Think of an older woman whose hair is graying and whose life experiences show in the creases of her skin.
Now think of that woman in a dance leotard, devoid of her social confines. This woman dances for five hours a day, flies around the world, meets with foreign artists and goes to bed well after midnight. Not to mention she can still do a handstand.
Don’t think it’s possible? Meet Maida Withers.
Withers, a Theater and Dance Department professor, will present a groundbreaking work in Lisner Auditorium Friday. “Thresholds Crossed,” a modern dance piece, explores the relationships between Russia and the United States beginning with World War II and progressing into the present. Withers described the piece as beautiful, a dynamic and mesmerizing human story that focuses on the relationships between the two peoples.
“I am very happy to still be considered a revolutionary,” Withers said with a laugh during an interview last Wednesday. “It suits me quite well.”
Known for pushing the envelope with projects that seem risky, she takes pride in her work, despite some people’s judgments. “Thresholds Crossed” perfectly reflects her belief that she is “considered to be on the front edge of (her) work.”
The project began when Withers first visited Russia in 1997. There, she worked with Russian dancers, and the contacts she garnered helped make “Thresholds Crossed” possible. The project, which she deemed a “huge undertaking,” involved cooperation between Russian and American artists, an idea that seemed almost impossible. Getting Russian dancers who were willing to audition and go to America was a challenge that Withers and her team faced upon visiting the country. However, Withers held an open audition and chose her dancers.
“(The dancers) totally do not dance alike. They are at totally different levels, and I love it, I love it,” she said.
“Thresholds Crossed’s” first movement was premiered as a work in progress at a festival in Moscow in summer 2005. Now, three more sections have been developed, and it will be presented in its entirety at Lisner. The work on a whole focuses on how American and Russian people, despite a traumatic history, still share values, beliefs and morals: the building blocks of humanity.
Withers got her start back in her hometown in Utah, where she grew up tap dancing and doing acrobatics. But it wasn’t until high school that Withers came across modern dance.
“Modern dance was very extreme and unpopular – nobody knew what it was. They thought it was ballroom dancing,” she said.
A student-teacher visiting her high school from Brigham Young University, where Withers eventually attended, introduced her to modern dance. A revolutionary even as a college student, Withers and six other students petitioned the school to offer a degree in dance, and she became part of the first class to graduate from Brigham Young with a dance degree.
From there, Withers went on to continue her education at the University of Utah, where she received her master’s degree in dance. She went on to teach at Purdue University and Howard University, and then came to GW.
“I never thought I would be a professor. I always thought I would be a choreographer,” Withers said.
Withers’ rare project has received a lot of hype in the D.C. area, and its arrival is greatly anticipated. Withers’ energy, hard work and the daring, risk-taking attitude she believes artists must possess have created an amazing work that will surely impact dance in the United States, as well as in Russia. Withers’ project, she hopes, will show that despite varying languages, cultures and politics, we all hold the same human values – and art is one medium that can help us all relate to each other.
The world premiere of “Thresholds Crossed” is Friday at 8 p.m. in Lisner Auditorium. GW students can buy tickets for a special discounted rate of $8.