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Modern History

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The time: a week before Project: Motion presents its latest dance concert, 75 Rotations. The place: the upstairs dance studio at TheatreWorks. The scene: a handful of dancers, veterans, and neophytes gathered to work through a soft-shoe routine. Things aren't going as smoothly as they might, and there are spots of frustration in the ranks.

A voice of encouragement cuts through the beatboxing and rings out from the back of the room. "Remember, this doesn't have to be perfect," says Maxine Evelyn Starling, whose broad smile has an immediate soothing effect on her friends. "It's all about fun," she says, lifting spirits while others lift their legs. Like most of the dancers at this rehearsal, Starling is a member of the Social Security set, and the show's title is a reference to her impending 75th birthday.

Starling, who performs using the name Silverbird, is a dancer, social activist, arts advocate, librarian, and tai chi instructor whose life choices were profoundly influenced by encounters with artists like Josephine Baker and first-generation modern dancers like José Limón. 75 Rotations, choreographed by Marianne Bell, Al Bonner, Sarah Ledbetter, and Wayne Smith, employs dance and storytelling to tell Starling's story, which begins in Beckley, West Virginia, in 1938, and winds its way through Appalachia, Haiti, Germany, and all across America. Dancers involved range in age from their 20s to 70s.

"You know some of us aren't really dancers. We're completely confounded up here," says Sue Miller, a painter and friend Starling recruited from the Lewis Senior Center. "But Maxine has this magical way of bringing you into things," she says, explaining how she and her fellow non-dancers found themselves at the heart of an unusual history lesson.

Project: Motion Presents "75 Rotations" at Evergreen Theatre, Friday-Sunday, February 15th-17th. Donations accepted. To reserve tickets, call 214-LEAP.

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