With the program Dance:Films at Artisphere this past Friday night, Maida Withers presented dance on film, and dance in person, and dances between. The opening piece, a dance portrait of Maida, used digital video effects to place Maida dancing within a light bulb. The piece showed her efforts to to make her ideas visible. Far from being merely allegorically or artificially represented, those efforts were made present through the whole program.
Withers, who has resided in the Rosslyn area for 46 years, is irrepressibly and fearlessly creative. She is at least in her mid-sixties. Many persons much younger than she relate to their bodies mainly through complaining of aches and illnesses. She continues to express herself bodily through dance.
At the same time, this elderly dancer-choreographer is exploring new media technology. One piece for example, involved Alex Caldiero composing text real-time in Salt Lake City, Utah, in an online Google document that Withers also simultaneously edited. The text was projected onto the dome theater's curved wall as a counterpoint to the live dancing in a piece called Collision Course, a.k.a. Pillow Talk. Online presentations and demonstrations are notorious for failing. Withers isn't afraid of technology even when there's good reason to be.
In addition to creating dance settings through digital video effects, Withers also uses distinctive dance-site locations. This Friday's performance premiered Tuk, a film incorporating footage of Withers and her Dance Construction Company dancing in the wonderful, stark landscape of the Four Corners Area of the Southwest U.S. Another film, entitled Thresholds Crossed - Gulag/Art Angar, showed Withers and Anthony Gongora dancing in what was a dirigible hangar on the Soviet Gulag's Solovki Island. The dance incorporated gestures and bodily positions from photographs of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. It is a terrifying tango. Being able to watch it over and over again as a video adds greatly to the terror.
Other pieces showed other aspects of dance in relation to film. Tsveta Kassabova did a beautiful, live dance portrait full of subtle, expressive movement. That piece was followed by a related film showing Kassabova dancing in a digitally created, psychedelic environment. The film somewhat flattened her movement, while adding a much larger canvas of whimsy. Perhaps 3-D digital film would better represent Kassabova. Orbit, a filmed dance duet, was transformed by the camera into a ménage à trois. This film, which was produced with only 11 edits, showed that more powerful video technology isn't necessary for a more powerful video effect.
The least appealing aspect of Friday night's program was the long, slow-moving line to buy a ticket. The Ode Street Tribune's reporter was in line about 7:45 and didn't get into the Dome Theater until about a half-hour later. Only one person was handling ticket purchases, and the procedure for purchasing a ticket was very slow. Artisphere seemed to be ill-prepared for the full-house crowd that attended the program. Artisphere's ticket-purchase procedures need to be revised to cope with the growing success of its programs.
Artists such as Maida Withers help to enlarge the creative space for exploding popular video communication. That need is particularly important in journalism. Many video news programs remain mired in a talking-head video format that is largely based on conventions from reporting news via radio. Leading local news sources such as the Ode Street Tribune have turned to more creative video formats to address particular stories. All news organizations that want to bring their reporting into the video present should watch and learn from Maida Withers.