Story Body: Sara Juli’s TENSE VAGINA, at ADF Out of the Box

The American Dance Festival‘s tag line this season is “every body tells a story.” Well, yeah. As my long-time readers know, I generally prefer those bodies not to have microphones. I want them to shut up and dance the story, however abstract or literal. The great power of dance, to my mind, lies in its non-verbal nature. If dance is going to be dance-theater, please please let it show me, not tell me. But as dance-theater, undeterred by my little wishes, moves further and further from pure dance, it gets talkier and talkier and less and less dancey. Movement pieces with monologues are the rage. The current ADF Out of the Box presentation at Motorco takes this trend to its logical conclusion, being a monologue with movement.

Leave aside for now the question of whether including such performance art in a dance festival is a step too far. Sara Juli‘s Tense Vagina: an actual diagnosis is quite a thing. For 60 minutes, Juli exposes the underbelly (if you’ll pardon the expression) of motherhood, keeping her focus squarely on the bodily aspects of mothering, and the madness lurking in its monotonous repetitions. The show is designed around the not so uncommon problem of urinary incontinence after childbirth, and what to do about it. Kegel! and two and three and four and five and release; and Kegel! I have to say, I never thought I’d hear a discussion of the physiology of Kegeling, let alone vaginal massage, in mixed company.


Sarah Juli, in her performance work Tense Vagina: an actual diagnosis, in the Showroom at Motorco, as ADF goes Out of the Box, 6/22/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Tense Vagina is thrillingly feminist, and very much belongs to the current zeitgeist. We’ve got HRC with chunks of glass glittering on her shoulders, talking about her mother. We’ve got US Senator Elizabeth Warren verbally kicking Donald Trump in the nuts. We’ve got high school girls in Helena, MT organizing bra-less protests to end double standards regarding female bodies. We’ve got Monica Byrne, Durham author, taking on the patriarchy at every opportunity, and laying waste to the taboo on menstrual blood. Hell yes, it is time to talk about tense vaginas.

What is so interesting about Tense Vagina, beyond its bold humor and unashamed realism, is that it is made in a dancerly way. Its verbal gymnastics progress like dance sequences, which then build and interlock into a larger structure, as in dance making. It’s very cool, and very smart, and the segues are particularly strong. (There are the occasional lacunae, but maybe those are purposeful indications of the intermittent blankness induced by numbing routine and the rhythmic breast pump thunk.) Naturally, there is also an audience participation aspect, so if you don’t want Mother Juli giving you a spit bath or fluffing your hair or cradling you to her breast, sit well away from the aisles. I was on the aisle and she sat in my lap! I swatted her bottom, but it was just a love tap.

The show repeats June 23 and 24, with performances at 7 and 9. Tickets here.


Here beginneth the First Lesson from the Catalogue of Dildos. Sara Juli onstage in Tense Vagina, 6/22/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

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