This past Friday, performance artist Sara Juli performed a forty minute excerpt of her new work “Tense Vagina,” which will be performed at Portland’s Space Gallery on October 23rd and 24th at 8pm.
The piece is a harvest of Sara Juli’s experiences as a mother, and is thus a work aimed at parents. While it might be arguably easier for parents to empathize with some of the references in Sara Juli’s work – such as offering the audience snacks, explaining how and when to open said snacks, singing Disney princess karaoke, etc. – the students who watched the showing were laughing uproariously. Not all audience members may know what it’s like to be a parent, but we never forget what it’s like to be a kid – or at least to have an adult talking to us as if we were still a kid.
While some might understandably wrinkle their nose at the prospect of hearing about “tense vaginas” for an hour, Sara Juli’s unexaggerated gestures, genuine interest in the audience, and fluid compositional style allow this subject matter to be the Disney-princess-powered glue linking everyone in the audience to one another and to her experience.
Towards the beginning of the piece, when she confesses to having recently visited the Pelvic Floor Rehab Center of New England, I thought “this can’t be true, it’s just too funny.” However, it was true, and realizing so filled me with a sense of awe and appreciation for the performance that is rarely established so early on in a performance art piece.
Hannah Fairchild ’18 wrote about this unique relationship between Sara Juli and her audience: “The beauty of experiencing her performance was that she made me laugh, and she made me want to cry. Sara Juli’s piece shares a deeply personal medley of experiences and emotions from her life as a woman and a mother for which I experienced an overwhelming feeling of empathy that tugged painfully on my heart as I watched her. To me, one of her truest talents is her ability to grab the audience– everyone in the audience, no matter where they come from, who they identify as, or how little one may think they will be able to resonate with the stories she spills onto the stage. The rawness of her stories and movements that fluctuate from silliness to pain make for a helplessly-gripping experience for the audience to witness.”
This was not the first time that Sara Juli has come to share an excerpt of her work at Bates and receive feedback from students and faculty. During short term, she garnered feedback for a duet that she collaborated on with veteran choreographer and comedienne Claire Porter, which was performed at the world renowned American Dance Festival in July.
Sara Juli began her showing with a series of endearing disclaimers, and at the end highlighted how important the May showing was for cultivating feedback and finessing the final art product.
Laura Pietropaoli ’17 was able to be at both showings and shared her reflections over e-mail: “Sara Juli’s performances in general tend to be very rooted in her personal experiences. She tells real stories about her life that are relatable; everyone in the audience has felt all of emotions that she conveys, even if no one has gone through exactly what she is depicting. I’ve never even heard of the Pelvic Floor Rehab Center of New England, but I found each section that she showed accessible and frankly hilarious. She is an incredible storyteller who knows how to engage her audience through well-known cultural references in order to drive her narrative home.”
Not to give any spoilers for the performance, but just know that I will never look at the song “Chandelier” the same way. If any Batesies are here for October break and looking for a bit of culture, check out “Tense Vagina.”