Sara Porter, and ‘the Daily Beauty of Human Beings’
My name is Sara Porter (she/ her) and I’m a queer contemporary dance choreographer, writer, performer, teacher and Artistic Director of Sara Porter Productions based in Artscape Youngplace.
We chatted with Sara Porter – whose work, L-E-A-K was recently shown at Artscape Youngplace, about performance art, identity and queer representation in the creative community.
Read on to learn more about Porter and her work.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Sara Porter (she / her) and I’m a queer contemporary dance choreographer, writer, performer, teacher, and Artistic Director of Sara Porter Productions based at Artscape Youngplace in Toronto. I’m from Nova Scotia, studied in the UK, started my career in Montreal and arrived in Toronto, initially to teach at a university. I’ve had the opposite path to many artists, in that I moved *from* university into working as an artist. (Many go in the other direction.)
In my youth, I was an athlete and musician and they intersected in contemporary dance when I was a university student. I had studied biochemistry, religious studies, and theatre before starting dance. As an artist, I make multi-disciplinary stage shows about things like mis-categorized fruit, the ocean tides, Harlequin Romances, and the various forms of memoir. I love to research things.
Since 2014, I’ve been developing a practice called Memoir & Movement that blends writing and dancing, but also investigates cross-over techniques to explore and create highly personal work. I work with artists of all ages and disciplines – including opera singers, clowns, actors, dancers, and circus performers – from across Canada.
Mostly, I help people expand their artistic capacities – see creative potential in many forms and the links between forms – to help them make performance work about themselves. I teach both professional and amateur artists, in both public and private workshops. My oldest client is 83 years old and he performed his own show just before lockdown!
I love the complexity of how people investigate the stories of their lives and articulate who they are. The way you tell your story is part of the story. There are endless variations on how people work at this thing called living.
L-E-A-K just took place at Youngplace – described as a feminist take on all things that leak: bodies, histories, disciplines, identities, and stories about the beginning of the world. Can you explain the show, for those who missed it?
I’ve been making memoir-based performances works since 2014, when my three kids were old enough for me to get back to work. The first of these pieces – Sara does a Solo – was about the return to dancing after spending time on the domestic front. Coming back to dance – after birthing three kids – meant I was working in studio with a very different body: one that had different limitations and capacities. Motherhood is a seriously leaky business. I wanted to honour the real-life mess.
The title of my most recent work – L-E-A-K – that recently premiered at Artscape Youngplace – has another genesis: it comes from a quote by the writer Trinh-Minh Ha that was written on the chalkboard in the hallway of Artscape Youngplace, where I work in a shared studio. In walking down the hall, I kept passing this sentence: “The problem with categories is that they leak.” That idea stayed with me for two years before I started working on L-E-A-K, the piece.
L-E-A-K is a kind of an erotic love letter to the ocean’s edge. My home waters, the Bay of Fundy, sits between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and is home to the highest tides in the world. As a space that oscillates between being land and ocean, it defies clear categorization. I took an erotic, dramatic, literary and clown-like approach to this tidal place, wrote poetry, took photos, created movement structures. I worked with an amazing team, including queer dancer Jessie Garon, Katherine Duncanson (creative facilitator) and award-winning sound designer (Phil Strong), lighting designer Simon Rossitor, and video designer (Linnea Swann). I’m very lucky to have these multi-skilled artists expand the work.
We presented a first draft of the show at Artscape Youngplace in early June: we’ll present a full production next year before touring the work to coastal cities.
You center your work around voices that live outside mainstream art communities – particularly queer ones. Can you tell me a little bit more about this?
Western European dance has a history of being a very convergent art form. Traditionally, dancers trained to ‘look like the teacher’ – and one other – and to accomplish a codified physical technique. Because I started dancing late, I didn’t come into my career through that experience. After years of feeling that lack as a deficit in my professional life, I decided to embrace the divergence. Besides, the feminine, point-y toe aspect of contemporary dance never sat well in my body. I was a sprinter, a volleyball player and a high jumper in my teens: the dresses and pointy toes didn’t fit my image of myself. Admittedly, I do LOVE dressing up – but now it’s playful and tongue in cheek. I do LOVE a fancy dress – they always appear in my works – but it’s more of a drag approach to the frock.
I came out as queer my 20s then was married to a man for several years, raising my kids as a stay at home mum. The experience was wonderful and conflicted. After that relationship ended and I began dancing again in earnest, there was no point trying to attain the things I had before. When I began to acknowledge the queer, aging, motherbody I was taking onstage with me, my work began to grow quickly. It was very gratifying. Don’t get me wrong – I train every day, but allow the edges to be different ones now.
It’s why I do the work I do: that is, help people find and fully articulate themselves on stage. It’s surprising the amount of work it takes to accomplish that. Was it Miles Davis who said, ‘It takes years to become yourself?’
Do you believe these voices – the ones of mothers, the elderly, queer and new gen – are represented enough in the creative community? How does your work aim to capture them?
Because we are so bombarded with imagery through advertising, I think we still have a challenge to wholeheartedly celebrate – and to see – the daily beauty of human beings. I love to see the complexity, humility and vulnerability of a person exploring something new, especially when it’s themselves. We only get one life – and I think curiosity is what keeps us alive and living. There is a magical quality regular people’s daily bodies dancing. It has to do with the kind of attention the dancer pays. A radical attention to the present tense of your own body. I sometimes get tired of the ‘spectacle’ of special-ness in art and really love to see the personality of an artist come through their work. In my own choreography, I am mostly interested in how things intersect – words, movements, images, costumes – and complicate one another. Dancing is one outcome of those explorations.
My most recent work – L-E-A-K – put erotica and the ocean together. I once read that queer art is about using things in ways for which they were not intended. I like that. Imagination can make anything new.