It started in caps and gowns. They both stood at the podium whispering to each other, waiting to begin. “Are you wearing deodorant? I don’t think you’re wearing deodorant.” “I never wear deodorant.” They begin their commencement addresses at the same time at the podium, eliciting immediate laughter from us in the audience. They stop. Back up. Begin again, this time with more aggression and larger gestures. They repeat this a third time, before their simultaneous speeches morph into a costume change. This time, they take turns walking downstage on the runway in different articles of clothing, including a foam finger, asking different variations of “Does this clash?”
Sara Juli and Claire Porter are known for their comedic artistry. Juli, a Maine-based solo artist and Porter, from New Jersey, were first paired together by the American Dance Festival (ADF) a couple years ago and commissioned to present a duet based on anything. To dance artists, this sort of prompt is insidious. The piece they made for ADF was titled “Short Stories” where they were dressed in large, simple ball gowns, sneakers, and red underpants that were exposed later in the piece. In this piece, they told segments of everyday happenings that, when coupled with gestural movements, created a powerful sense of humor that drove the piece to success. The underlying message was that the small things in life can lead to something bigger. Now, they are at it again and came to the Marcy Plavin Dance Studios on campus to workshop their newest duet.
On Friday, November 11, they held an informal showing where several dance students were able to watch and give feedback on the 20 minutes of material they have already made. The two women did not tell us what they thought the piece was about and left the interpretation open to us. As the piece evolved, a sense of competition surfaced via vocal comments and physical gestures. At one point, Juli grabbed two pompoms and performed a cheer to the famous “Be Aggressive” but incorporated suggestions of how to be polite such as “accept the water” and “maintain eye contact.” As it turns out, Juli researched rules on how to succeed in an interview and her cheer consisted of the tips she found online.
In the runway section, Juli mentioned that they were inspired by her seven year old’s recent desire to dress herself, despite the clashing patterns. Juli said that this made her realize that a child’s identity is in part shaped by the clothes they choose to wear. From then on, she has let her daughter dress herself for school everyday.
The dual commencement addresses opened the piece and raised the question of “are they the same person?” insisting a sense of internal competition and criticism that could be translated throughout the whole piece. This is especially apparent in the next section where the two women are sitting in folding chairs going back and forth with suggestions, as if it were a first date gone wrong. Juli would say, “Well, I thought you would have paid the bill” and Porter would reply with “Well, I thought you would have done your hair” and so on and so forth, all the while they were inching closer and closer to each other in the chairs.
The piece raised several questions of gender, rule-breaking, societal expectations and the relationship between the dancers. Were they the same person exposing internal criticism? Were they mother and daughter? Was this about the expectations others have for female behavior? How important is it to follow social rules? None of these questions could be answered by Juli and Porter just yet, as they are in the very beginning stages of their choreographic process. However, I am certain these inquiries, among others, will be illuminated more and more along the way as the piece morphs and develops. These two women gave us an inside look of what is certain to be yet another hilariously realistic piece of art.