The Muscular Poetry of Dance

All doctors are supposed to be passionate about their life’s calling. But a doctor who actually writes poems about muscles? That’s a bit unusual.

That’s the premise of dancer Claire Porter’s latest production, dubbed “Namely, Muscles.” Coming to the Harvard Dance Center this Saturday at 8 p.m., this one-woman show features Porter, posing as a doctor, flexing specific muscles while reciting poetry.

“Most of my work is a mix of movement and text,” says Porter. This production is a prime example of that mixture.


Elizabeth Bergmann, director of the dance department at the Office for the Arts at Harvard, has seen Porter’s work several times in recent years. When she heard Porter was coming to Boston for a residency at Boston University, she decided to invite her to perform here at Harvard.

Porter, who earned her master’s degree in dance at Ohio State University, started a repertoire of solo performances—which she has named “Portables”—when she was in graduate school. The title “Portables,” a pun on the artist’s surname, refers to the fact that these pieces can be performed by Porter wherever she goes.

“I wanted them to be able to be performed in all different places. Theatres of course—but also people’s homes, art galleries, museums,” says Porter. “I just noticed that dance at the time was limited to theatres, but if a singer can sing anywhere, why can’t a dancer dance anywhere?”

Her curiosity and why-not attitude are two of Porter’s signature characteristics. Even her dog has become subject to Porter’s artistic experimentation, when she attempted to choreograph a routine for him.

“I didn’t realize how much training he needed,” Porter now recalls. “I was very young, and I brought him on stage, and he just sat there. He could do a little at home, but the stage just freaked him out.”


In the end, it was a curiosity about the anatomy that led Porter to her latest production, “Namely, Muscles.”

“Originally I wanted to learn the name of the muscles,” says Porter. “I was curious about that, and I was also curious about gratitude, so in a way I said, ‘Well, I’ll thank the muscles.’”

So Porter started to learn the names of 68 major muscles of the body, and when she put words together with phrases of motion, it was the seed of what was to become “Namely, Muscles.”

“It seemed very poetic to me,” says Porter, who not only choreographed the pieces but also wrote all of the accompanying poetry.

That may seem a bit outside the norm for professional dance, but it fell right in line with Porter’s sense of humor. Sally Sommer from The Village Voice once called her “that rare breed—nimble witty comedian.”

“I always thought she could become a mainstream comedian. She’s that funny,” says Bergmann. “I never knew why she didn’t end up on ‘Seinfeld’ or something.”

Porter’s Portables have taken her around the world. She has performed everywhere from Korea to the Netherlands, and now, of course, here to Cambridge.

Although her residency at Boston University and her upcoming performance at Harvard may not be quite the same as the “Tour of Comedy” which she performed in Germany, Porter is still looking forward to this performance.

“It’s always fun to bring it to a new audience and to share it, and to talk to people afterwards,” she says. “I love that.”