Face to Face: Claire Porter

A conversation with the choreographer and Guggenheim Fellowship recipient

Claire Porter

Connecticut native Claire Porter was inspired to revisit her childhood dance roots after seeing Maria Tallchief perform. Then a computer programmer, Porter enrolled in Ohio State University’s dance MA program to build on her performance career. What she graduated with was a collection of PORTABLES—choreography named for its allusion to her last name and ability to be performed in a variety of spaces. These short solos function as comedic movement monologues, with topics that range from the discomfort of fundraising to a narcissistic concert pianist waiting for her piano’s arrival. Porter has made a name for herself internationally as a choreographer, performer and teacher, and last April, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for her exceptional career. DT caught up with her during rehearsals to talk about the challenges of creating humor in choreography.

On solo vs. group work: When I’m doing my solo work, I say that I get to work/play with the material. In the group work, you have to let it go and give it to them. As a choreographer/director, I have to pull out what’s interesting in them. So then it becomes something more sculptural that I can work with. It’s all one big experiment. I love how a piece deepens over time.

On the pressure to be funny: I don’t think about it. When I’m working, I might delight myself with something and maybe laugh. But I don’t think, “Is this going to be funny?” Humor in dance is a tricky thing. I don’t know if it’s timing or attitude.

Keeping choreography fresh: There is a problem with knowing something so well that it dies. You have to refresh it, and that’s a performance skill different from technique. That’s one thing that the Laban Movement Analysis work does so well. It gives you tools to discover. Say you know a phrase really well; how do you bring it to life again? Well, with LMA you could work with some new approach like phrasing or lightness or how the gesture transfers through the scapula.

Self-assessment: Works-in-progress showings are essential. I meet once a month with two different groups, where we show work and give feedback. That gives me the opportunity to find out more or less how a piece will land, so I’m not surprised later. I learned the hard way. I performed a piece for the public, and as I was performing it, I thought, “Wow, I wonder what this is.” I don’t want to experience that again. I want to have it under my belt and know what it is. DT

Education: BA in mathematics and career as a computer programmer before earning an MA in dance at Ohio State University; certified Laban Movement Analyst.
Teaching credits: Columbia University, Case Western Reserve University and Connecticut College; will teach Laban at New York University beginning in fall 2013.
Choreography: Creates short, comedic dance theater pieces; has presented work at Dance Theater Workshop, American Dance Festival, Jacob’s Pillow and the Kennedy Center.

Photo by Steven Schreiber, courtesy of Claire Porter

Teacher Voices
Getty Images

In 2001, young Chanel, a determined, ambitious, fiery, headstrong teenager, was about to begin her sophomore year at LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, also known as the highly acclaimed "Fame" school. I was a great student, a promising young dancer and well-liked by my teachers and my peers. On paper, everything seemed in order. In reality, this picture-perfect image was fractured. There was a crack that I've attempted to hide, cover up and bury for nearly 20 years.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Getty Images

Though the #MeToo movement has spurred many dancers to come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and abuse, the dance world has yet to have a full reckoning on the subject. Few institutions have made true cultural changes, and many alleged predators continue to work in the industry.

As Chanel DaSilva's story shows, young dancers are particularly vulnerable to abuse because of the power differential between teacher and student. We spoke with eight experts in dance, education and psychology about steps that dance schools could take to protect their students from sexual abuse.

Keep reading... Show less
Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.