A professor gets lost in the cosmos

“Art and science are not that disparate,” says Maida Withers, sitting on the edge of her chair, squirming like an excited child. “It’s the idea, the notion, the ‘we see ourselves in a context,’ not only of our human expression, but the potential of opening up to the larger perspective.”

Withers, a GW dance professor, presents her one-woman show “Maida on Maida in the Universe” this Friday and Saturday in the Dorothy Betts Theater. The performance is a retrospective of works, including those for Withers’ Dance Construction Company, but she insists that the show will not be her last. Withers has been a GW dance professor for more than three decades and has also traveled the world teaching performance workshops in more than 15 countries.

Withers says the performance addresses her existence in the universe, focusing on the intellectual and creative forces of her art. However, her universe includes the cosmos in which we all reside. Images projected during the performance will be courtesy of NASA, along with archived photos and video of the Dance Construction Company.

“The artistic process of creation where a concept is found and discovered and suddenly there is a consciousness,” Withers says. “You don’t know where it’s going; you don’t quite know what it is, but you go with it anyway. And when that happens, it’s quite like the creation of anything.”

Withers says the audience should relish in the unexpected. While her imaginative choreography often surprises the audience, beneath the surface of the movement there exists multiple layers that supplement the many hours of research and preparation put into every piece.

“There is always another layer. If you look under this cover and surface, there’s a second layer,” says Withers. “And people more connected to that see the second and the third and the fourth layer in the work. There’s the superficial form and the superficial content, but then there are these other things which come from the research.

As an artist addresses her place in the universe, both easy and difficult questions must be asked. Probably none more important than the question Withers posed to herself: Would it change anything if I never made another dance?

Withers responds, her voice building only to suddenly become ironically calm.

“It’s like getting sucked into a black hole … There’s something powerful about the creation process. And the summary of my life is that I cannot explain that motivation that propels me.”

“But at the deepest layer of the performance it all leads back to the effect of the choreography – on the performer, on the audience.

“The unearthed theme is about being a dancer,” says Withers.

Beyond the layers of herself, Withers remains a performer who loves her art. From her dancing beginnings in the dusty desert towns of Western Utah to the majestic wonders of 2001’s “Dance of the Aurora’s – Fire in the Sky,” Maida Withers may sit on the edge of modern dance but she knows her roots.

“I just see myself as a cowgirl from Utah.”

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