Local RVA modern dance company Starr Foster Dance Project (SFDP) premiered their annual performance “The Shaking Season” this past weekend at Grace Street Theater. SFDP has been performing locally and touring nationally behind founder and lead choreographer Starrene Foster for 16 years. Their mission is to provide a positive experience for its audiences by presenting emotionally intoxicating and physically charged works based on themes of nature. However, “The Shaking Season” did not accomplish that goal.
Starr Foster Dance Project’s annual show began with a restaging of a past performance, “Nineteen43,” a choreographed work about the Holocaust from the perspective of its prisoners. This piece began with a home movie, in which a survivor was interviewed about the atrocities they experienced firsthand, laid overtop of rehearsal footage. Once it had ended, the dancers began to tell a story of desperation and tragedy, following the stages of internment: capture, cattle cars, genocide, and escape. “Nineteen43” stood as the most developed work of the night because of the allegorical nature. However, it contained sudden, black-out transitions that interrupted the narrative, bringing me in and out of reality.
The title piece, “The Shaking Season,” demonstrated a strong quintet addition to Starr Foster’s repertoire, but as it stood on opening night, it was not ready for a main stage premiere. With only five dancers, cohesion is key, and several dancers fell behind in half second delays, or more. Technique could have been more polished, as I saw several feet that were not pointed in jumps and lifts. The biggest bother in this particular piece was the presence of lighting behind the dancers. When the floor lights came on to give the effect of silhouetted dancers, the audience became blinded. It is one thing to create an illusion of impaired vision, but it is another entirely to actually impair.
My personal favorite work of the evening came last as the finale. “Sleep of the Guilty” was a sextet that captured and highlighted the dancing capabilities of Starr Foster Dance Project. In Foster’s words, “Sleep of the Guilty” highlights her “unique voice to create unusual and skillful partnering,” and I found that to be apropos. This was the only performance of the night that resounded with confidence from the dancers, and it was the only performance to fully utilize all performers on stage. The transitions were subtle, and I was never once distracted by the execution, often happening between multiple pairs at once. I only wish the positive note on which “The Shaking Season” ended made up for the otherwise forgettable choreography.
*Cover photo by Grace Herndon