I’m currently in Calgary performing Sara does a Solo for two nights at the Fluid Festival. Last night, we did the four-hour technical rehearsal in the beautiful, well-appointed Decidedly Jazz Danceworks Theatre. There were four technicians. We set video, sound levels, suspended props, spiked the floor, set lighting specials and levels. Tonight, the show opens at 9pm. I look forward to returning to Toronto at week’s end for Dance Matters – another technical rehearsal – and two shows in the Scotiabank Theatre at Pia Bouman’s. (A space I particularly love.)
I have had the good fortune of performing Sara does a Solo over thirty times in the past couple of years, in festivals across Canada and in the US including New York City, in San Francisco, Vancouver, St. John’s, Guelph, Montreal and more. The piece has grown and changed considerably from its very humble beginnings. It started out so small.
I first performed it – as VerbTenseDance – in June 2014 in front of a group of invited friends and colleagues at Intergalactic studio in Artscape Youngplace. They sat on folding chairs. The only lighting was afternoon sun coming in the windows. Music came from my laptop onstage. It was a casual affair, safe and low-stress. It needed to be. I hadn’t performed in many years, and have three kids, and it’s difficult to get anything done… I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to manage one performance.
As a mother, I had become accustomed to a being in a state of such perpetual interruption – by anything, about anything. Parenting is saturated with distractions, sudden changes of course, and demands to solve problems – from life-threatening situations to the (equally tragic) loss of a special piece of Lego. These focus shifts occur at such breakneck speed, I believe the brain changes its physical matter in response to sustained perpetual shifting. (I have not yet conducted the scientific research). However, after years away from dancing, I felt the urge to try to make a piece, put this life experience onstage. I was unsure I could manage against all the demands on my time/attention, so I asked myself, If I am living in a state of such deep improvisation and multi-tasking, what happens if I take that onstage? What if I don’t fight it? What if I include everything, mistakes, interruptions, failures, distractions, private, public, all of it? What if all of Sara goes onstage?
Working with the indomitable Gerry Trentham and the ever gracious and generative Katherine Duncanson, we assembled a collection of my stories, songs, poems, images and dancing frames I wanted to include. The earliest version of the piece allowed me to perform the sections in any order that I felt like, improvising the structure as I went.
And Sara does a Solo emerged.
Over time, structures became set, text was memorized, costumes repaired for consistency, James Kendal arrived as technical director. The piece gained momentum and began to tour. There have been three iterations of the hour long show, a 30-minute piece, and several shorter edits that stand alone as Salon-pieces, sometimes. It’s now a stage production with cues, lines, schedules and all the trappings of the theatre. However…
I like to keep it live, and James is good to play. Once, during a performance in New York City, I decided mid-show that I wasn’t feeling it in a certain section, realized I’d make a poor choreographic choice, and I wanted to fix it right then and there. I turned to James and asked him to change the cue mid-show, saying “This isn’t working, let’s move on”. No-one ever knew it was spontaneous. Another time, during Summerworks in Toronto, I was mid-monologue about improvising and a large housefly flew around my head and landed on my nose. It provided the perfect prop to make my point. I followed it – around the space – letting the fly make my point for me. The non-repeatable theatre moment.
Of course, in a way, all live performance is this. Living parts of our lives – ourselves - in front of others. People ask if I get tired of performing the same show. Well, it’s never really the same show, because I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen … See you soon. We’ll find out.
Photo of Sara Porter by Laura Lundy-Paine