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Starr Foster Dance Project’s Latest Show Links Dance and Photography 

click to enlarge The Starr Foster Dance Project includes dancers Erick Hooten, Anna Branch and Ryan Davis.

Doug Hayes

The Starr Foster Dance Project includes dancers Erick Hooten, Anna Branch and Ryan Davis.

After seeing a local performance last year, Dennis Lieberman asked a question on a Richmond theater discussion Facebook page about how choreography works. He never imagined it would lead to his direct involvement in a choreographic project.

Now one of his own photographs is the inspiration for a number in Starr Foster Dance Project's Spitting Image collaborative performance at TheatreLab's Basement.

Foster is one of the people who responded to Lieberman's question on Facebook and even invited him to a rehearsal for her company's fall performance. The company was rehearsing a dance about Foster's grandmother, who is a Holocaust survivor. ("It was so moving," Lieberman says). He and Foster have stayed in touch ever since. When Foster put out a call for photographers to submit work for Spitting Image, Lieberman, who is a photographer and retired civil servant, sent an image right away.

Foster, a mainstay of the Richmond contemporary dance scene, has for the last several years focused on cross-disciplinary collaborations. She's compelled by the dialogue between different artists and works of art. Her former Page to Stage project, performed at the Basement in 2015, collected submissions of flash fiction as the starting points for new dances.

The new Spitting Image show features the work of eight photographers, selected from 50 submissions. The selected works will be exhibited and for sale in the lobby of TheatreLab. Foster solicited submissions of photographs that included no human figures and used social media to get the word out. Why no human figures?

"It's so easy to duplicate an image with dance," Foster says. "I really wanted the works to be up for interpretation." Some of the dances she creates directly reference the photographs that inspired them. Others emerge more from the feelings evoked by an image.

Lieberman submitted "Undulating Reflections," a photo of reflections in the windows of a Chicago skyscraper because, he says, it looked like undulating wax whose movement reminded him of dancers. Foster agrees: "I saw so much movement within it. It was also very geometrical and gridlike. I used those images to create the dance work."

click to enlarge “Undulating Reflections” was taken in Chicago by Dennis Lieberman.
  • “Undulating Reflections” was taken in Chicago by Dennis Lieberman.

Jordan Livermon Glunt, who has danced with Foster since 2004, enjoyed preparing for the new project. "It was a unique experience getting to learn choreography coming from Starr's vision," she says. "But also being able to work in what you saw in that photo."

Glunt appreciated watching her fellow dancers learn new works. In "Salt Water Bones," a solo based on an image by Cristina Peters, Glunt describes how the dancer must work with a large, fluid costume. "It's beautiful and captivating," she says, "but it's like adding this other partner who is not always cooperative. I've enjoyed seeing a fellow company member really grow and do so beautifully with it, despite the unexpected things that can happen with this not always agreeable partner."

Though not directly involved in Foster's choreographic process, Lieberman has seen video of a rehearsal of "Undulating Reflections." He says it was pretty thrilling to see the dance inspired by his photo.

"Sitting there watching it, I said to my wife, 'You know, I can see that from the photo. I see where she got that,'" he recalls. "I'm really excited to see the connection with the finished dance and the image. I have a better appreciation now of dance than I had before. I don't think I really understood it as an art form as much as I do now." S

Starr Foster Dance Project: Spitting Image takes place at TheaterLab's Basement Friday, Jan. 12, at 8 p.m. for an opening night performance and reception with the artists, as well as Saturday, Jan. 13, at 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 14, at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Tickets available at brownpapertickets.com, and seating is limited. starrfosterdance.org.

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