Starr Foster Dance Project Explores Death And The Afterlife In Levitate

by | Apr 24, 2014 | ART

Levitate, the latest work by Starr Foster Dance Project, brings a bit of edge and mystery to the Richmond dance scene. The production is based on theoretical views on the afterlife from Mary Roach’s book Spook, and inspired by a need to create outside of a typical theatre setting.

Levitate, the latest work by Starr Foster Dance Project, brings a bit of edge and mystery to the Richmond dance scene. The production is based on theoretical views on the afterlife from Mary Roach’s book Spook, and inspired by a need to create outside of a typical theatre setting. Starr Foster, the company’s artistic director, has transformed an abandoned building on Broad Street into the most engaging site-specific dance performance RVA has seen in over a decade.

Foster, who was looking for a different way to bring dance to the River City, was originally interested in using a studio space. The idea of limited and intimate seating was appealing, but finding the ideal spot was easier said than done. Through friends, however, Foster was able to connect with the owner of the former Sea Dream Leather building, and the fit was perfect.

The space, raw from top to bottom, is not what you would typically envision when picking a site to premiere a new dance work. Walls had to be painted, Marley vinyl flooring rolled out, and seating brought in. Wade Angeli, a collaborative artist for Levitate, gave the venue a supernatural feel with white tree branches painted, trunk-less, on the walls.

The lighting, all battery powered, is completely operated by the performers. “The dancers have 100% control of the space,” states Foster. “The technical aspects of the work become part of the choreography.” Their bodies cast shadows, highlight movement, and in some moments, leave the audience completely in the dark. Foster and her 16 year old daughter tested out different ways of using the lights in their backyard. “My neighbors probably think I’m crazy,” she joked. The result of their experimentation leaves haunting images throughout the piece. Dancer Michael Camper-Barry’s body looks angelic as he hovers over a single light. His shadow, however, appears demonic. Katie Branca’s long limbs are on full display as the glow of a bright camping lamp draws her vibrant movements toward the light.

In terms of choreography, Foster’s inspiration of “how we put things in motion” is clear from start to finish. Dancer Jordan Livermon’s hand slowly tracing painted branches brings thoughts of family trees and heritage, while Laura Grace Zetlan’s exquisitely performed solo uses daring balances to illustrate the delicate space between life and death.

The props, all thoughtfully used, reintegrate themes of the afterlife. Ribbons perfectly placed along the front of the stage are pushed away early on in the performance as the idea of individual timelines disappear into the darkness. Feathers float in the air like angel wings, and cornstarch rubbed on the dancers’ bodies and walls brings ritualistic methods to the piece.

Joey Luck’s original music composition for Levitate was created directly with the choreography in mind and vice versa. The collaborative nature of Luck and Foster’s creative relationship is unmistakable as each moment, both musically and physically, is brilliantly accentuated.

The dancers, broken into two separate casts of four, are new to performing in such tight quarters. Livermon, a member of Starr Foster Dance Project since 2004, said the “challenge of performing in this work brings excitement.” She goes on to say, “Having an audience so close to you changes the energy of the dance.” This intimate atmosphere is exactly what Foster was motivated to create. “You never see dance this close in completed form. I’m excited to bring something different and special to the dance community in Richmond.”

While the creation and presentation of Levitate was a “risk” according to Foster, the gamble paid off. The first three performances completely sold out, with only a few tickets available for the fourth show on May 3rd. The excitement over Levitate is so overwhelming, Foster decided to add an additional performance on May 2nd.

For tickets to Levitate visit Do it quick, y’all! This is show guaranteed to sell out.

Rebecca A. Ferrell, a native of Richmond, Virginia, is a dance educator, choreographer and performer. She is currently the artistic director of FDANCE, a project dedicated to her work as an intervention dance artist. Rebecca holds a BFA in Dance and Choreography from Virginia Commonwealth University as well as a MFA in Dance from Arizona State University. She is currently adjunct faculty at VCU Dance and is in charge of dance curriculum at John Tyler Community College. When she is not dancing, Rebecca is making cupcakes, breaking hearts, and obsessing over the color pink.

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

Former GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.

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