred home.
Well, writing gave way to memorizing stories, which gave way to some improvising, and then putting the two together. One day I lay on the studio floor and began to sing, feeling the vibrations in my back. I sang old songs I knew really loud and thought it didn’t sound too bad.
Things began to come together so I got together my gumption and asked two great artists to help me put together a piece from my improvised dances, and songs, and stories. Gerry Trentham and Katherine Duncanson have been on the journey with me from the beginning.
Then came the dresses, the music, the melding of many things in my life. It was like a haven of ‘me-ness’ away from the intense demands of parenthood. I was asking myself big questions about life, about what happened next, about where I was in life. About what I’d accomplished, if anything.
Parenthood has a way of ripping away the reference points that previously gave your life meaning and orientation. But things began to clarify through the making of the piece. I realized the questions were the important thing. I didn’t need to answer them, just examine them. And so, my piece grew and developed from that process. And as I’ve grown over the past two years, my questions change, and so does the piece.
Sara Does a Solo
part of Summerworks Festival 2016
Aug 4 at 9pm
Aug 7 at 5:30pm
Aug 8 at 9pm
Aug 14 at 5pm
Scotiabank Studio Theatre, Pia Bouman School
6 Noble Street
more info: www.saraporter.ca
all photos of Sara Porter courtesy of the artist.