Photo by Jim Caldwell
Choreographer Sara Draper doesn’t need to look far for her inspiration; she starts with the body. Draper is the Artistic Director of Dancepatheatre, a modern dance company she created in 1999 to showcase her choreography and the work of like-minded artists. Draper felt it was time to have the umbrella of a company to contain her work. “I finally realized that I have too many ideas to continue working as an independent choreographer,” says Draper. “I need the momentum that a dance company can help to create.”
For the past several years Draper has been working on a collection of dances she calls, Life Museum, an investigation of the body as subject. Life Museum is both a poignant and whimsical look at our lives as embodied beings. So far, she has created Feet, The Back, Le Derriere, Legs, Ears, and Calves. Although they are named for body parts, these dances aim at a more holistic view of the human form. At the Big Range Dance Festival, Draper will present Legs. “The piece hints at runway’s stories and depicts a cultural habit of running away, both literally and figuratively,” says Draper. “I chose a documentary-style voice collage, made from real interviews about individuals’ true life stories.” Original music by Aaron Hermes ingeniously weaves the story bits together.
Continuing her work as a cultural anthropologist of the body, Draper takes a look at our society’s obsession with the female form in Breasts X Censored, also slated for the Big Range Festival. “BX, as I call it, is a satire that takes a stab at media’s role in the distortion of Americans’ attitude towards female breasts, and at the whole weird culture of censoring something that you are simultaneously glorifying,” Draper says. “The trio of dancers is interrupted a couple of times by performance art cameo appearances and video that contrast this bizarre feature of our culture.”
Also on the bill is Draper’s collaboration with poet/playwright/performance artist Elizabeth Gilbert, Body/Soul. Gilbert, left partially paralyzed from an auto accident in 2003, also performs in the piece. “This partnership is unique because it’s not just another choreographer dancing with someone in her wheelchair,” says Draper. “Liz brings her well developed talent, artistry, and her whole history of performing and writing to our work; it’s a true collaboration, and her poetry inspires me.” Gilbert and Draper met at the Field, a ten-week laboratory for performing artists, and were immediately drawn to each other’s work. Body/Soul concerns the human capacity to embrace drastic and uninvited change. “Prior to the accident, I had begun to connect with dancers to develop work for the stage incorporating text and dance,” says Gilbert. “Now, I find amusing that I will be presenting my work as a ‘sit down’ dancer in league with a ‘stand up” dancer.’”
With her wide eyes and petite frame, Draper may look like a grad student, but she’s not exactly a newcomer. You might say consistency is one of her many strengths. Draper has the unique distinction of having the longest career in the Houston dance scene. She danced with several of the first crop modern dance companies including Chrysalis, Space/Dance/Theatre, Farrell Dyde Dance Theatre, New Dance Group, and Houston Contemporary Dance Company. She may very well be the lone dancer from those early days that is still dancing. “My current trend is to speak more and more and to jump less and less, and I tend to give my younger dancers the more athletic roles,” says Draper about the key to her longevity. “If I keep going this direction, I’ll get to keep performing till I keel over. And I still have a lot to say and a lot of exploring to do in this art form.”
As an independent choreographer, her work has been featured at DiverseWorks, the JCC, and Miller Outdoor Theatre. Her accolades include a CACHH Creative Artist Award in 1995, and a 1998 National American College Dance Festival honor. In addition, her work graces the repertory of several dance companies. Draper credits her teachers, James Clouser, Bill Evans, Anita Dyche-Yezer, and Jose Greco, as influences as well. Her thirty years of teaching dance include stints at St. John’s School, and adjunct positions at University of Houston and San Jacinto College. Draper is also a writer, published in 2001 Women’s Works Anthology, Gnosis, and Indigo Sun and was, in fact, Artshouston’s first dance writer.
Draper has lived and worked a life in dance for decades now. The Houston community has been enriched by her thoughtful work, her deep questioning, and her graceful dancing. Clearly, she’s far from being done. “At one time I wondered if I had made a mistake by choosing, for personal reasons, to stay in my hometown rather than move to New York,” she says. “But as it turns out, having deep roots here in Houston’s dance community is one of the truly gratifying aspects of my life. I feel very connected to the spirals of dancers here, whatever generation.”
Dancepatheatre performs in the Big Range Dance Festival on June 15-17 at Barnevelder. Call 713-529-1819 or visit http://www.bigrange.org/.