Creative Life in the Gateway Arts District

A Conversation with Maida Withers: Site-Specific Dance… why you should care

I had the opportunity to sit down with long-time artist and dancer Maida Withers and ask her why the Gateway Arts District should be excited/interested in what she has to say about site-specific dance and why being a part of such an event is important.
hair pull

Photo Courtesy of Maida Withers Dance Construction Company

Neena: Why is site-specific dance worth going to a lecture about?

Maida: In the l960s dancers broke out in what is known as a “revolution” from modern dance to post-modern dance. One of the most important things to happen is that dancers did not stay inside theaters and limit themselves to making dances for the “elite” paying audience that could afford tickets. However, cost for both the artist and audience was only one factor. Dancers wanted to take the arts to where the people were (outside, in various locations) and also to make dances that were unique to the possible topic/subject of a site. For example if I perform a work on Theodore Roosevelt Island, I can dance and the audience gets to join me outside. I can dance in different locations (in the moat, up on the fountain, over the pedestrian bridge) while making a statement about President Roosevelt and his ideas about war and peace.

Dancers wanted to have a more intimate relationship with audiences so in site-specific work the audience is close enough to touch and be more intimately involved with the artist. The audience becomes a part of the performance rather than sitting out in the remote darkness of the theatre.

Site work is quite a different art form than dance made for theatre. On Site / Insight on September 17th at Joe’s Movement Emporium is a chance to learn about the differences and the similarities.

Anthony Chain

Photo Courtesy of Maida Withers Dance Construction Company

Neena: How is the audience going to be involved during Trans Action/what is expected of them?

In the beginning, the audience will be outside the building on the lawn and sidewalk and we will be bathed in red light at the large glass windows. When the audience comes inside, they will be able to walk freely around the space and choose what they watch. There will be chairs to sit on, areas to stand in, audience members may find themselves approached by dancer looking to either interact with them by movement and maybe in conversation about how art survives today in Hyattsville… or not! That’s up to the audience.

In fact, the audience is extremely important to this event. They give dancers ideas about what they choose to do whether it’s communicate through text, movement, vocalization, etc.

Trans Action will take place at the new Art Works Now located at 4800 Rhode Island Avenue, Hyattsville, MD. Audience is welcome to arrive at 8, performance will start at 8:30.

Photo Courtesy of Maida Withers Dance Construction Company

Photo Courtesy of Maida Withers Dance Construction Company

Neena: Why is this project special to you?

Maida: I love being close to the audience so there is not so much distance and separation between us. Audience members are performers too and the dancers get many ideas from the audience – how they stand, how they respond to the intimacy of being by the dancers, if/when they laugh. I really really like the “realness” of having the audience be available and close. I like the audience to be able to choose what they want to watch by walking to another location, etc.

Please come join us!

Withers has been making site-specific dance works around the world and is now bringing this work to Hyattsville, MD on September 20th to the future-site of arts organization Art Works Now. Prior this performance, Withers offers her interesting perspective on dance from her 40 years of experience at Joe’s Movement Emporium on September 17th. Get to know her and her view of life and art at the free event.

About neenajoe

Joe’s Movement Emporium is a cultural arts hub that acts as a catalyst for creativity and economic opportunity for all through productions and programs in education, artist services and work readiness. Located in the town center of Mount Rainier, Maryland within the Prince George’s County Gateway Arts District, the organization supports and promotes creative projects of local artists and community groups. For additional information on programs and events, please visit

One comment on “A Conversation with Maida Withers: Site-Specific Dance… why you should care

  1. Pingback: Maryland Citizens for the Arts announces the winner of the 2015 “Sue Hess Maryland Arts Advocate of the Year Award” | Joes Movement Emporium

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