Visiting artist Sara Juli takes on motherhood's taboo topics

By Emma Yarbrough | Emory Report | Nov. 27, 2018

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Sara Juli visits Emory this week to present her solo performance “Tense Vagina: an actual diagnosis,” using humor to explore “all that is awesome and all that sucks” when it comes to being a mother. Photo by Grant Halverson.

Visiting artist Sara Juli presents her solo performance about motherhood, “Tense Vagina: an actual diagnosis,” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29-30 in the Theater Lab of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. Using humor, movement, songs, text and audience participation, Juli’s solo performance reveals “all that is awesome and all that sucks” when it comes to being a mother.

Often drawing from her personal life for inspiration, dance-theater artist Juli uses levity to address taboo subjects and the more difficult aspects of the human experience, something she finds resonates with university-aged audiences who are often at pivotal points in their development as adults.

“I’ve found that the way I use humor allows me to connect with audiences of all ages, but I’ve been incredibly successful with college students,” says Juli. “They’re at a pivotal point in their lives for needing to access their own emotions and feelings and the piece challenges them to look at themselves and the issues that are bothering them.”

Similarly, Juli turns to her own emotional intelligence and self-reflection for creative inspiration. “I wait for a topic to kind of fester,” she says. “For me, that’s usually a sign that I need to make a dance about it.”

In “Tense Vagina,” she tackles the subjects of postpartum depression and her post-birth urinary incontinence, anchoring the narrative in the physical therapy she received at the Pelvic Floor Rehab Center of New England. 

“This piece really just came to me very quickly in my head while I was dealing with a tremendous amount of postpartum depression,” Juli explains. “I needed humor and levity around the challenges to help pull me out, and also to understand that I was not alone in this experience.”

“I will say this piece very much connects to the middle-aged working mother and my peer set because of the relatability of my story,” she continues. “But it’s been a nice by-product to see that college students are able to connect to the material and make it their own as well, either by thinking about their own life experience or thinking about their mother’s experience.”

Sharing her creative process with students

When asked what she might say to a young artist who hopes to someday create gutsy and personal work like hers, Juli has one major piece of advice: “I think it’s incredibly important to be able to hone and articulate your own voice, to really understand what is it that you have to say and why people should pay money to come see what you have to say.”

So, what are the tools students can employ to help them identify their voice and find their role in the world? “It comes from collaboration, it comes from listening, it comes from living, it comes from experiences, it comes from reading,” says Juli. “It comes from flooding yourself with a multitude of perspectives and ideas so that you can start to see where you fit within the greater context.”

“Obviously, I’m still working on it and still trying to grow as an artist and stretch myself and learn,” she adds. “You have to push a lot of demons away and a lot of insecurities away, and you’ve got to do the work.”

While on campus, Juli will share her creative process with Emory students in a master class on exploring the fusing of text with movement to create material for autobiographical work. She will also visit dance professor Greg Catellier’s course in solo composition.

While these two events are closed to the general public, members of the community can hear Juli speak about her work in a Rosemary Magee Creativity Conversation between Juli, Catellier and Theater Emory artistic director Brent Glenn. That conversation takes place at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29 in the Schwartz Theater Lab.