Adriel Velazquez, Contributing Writer
An adjunct professor in VCU’s Department of Dance and Choreography assembled a team of performers for an original piece performed at TheatreLab on Jan. 30 and 31.
“Baggage (and The Seven Deadly Sins)” by the Starr Foster Dance Project was based on the idea of the seven mortal sins derived from Christian ethics. In the performance, each dancer is bound to a suitcase that represents their own personal sin.
The performance began with the six dancers entering the dance space carrying the suitcase and laying it down in a pile at the edge of the dance space. Glancing angrily at anyone they made eye contact with, the dancers moved to their own chairs amongst the audience and sat in silence for few moments. The chairs were labeled with each dancer’s respective sin.
It was a non-stop 45 minutes of intense dance to the chilling music of Tom Waits. The dancers performed to Waits’ “Tango Till They’re Sore,” “What Keeps Mankind Alive” and “Little Drop of Poison,” among others. Waits’ music gave the performance a frightening atmosphere that fueled a nervousness for the entire piece.
“There’s a lot of things you don’t get to experience from the proscenium view that you experience when dance is at your feet,” said Starr Foster, the show’s artistic director. “And it’s a different experience for the dancers themselves to be that close to (their) audience.”
A proscenium view is the traditional theatre layout, with the orchestra seating and balconies facing forward towards the stage. For this performance, the audience nearly surrounded the stage, usually intended to create an intimacy between the two parties by allowing them to be much closer.
“This isn’t how dance is normally seen,” Foster said. “Dance is usually seen from a proscenium view(…) with a stage and a curtain. We like to do something a little unique because people like to see dance this way. And it’s fun, the idea of hearing the breath(…) and (seeing) their muscles working.”
The dancer in the chair marked “Greed” fittingly stepped onto the stage first. In a flurry of motion and passion, the dancer attempted to embody his assigned sin. When he finished, the dancer moved back to his chair and rested.
“Wrath” was next, and as each sin begins to occupy the stage, their movements grew more chaotic.
“It’s based on the concept of the seven deadly sins and that we all have baggage and we have issues,” Foster said. “And we sort of warped that concept and did it in a literal sense, where the dancers have these(…) suitcases that they carry their baggage in.”
The suitcases were often utilized in the performance, with each dancer being very protective of their respective baggage. At times the dancers even knocked over each other’s suitcases while clutching their own.
“Everybody’s a little curious. The dancers have a sense of curiosity about what’s in each other’s bags,” Foster said.
The final reveal, where each dancer opened their suitcase, was a flash of color and desperation. Each dancer seemed exhausted from protecting their secret, and appears tired from trying to discover the secrets of the others.
The performance only featured six of the seven sins, intended to lead the audience to question what was missing. However, when entering the dance space, the audience was offered a bowl of chocolate.
“If you ate the chocolate, you would have been gluttony,” Foster said. “So the audience is the seventh sin.”
Viewing the performance while surrounding the stage made the experience far more immersive, and the 45-minute dance flew by due to the dedicated performance of the dancers, the perfectly suited Tom Waits tracks, and the eerie atmosphere.