Below is a preview of a profile of Claire Porter for the September edition of 15 BYTES. Her solo work, “PORTABLES,” will be presented this Saturday at the Rose and the full piece will include additional notes on that performance.
The Washington Post once described Claire Porter’s solo performance “Green Dress Circle,” as “more reminiscent of Lily Tomlin than any extreme avant-garde type.” Viewing her recent rehearsal process with Repertory Dance Theater it’s clear that this brand of accessibility is something the company is after but also that the points of entry into her process are much more expansive.
The tentatively titled “Begging the Question,” draws segments of movement material from a work for students at SUNY Purchase. Claire described that she prefers to work through material over time, unpacking contents to develop various potentials and often distilling group works into the solo forms she’s known for.
In rehearsal on Tuesday afternoon, Claire began rotating out two dancers to observe rather than perform. Her value of dancer feedback is unique and she offered that it “makes them more responsible for the piece. They get to see the piece and it changes dramatically.” For someone who has a short period of time to work, in this case two weeks, a high level of accountability and trust is vital.
As Tyler Orcutt and Justin Bass sat beside me, the full piece remained a mystery but several aspects were clear. The dancers would each work through vignettes of movement and text surrounding the nature of questions while other dancers periodically framed the action. As an ensemble, they traveled like a rag-tag band of acrobats who just can’t find success.
Before the dancers began, Claire gave an urgent reminder about locating distinctions: “exaggerate big and small! It’s too middle, it’s too middle! Remember, it’s not about slow and quick. Instead be thinking, sustain and quick, sustain and quick.” Afterward there was discussion between Claire and rehearsal director Lynne Larson about whether the location of these differences is found in the body or instead, at external, spatial touchstones. I fall into the latter camp and told Claire late who I found believable in the performance of less controlled moments in the space. She had a gentleness in knowing who she believed and what she was drawn to: the soft tone of Lacie Scott’s voice or the earnest spinning of Lauren Curley that peppers the middle of the dance.
These nuanced perceptions translate into some of the other feedback that afternoon. At one point she suggested to Efren Corado that when he circled his head it “looks like a swish and not a fffphewwum.” Although this is silly, in the moment and with gentle gesture, it made perfect sense. Her feedback is at times more precise and she finds her study of Laban “valuable for giving feedback. [Within Laban] there are lots of ways to work: there is phrasing, weight, space…” She tells the dancers clear corrections to the script, notes on patterning and listens to their concerns about potential collisions, ultimately noting that “I like the almost bumped into…”
Claire is aware that commissions by companies or universities are frequently meant to lighten a program. When asked about whether she purposefully meets these implicit mandates she confesses that she makes what she’s going to make and yes, it typically includes comedic aspects. She goes on to acknowledge the development of humor didn’t begin purposefully: “…maybe it started in high school when I didn’t know what I was doing. But later, I was just playing with theme and variation. When the audience responded I thought oh, I understand, this is funny.”
Like most choreographers she wrestles with the feeling of creating the same dance on repeat. She suggests that a solution might be to invent a problem, “that things can really change when the only action you can make is problem solving.”
Still thinking about choreography, Claire drew an arc on her rehearsal scripted, labeling three components she feels make-up a dance: “Content, then Structure, then Theme. The content is the movement material, the music, costumes, the whole thing, the whole shebang. Structure is, of course, how it’s organized. And theme; the theme is ‘well, what is this?’”
Thinking aloud about how to continue to reinvent the process she encourages that an artist might consider to “ask the theme what the structure is.” In the work for RDT it seems that circling unanswerable questions bounces between structure, theme, and material. And I am delighted to see where it lands.