Dance professor to honor grandmother with ‘Nineteen43’

Dancers of The Starr Foster Dance Project, a modern dance company that tours across the country and was founded by VCU Dance professor Starrene Foster. Photo by Doug Hayes.

Samantha McCartney
Contributing Writer

A VCU Dance professor has raised more than $2,200 on Kickstarter to fund the retelling of her grandmother’s experiences during World War II through dance.

The performance piece, called “Nineteen43,” is the opening performance piece of The Starr Foster Dance Project, headed by VCU Dance professor and Richmond Ballet instructor Starrene Foster. The performance will take place at the Grace Street Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 3 at 8 p.m. and runs until Oct. 6. “Nineteen43” will explore Foster’s grandmother’s experiences in Gdansk, Poland during World War II, a topic she rarely discussed, Foster recalls.

“She would say things like, for example with spoiled milk, she’d say ‘this smells like a dead body’ and I always thought, this is weird, that’s an odd thing to say,” Foster said. “As I got older, I realized that she actually knows what that smells like.”

Foster’s uncle wrote a memoir in German recounting their family’s experience fleeing from the Nazi’s, which Foster translated and also used as inspiration for the show. Foster said the book gave her a different perspective and helped her grandmother open up and share her viewpoint of the same stories described in her uncle’s memoir.

“She did talk about it, but I never really understood. It wasn’t until I started asking questions that she started opening up about it,” Foster said. “My uncle Freddy has done a lot of research on Gdansk and he started talking about it more, which helped her open up.”

Foster’s grandmother was one of seven children, all of whom, along with their mother and father, spent a year hiding in graveyards and basements, running from the Nazis.

Foster chose five different stories from her grandmother. In addition to the dancing, she said that the lighting really comes into play when telling the story on stage.

“They thought they were sleeping on sacks of potatoes, (but) they were sleeping on dead bodies,” Foster said. “It’s those sort of images that are incorporated in the dance.”

Foster is a seasoned dancer, choreographer and all around artist who has gained attention over the years for her individual work, as well as the performances of her company, The Starr Foster Dance Project.

“My mom actually put me in dance because I was a bit of tomboy … you know, to ‘girlify’ me,” Foster said. “And I fell in love with it.”

Foster continued to dance throughout her childhood and has not stopped since, becoming an alumna of the VCU School of Dance.

After performing with several professional companies over the years, Foster came back to her hometown, landed a job at VCU and has 14 years of dance instruction experience under her belt.

She was nominated for two “Artsie” awards by the Richmond Theatre Critic’s Circle for her choreography, was a recipient of the Theresa Pollak Award for Artistic Excellence and was recently featured on the PBS broadcast Virginia Currents.

Foster went on to create The Starr Foster Dance Project in 2001, a modern dance company that tours nationally throughout the year.

Brittany Diaz, an alumna of the James Madison University dance department, shared her excitement about working on her first show with The Starr Foster Dance Project.

“Being on the younger end in terms of the people in the company, it’s definitely inspiring to work with people who are always challenging me to be better,” Diaz said.

“Nineteen43’s” art director and an alumnus of VCUarts, Doug Hayes is responsible for making and maintaining the company’s website, as well as for all of the photography involved with the piece. Hayes met Foster 18 years ago when he was asked to take photos of a dance piece she choreographed.

Hayes said his favorite aspect of working on “Nineteen43” was seeing the show come together.

“Just watching the whole creative process, watching it all come together and seeing it change. Sometimes she’ll start with one set of music, and end up with a completely different set of music.” Hayes said.

“Nineteen43” is one of three emotionally intoxicating dances being performed by the company at the season premiere. “The River Runs With Poison” and “Under Giant Trees” will also be performed.

General admission is $15 and $10 for students with a valid VCU ID.


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