Dance company showcases multi-generational cast

Maxine "Silverbird" Strawder performs in "75 Rotations," a Project: Motion modern dance performance dedicated to her for her 75th birthday. "Dance is so central to my life," Strawder says. Project: Motion is a "dance collective" comprising artists of a variety of ages and sizes.

Photo by Christopher Blank

Maxine "Silverbird" Strawder performs in "75 Rotations," a Project: Motion modern dance performance dedicated to her for her 75th birthday. "Dance is so central to my life," Strawder says. Project: Motion is a "dance collective" comprising artists of a variety of ages and sizes.

Given the wear and tear on muscles and joints, modern dance is often considered a young person's art form. Few companies have a place on the stage for performers of a certain age.But Project: Motion, a contemporary "dance collective" that has been producing original dances in Memphis for more than 25 years, isn't an ordinary group of dancers. Their members come in a range of sizes and ages. Most are female, though not from the exclusion of males.

This weekend, the company pays tribute to one of its own, Maxine Starling "Silverbird" Strawder.

The title of the show, "75 Rotations," refers to the number of years in her life.

Originally, Strawder asked to make one dance in celebration of her 75th birthday. Instead, the company devoted the entire seven pieces in the program to her.

"Dance is so central to my life," Strawder said. "I can find motivation to dance anywhere, to create a dance from any kind of inspiration."

Strawder isn't sensitive about her age. But questions about her workout routine — as if fitness were the only reason she's for dancing — make her suspicious.

"Dance is a universe unto itself," she said. "It's not only taking care of your body. It's taking care of your mind. It is a worldview."

For both the physical and mental record, Strawder is a tai chi instructor with two master's degrees.

Joining her onstage for this performance is Paulette Regan, 60, a recently retired theater teacher at White Station High School.

In the late 1970s, both Strawder and Regan danced with the Harry Bryce Dance Theatre in Memphis.

"The whole scene was very liberating," Regan said. "Modern dance allowed you to do anything. It was for all kinds of body types."

Some mornings, Regan and Strawder would meet in Overton Park next to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, take off their shoes and dance barefoot in the grass.

"We would frolic in the park!" Regan said. "Maxine taught me how to warm up as a dancer. It's the process, not just the product. She taught me about nurturing the dancer and being attuned to what the body is doing."

Wayne M. Smith, a company choreographer and dance teacher at the University of Memphis, says performances like this one expand the audience's notion of what dance should encompass.

"One thing about this kind of work, that is, showing a multigenerational cast, is that it can touch many different walks of life," Smith says. "Most of the time you go to the theater expecting dancers to be young and to look a certain way. Project: Motion embraces a wide range of approaches."

In "75 Rotations," choreographers infused their pieces with modern dance styles that influenced Strawder over the years, from José Limón to Martha Graham. There are several structured improvisations, a jitterbug and even a tap number.

Project: Motion '75 Rotations'

7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Evergreen Theatre, 1705 Poplar. Tickets by donation. Call 901-214-LEAP.

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