Last night, on Thursday, March 19, 2015, at Lisner Auditorium, Maida Rust Withers, artists from Maida Withers Dance Construction Company (MWDCCo), and Composer/Musicians John Driscoll and Steven C. Hilmy presented MindFluctuations, a world premiere evening length work of modern dance, technology, music, and above all collaboration.
Driscoll, MWDCCo music director from 1974-1980, and Hilmy, MWDCCo music director from 2005-present, collaborated on the music for the performance, which was performed live. Brazilian computer artist and co-author of MindFluctuations Tania Fraga collaborated on the Brain Controlled Interface (BCI), which digitized the dancers’ emotive and expressive states in the computer worlds projected behind the dancers. Fraga has previously collaborated with MWDCCo on Dance of the Auroras – Fire in the Sky (2001) and Hekuras – Spirits of the Rainforest (2002). Sculptor David Page created a handmade aluminum mask, worn by one of the dancers in the performance, and Izzy Einsidler designed the lights for the performance. Uniting past and present artists integral to MWDCCo contributed to the magnetic energy of this evening.
At the center of the truly dynamic energy of the evening’s performance is Withers’ choreographic prowess. Her movement is athletic, with deep pliés, or squats, in turned out and turned in positions, running sections penetrating dancers through the space precisely, and leaps through the air in multiple leg positions ending abruptly with a swift shift in focus. Another layer of the movement is a keen eye for gestural specificity, be it a wringing of the hands in front of the body, widespread hands in the air above the dancers, over the mouth/face, or elsewhere with fervent energy, and other such specific gestures abound in the evening. Withers has a gift for seamlessly transitioning the sections of the evening, with the help of the new world for each section transporting the audience into new terrain. The choreographic piece-de-resistance is Withers’ eye for permutations of dancers, in the various solos, duets, trios in the piece. Dancers compliment each other in performance quality, energy, and ability, sometimes in similar ways and other times juxtaposing one another. The combination of new phrase work and past repertory makes for a well-rounded evening.
Withers has assembled a dynamic company of dancers, Felicia Avalos, Ian Ceccarelli, Anthony Gongora, Mary Heath, Giselle Ruzany, Sammi Rosenfeld, and guest artists Alicia Diaz and Matthew Thornton. The dancers, in vibrant short/sport top/pant ensembles in vibrant, bold patterns and colors, exhibit inherent strength, support of each other, and keen spatial awareness. The dancers also possess a calculated fearlessness, allowing them to hurl themselves into the movement wholeheartedly, but due to their adroit awareness of their own bodies they are smart in the entrances and exits of such movements.
The use of repetition in Withers’ choreography allows for dancers to make sense of specific body positions, and the possibilities of movement in said positions, before the audience’s eyes. The process of creating dances somehow doesn’t escape Withers’ work, and gives the audience an eye into dance creation in an engaging manner. While multiple sections of the work feature the dancers in smaller groups wonderfully, my favorite moments would have to be the group unison moments, both hauntingly exacting and excitingly precise. Such moments include dancers moving through space with sustained energy and precise arm motions, moving minimally through space, but sprawling their arms to their fullest, rocking front and back with specific hand gestures in a wringing manner, and leaping forwards and sideways with vigor, while weaving in and out of each other. Such sections were intoxicating and dynamically thrilling against the various worlds created behind the dancers.
It would do the evening a disservice to not acknowledge the performance of a solo by Withers herself. In a black and white striped tunic, and vibrant purple shorts, Withers performed with absolute control, physically and focally. Her directional shifts were surprising and exacting, often taking the audience by surprise. The dynamic effort of gestures new to the evening, as well as those seen in previous sections, ran the gamut from muscularly controlled, to light and airy, exhibiting the range of emotion in motion. In an evening only possible after forty years of truly groundbreaking and collaboratively rich work, a solo by Withers is expected, and highly anticipated by those familiar with the choreographer. What is unexpected, and pleasantly surprising is the fact that Withers continues to challenge herself in her own movement, exploring possibilities in various moments in movement, and never seeming settled or complacent. It is clear to see that the technological advances involved in the evening’s artistry not only elevated Withers as a choreographer, but as a dancer as well. The projected world behind her slowly shifted as Withers athletically traversed the marley floor, and frenetically moved and turned as Withers exhibited sustained control in various leg extensions and upper torso work.
In short, MindFluctuations celebrated forty years of the Maida Withers Dance Construction Company, the dynamic and cutting edge collaborations that have propelled the company forward in DC, nationally, and internationally, and the artist at the helm, Maida Rust Withers. Withers’ choreography throughout the evening is so physically specific that each individual dancer’s performance of the work is what sets them apart from each other. Withers’ ability to question the infinite possibilities of the human body is one of the cornerstones that makes the choreography singularly sensational.
Running Time: One hour and forty minutes, with no intermission.
MindFluctuations was performed on Thursday, March 19, 2015 at Lisner Auditorium – 730 21st Street NW, in Washington, DC. For information about future events at Lisner Auditorium, check out their website.