Sara Joel’s Dance, Film, and Body

This summer I had my first encounter with Sara Joel, seeing her solos Enfold and Surface at the SummerDANZ: Emerging Artists program at DTW, and getting another look at Surface at the Solar Powered Dance Series at Solar One.  Her work stood out at both events.  Joel is an artist who excels at making beautiful, simple art whose focus is her own pregnant body.

Tonight I finally saw her 2007 film collaboration with Jody Oberfelder, Rapt (cinematography and editing by Leslie Avery Gould), at Kinetic Cinema’s Liquid Films evening curated by Amy Greenfield.  I am fascinated by my own fascination with her; there is nothing complicated about her movements or concepts– in a lot of ways they’re downright conventional– but there’s something undeniably compelling in her swirling, swimming, swinging imagery.

In the film screened tonight, Joel is underwater in a silky, trailing red dress, and as in Enfold, her pregnancy is not immediately apparent.  The bold garment shifts from a cloud around her to an umbilical cord to a shedding skin, and in the last images, she gathers together a rose from its petals (shot in reverse) then releases the pieces to float to the surface.

Depending on your view, her’s could be a hopelessly outdated, idealized vision of femininity, or an empowering testament to the grace and creative potential of the female body.  My critical, studied eye sees Woman-as-Womb, Body-as-Vessel (reject! reject! down with patriarchal concepts and Rousseau’s Sophie!) and Joel does situate the pregnant form in otherworldy, “nature” realms: the air and the water.  But the work also rejects our Western medicalization of the body and its functions.  She doesn’t really do anything dangerous, but there is a touch of “fuck you, hospitalized birth and fear-induced epidurals” to hanging from the ceiling upside-down with a third trimester belly popping out.

But what I think really makes it all work is that it isn’t so overtly political or goddess-worshipping.  She’s a dancer (former Cirque du Soleil) making dances that are informed by her own body’s talents and capabilities.  Short, soft movement poems of roundness and life.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by EvaDancer on November 21, 2009 at 1:31 am

    No one seems to appreciate the additional level of difficulty of a dancer performing movements she may have done a thousand times previous to her pregnancy, doing them with the additional weight all out in front … I am a dancer, and I know that while dancing with an injury, or a prop, or a serpent, or supporting a partner, or with “little bundle of joy” rearranging everything you learned about balance … is a whole nother level of difficulty and ability to focus in the very moment, dancing with what you have, rather than with what you were trained with. And yes, I’m sure Sara Joel rehearsed her pieces … but the body has to unlearn patterns that were learned over decades … as a dancer … I am impressed! … and as a spiritual being, without considering everything I mentioned above … I am inspired by the sincerity and purity of her dance.


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