Monday, April 03, 2006

Four Decades of Dance in DC     [exhibit & performance]

Among locally-based artists whom I know, one whose work I've made some effort to keep up with is the conceptually imaginative choreographer Maida Withers. I also love chatting with Maida -- something it seems I do every year or two, inevitably with some sense of a resumed conversation. I first met her some dozen years ago, when I had received a phone call from Gloria McLean -- a dancer-choreographer friend whom I knew from New York days. Gloria said she was in DC teaching for the week, and that there would be a solo dance performance I might like to catch. I did indeed, and enjoyed Beijing-based Wen Hui's debut contemporary work, "100 Verbs" (1994). As it turned out, Maida had been involved in arranging the event and Wen Hui's visit. Before long, I also began to see Maida's own work. I even collaborated one year -- I believe it was the first installment of her annual improvisors' feestival. I played piano and sang -- singing in fact a Mahayana Buddhist sloka in Sanskrit (to a melody of my devising, worked into improvised noodlings on the keyboard). The whole thing concluded with my rolling (unannounced to the others, and probably unplanned) a bottle-fillled-with-beans in such a wise that the beans spilled out across the stage -- all this having unfolded while improvised dancing proceeded... ;-) The words of the sloka return in recollection: gate gate para gate para samgate bodhi svaha! (and the melody, which I remain happy with).

Now we note that a new performance work of Maida's, Thresholds Crossed, will be seen at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium (April 21), and the University's Dimock Gallery is mounting, in tandem, a retrospective exhibit celebrating Maida's extensive work as correographer. In Washington, DC, among the various art forms, contemporary dance can be said to enjoy a fairly flourishing state of development. Maida Withers is among reasons for this. Her ambition is balanced by generousity, her wild ideas by deep thinking, her enthusiasm by sensible practicality, and her feeling for the local by broad global interests and connections. Maida is a figure to reckon with; Washinton has long been enriched by her penchant for the new and strange, for making things happen, as well as by her generations-spanning carerer as a dance teacher -- in a word, by her dedication.

Hearty congrats are due!


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