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

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