Dance Review: “Naughty Bits” – Pushing Back a Culture of Sexual Abuse

By Jessica Lockhart

Sara Juli has proven that she is a master at using humor to explore uncomfortable and not at all funny topics.

Naughty Bits, a dance piece written and performed by Sara Juli. At Hill Arts, Portland, Maine.

Sara Juli in a scene Naughty parts. Photo: Nick Pierce

Performance artist Sara Juli can’t stop creating works that deal with taboo topics. She enjoys topics that society considers too sensitive to talk about – material that is unsuitable for a public theater performance. Her last two dance theater pieces were Burnt out woman And Tight vagina: an actual diagnosis: The first dealt with a marriage that went to hell, and the second dealt with her sexual dysfunction after the birth of a child. After these shows, the challenge for such an iconoclastic artist was clear: How does she surpass what she had done before? Her answer was Naughty partsthat dramatizes the ongoing aftershocks of sexual abuse.

Juli has proven that she is a master at using humor to explore topics that are uncomfortable and not at all funny. Here she addresses the long-lasting damage that trauma causes. Naughty parts was inspired by two episodes of sexual abuse that affected her psychological development: one occurred when she was a child, the other when she was a student. In this 50-minute performance, Juli explores the ways abuse has negatively shaped her over the past 25 years. She still struggles with the debilitating mental effects, but her approach is both light and dark – the audience laughs loudly and gasps, sometimes cries with sadness.

A scene from Sara Juli in a scene from Naughty parts. Photo: Nick Pierce

The show begins with text written on the stage background: “Dear Diary, I am eight years old and I like to play in my bedroom and sing and dance.” Juli takes the stage and dances to “She’s a Maniac” from the film Flash dance. She is an eight-year-old child who is just having fun. The text then tells us that she had experimented with using her bedroom pillows to create sexual pleasure. This innocent foray into sensuality changes when Dear Diary reveals that one of her older brother’s friends sexually abused her when she was nine years old. The act transformed her from a person who was accepting into a person who was relentlessly self-critical.

On stage, Juli shows us notes she wrote as a skeptical adult while re-reading the newspaper. She berates the little girl’s writing style and criticizes her younger self. She calls re-reading her diary in this way the “Wobbly Bits.” Juli then lists the other problems that affect not only herself but also sexually abused people. You are in pain, so you treat yourself. It takes faith, but it turns into melancholy and then anger. They have vices, deafness and indifference. These conditions are referred to as “forgotten parts”.

Juli proves herself to be a master of vocal timing and wordplay throughout. For example, she slowly says a word while making a corresponding gesture, then repeats the word and adds another movement. Soon we can’t help but guess what the sentence will tell us when it’s over. “Take, take a, take a few, take a few minutes, take a few minutes before” – we are excited to see where this instruction will lead. Juli also addresses the audience directly and lets them take part in the conversation: “Okay, again! One more time? How about now? Do you understand?” She answered herself by slowly revealing another painful experience.

The show’s humorous segments were called “Funny Bits”. Here, Juli sings popular songs whose lyrics are perfect anthems for a culture indifferent to sexual abuse: “Don’t You Want Me, Baby,” “Take Me Home Tonight,” “I’m Still Standing,” and “I Must.” .” have faith.” Finally Naughty parts cannot be characterized as optimistic or pessimistic; Juli tells us that she struggled to find the right balance for the end of the show. She had planned an uplifting grand finale – but it really wasn’t warranted. For me, the actor found an effective, deeply emotional way to wrap things up. Invite the audience to join her in singing a song that evokes the power of healing. The karaoke lyrics appeared and we joined Juli as she performed the tune.

Naughty parts is a sensitive examination of sexual abuse and how it can cause lifelong damage to a person. This is particularly valuable now that the “hush money” trial of former President Trump has become ubiquitous news footage. The lesson that young and old alike should take from this high-profile trial is that you are not allowed to do whatever you want to whomever you want just because you think you are powerful enough to get away with it. Juli is not silent about the lasting damage that can be done. Kudos to her for pushing back.

Jessica Lockhart is a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Dance Criticism and holds a BA in Communications from the University of Southern Maine. Lockhart is an award-winning independent journalist with the Maine Association of Broadcasters. She also currently works as program director at WMPG Community Radio.