Books·My Life In Books

Dance choreographer Sara Porter on the Lydia Davis book that made her mind move

The Toronto artist and star of CBC's The Move on why The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis inspires and stokes her creativity.
Toronto-based artist Sara Porter is one of the eight featured choreographers on Season 2 of CBC's The Move. (CBC)

Now in its second season, CBC Arts series The Move showcases Canada's most dynamic choreographers and their commitment to their chosen craft. The new episodes begin streaming on CBC Gem on April 29, 2019. 

The Move's Sara Porter is a celebrated dancer, performer, choreographer, vocalist and writer with a distinctive voice and a broad palette. 

When it comes to a book that has inspired her over the years, Porter recommends reading The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis.

"I have three sons and life is busy. When they were small, I used to invent short poems in my head to amuse myself during domestic work. I had no time to read novels, wasn't dancing and my professional life was dormant.

"I discovered Lydia Davis's short stories — really short stories, like two-sentence-long stories — and my mind did flips of joy! 

"The stories are pocket-sized pieces of literature, both resonant and provocative in surprising ways. She doesn't do narrative in the regular sense: the stories are radical in their simplicity. One is about who owns a carpet at a yard sale. Another is about a writer struggling to decide which character should be the focus of a story. I found I could read four whole stories before flipping the grilled cheese to the other side. Practical and poetic at the same time, I savoured her sense of play and rule-breaking.

"My favourite is called Lost Things and recounts how several items — a dog, a ring, a coat — are not where they are supposed to be. The button is lost but, as the story states, only to the person who cannot find it. The button is not lost to itself. 

"Her tiny stories are little gems of philosophy that— for me — highlight how pliable imagination can be, and how we can make art out of the most mundane, quotidian things of life.

"When I returned to the studio shortly afterward, I found I danced as though I was inventing regular sentences, instead of dancing fancy poetry. As a choreographer, my own imagination is fired by how form itself is expressive, and finding this large book of very short stories put me back on track in my own creative life, encouraging me to take my tiny projects seriously. I now build hour-long, memoir-based solo shows that blend writing and dancing."

Watch Season 2 of CBC's The Move

Sara Porter's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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