DANCE ARTIST – GENERAL
Maida Rust Withers was born in Kanab, Utah, in the Mountain West of the United States, the youngest in a Mormon family of eight children. Her grandfather, William Rust, and her father, Woodruff Rust, built the Kaibab Lodge (1925) ten miles from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon – a national park and one of the wonders of the world. The Rusts had a vision of tourism before there was such a word. Early years were spent in Salem, Utah in Utah County, a small community in a valley ringed by beautiful mountains, a continuous source of strength then and now. It was in this beautiful small-town setting that she developed a love of freedom of thought about life, freedom of adventure and discover, and, especially, a vision of the universe as experienced in the clear dark sky of night. In the Mormon society, coming together to sing, dance, and share the joy of living is very important. I have always been grateful to LaVaun Turner, my childhood teacher of dance, for her love of dancing, making dances, and teaching dance. A typical class involved 15 minutes each of gymnastics, tap, ballet, and what became known as contemporary dance. “I loved to dance. Dance focused my intense passion and creative imagination. Surely tap dance has left its improvisational mark on me through the quick movement of my legs and feet, my rhythms, extreme dramatic flare, and my ability to entertain. My free spirit and wit surely originated in the red earth of Southern Utah, from an unusual radical puritan background, settlers of Boston, and my daring pioneer heritage.”
A powerful and commanding performer, Maida is known for her daring in movement and innovation as a choreographer. She has created a significant body of work for Maida Withers Dance Construction Company, over 100 dances of breadth and vision, involving a process of experimentation and collaboration. She has been creating visionary collaborations with global partners for more than 45 years. A leader in establishing radical notions as a dance artist in the 1960s, her current works continue to revolutionize the field through her political activism and innovation in dance and interactive technologies. Every three to five years, Maida initiates and produces a large-scale work resulting from on-site research and investigation. Current projects involve international travel and collaboration with artists, scientists, anthropologists, and technologists. Maida was an early leader in the use of interactive technology, and has an on-going interest in the use of technology, multimedia and new media, mixing imagination and daring with a keen sense of formal structure and beauty. She was always political, a characteristic that came from her experience of having a life of great wealth related to family and depth of thinking, but not wealth in monetary terms. All things were possible, imagine what you want and need and find a means for accomplishing it. Equity and fairness get developed early on in a family of eight people, in a community of 800 people. In a town like Salem, you meet every personality you may ever meet as you pass through life.
Maida was an important player in what has become known as the modern dance revolution that created post-modernism in dance in America. She and the Company were part of the “movement” that experimented with dance improvisation as performance, creation and presentation of work in alternate architectural and environmental locations, artist as social/political activist, and experimentation that led to the integration of dance with technology. She has been referred to as the “iconoclast of Washington dance,” and continues to be a leader in the application of new media and technologies with dance.
Maida has been actively engaged with dance and interactive technology for 40 years begun through her early work with John Driscoll, electronic musician/composer/sculptor (1972) and includes works such as as Families Are Forever (1981), Laser Dance (1985) Utah * Spirit Place * Spirit Planet * Tukuhnikivatz (1996), Maida on Maida in the Universe (2003), Dance of the Auroras – Fire in the Sky (2001), Thresholds Crossed (2006), MindFluctuations (2015), Rainforest Awakens (2020), others. All of her works are autobiographical as well as revealing her activism for art and other important social and political issue through thought-provoking non-linear narratives often laced with wit and humor: Woman See (1980) , DIGG (Putin/Trump) 2018); Site specific performances such as White Mansions (Holy Rood Cemetery), Sunday Maneuvers (Theodore Roosevelt National Park), Wet and Wonderful in Washington, DC (National Freedom Plaza, DC), ICEBERGS: Glacial Drift (National Building Museum) (2016), (others, and spontaneous choreography (improvisation and scripting and scoring for dance) This Space Occupied (by Maida), Corcoran Gallery of Art), In Voluntary Encounters (2012), are important in the development of the works as well as an art creating spontaneous choreography during performance.
Maida’s career began in the late 1960’s. Inspired by the likes of Anna Halprin and John Cage, she soon took her own style, influenced by renowned artists Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins, Alwin Nikolais, and Mary Wigman, Berlin, Germany.
Starting in 1987, the earth and natural phenomenon became primary sources, subject and processes for several art projects for stage and video, making Maida an early artist-leader in the environment movement. She worked with 100 international artists for ecology in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the first United Nation’s Earth Summit (Eco ’92), performing her work, Rolling Thunder on stages in the park, creating Stone Garden, a commission by Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro in Placo Aberto – Open Stage in the rock garden, and participating in site works throughout the city. Maida has created international site-specific works in Kiev, Ukraine with Anton Ovchinnikov, 60 Move with Future Gaze; Poland (Halda), Russia (LENIN), Brazil (Stone Garden), and in Washington, DC in the Holy Rood Cemetery, National Plaza, Theodore Roosevelt Island (Sunday Maneuvers), and at most of the national monuments. She developed an artistic technique involving the video camera as a collaborator in a land-site process with artists at earth sites, with indigenous people, location history, mythology, and other cultural aspects, that resulted in film works or video art projects as an installation for stage works.
October 29, 2014 Maida received Washington, DC Mayor’s Special Recognition Award. In 2005, at the Kennedy Center, Maida Withers and the Dance Construction Company received the Metro DC Dance Award – Outstanding Overall Production in a Large Venue for Thresholds Crossed. Maida and the Company received the coveted Washington, DC Mayor’s Arts Award for Artistic Achievement in the Discipline, at the Kennedy Center. In 2001 Maida received the prestigious Pola Nirenska Award for her “great cultural and artistic contributions to the field of dance and for her years of devoted work in choreography and the education of young professionals in Washington, DC” – presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society and as part of the 2001 DC Metro Dance Awards. In 2007, Dance Place honored her for “your lifelong, loving commitment to the field of dance.” She was selected by faculty peers for a Columbian Professorship, Distinguished Professor award, by The George Washington University. Grants have been received from the National Endowment for the Arts, Choreographers Fellowships; NEA Inter Arts; NEA Visual Arts in Performing Arts; DC and Virginia Commissions for the Arts; Dilthey Fellowship for Collaboration; The George Washington University Faculty Research Awards; Washington Area Studies Grant for Cultural Preservation and Archiving; Fulbright Travel Award to Taiwan; Kansai University Exchange. Many of Withers international workshops and performances are supported by the United States Information Services, and US Embassies. The Company and Maida’s choreography and international travels have been supported by The Trust for Mutual Understanding, Ford Foundation in Russia, DC Commission for the Arts and Humanities, U.S. Embassies in Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, and others, along with several American corporations located in Washington, DC.
Maida has played a significant role in Washington, DC as a curator, producer, and board member as well as a Professor at the George Washington University, Corcoran School for the Arts and Design, Department of Theatre and Dance. In 1995 Maida founded the DC International Dance Improvisation Plus+ Festival that brought international artists and local improvisers in dance, theatre, music, and performance art to various theater and site locations in DC for fourteen years, a precursor to the DC Fringe Festival. She has co-produced performances with District Curators, The Washington Performing Arts Society, various embassies, and others. She founded the Dance Direction Festival, an annual two-week performance season in Marvin Center for local artists, and has presented or co-produced concerts with local organizations and the George Washington University. Artists include Phillip Glass (The Photographer), Kei Takei, Yamada Setsuko and H. Art Chaos (Japan), Kim JeYoung and Kim Hyun Je (Korea), Slaski Teatr Tanca (Poland), and residencies with American icons such as Erick Hawkins, Yvonne Rainer, Anna Halprin, Meredith Monk, Ann Carlson, Vicky Schick, Donna Uchizono, Luciana Achugar, and others. Withers served on the early board of directors of the influential Washington Project for the Arts, working with visual, dance, and media artists for eight years on the Board and as Program Chair for 3 years. This experience connected Maida to the DC visual arts community starting in 1976. Maida served a 3-year term on the Kennedy Center Education Committee. Maida serves, (2007 – present) as a Board Member for the Amazing EarthFest in Kanab, Utah, the place of her birth.
Maida’s dance videos have been shown nationally and internationally at film festivals, as part of on-stage performances, and on cable and mainstream television. DANCE:FILMS, an evening of dance film shorts (Tzveta I, Tzveta II, Maida I, Maida II, Collision Course – a.k.a. Pillow Talk, TUK (Tukuhnikivatz), Orbit, and Thresholds Crossed – Gulag/Art Angar) was show at Artisphere Dome Theatre and at Danzlenz, New Delhi, India. TUK I received the 2009 John Muir Award in recognition of Excellence in Film making at the Yosemite Film Festival (Environment Film Competition). SandS Cycles, a land site video created at White Sands, New Mexico and Coral Dunes, Utah, toured with In Winds of Sand to China, Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Paris, Venezuela. Orbit was selected for showing at the 1990 DC Rosebud Film Festival; 1991 Women in Film Festival, Kennedy Center; and exhibited in Frankfurt, Germany at 1992 IMZ Dance Screen. State of the Art, a video art documentary, received national recognition for innovative local cable programming. Dance Portraits on Screen 2021 was featured at the Toronto International Dance festival, 2021. Tukuhnikivatz was a “monthly” winner in September 2021 at the Virgin Spring Cinefest in Kalkota, India. Withers narrated Dance, Dance, Dance, in 1978, a ten-part series for NBC-TV, broadcast in five major US cities.
Maida has been a leader nationally in the development of dance degree programs at the University level where she has been instrumental in developing BA, MA, and MFA degree programs at The George Washington University. The university environment suits her intellectual curiosity and adventurous, independent spirit. She has been on the faculties of Rick’s College (1 year), Purdue University (3 years), Howard University (1 year), George Washington University (1965-present) and has taught nationally as a founder/specialist with the NEA Artists-in-Schools Program (8 years), and teaches continuously, internationally, for various festivals and conferences. Maida feels strongly that her art work informs the teaching and that teaching informs her art work as well. She received her BS at Brigham Young University in Dance and Theatre and her MS in dance at the University of Utah.
Maida is the proud mother of Kristin Withers, Lawrence Luke Withers, Eric Pratt and Marc Pratt Withers and a very proud grandmother of Nicole (Nica) and Milan Mercury Withers, children of Eric and Elena Withers, Moscow, Russia.
Maida Withers Early History
Maida was born in Kanab, Utah, “little Hollywood,” located on the Utah/Arizona border. By age six she attended Salem Elementary School, the community where she began her study of dance (ballet, tap/jazz, and acrobatics) with LaVaun Turner, Maida taught children in various small towns in Utah County on the weekends with and for LaVaun starting at age 13. At Spanish Fork High School, as Girls Athletic Association President, Maida co-directed two student dance concerts of student choreography in the high school auditorium. Maida’s first dance was created to “Rhapsody in Blue.” Maida graduated from Spanish Fork High School in Utah in 1954 and became a student at Brigham Young University on an academic scholarship where she studied modern dance and theater in Provo, Utah. She earned a BA degree in 1958. While studying at BYU with instructor Gerry Glover, Maida was introduced to Erick Hawkins and Lucia Dlugoszewski and, also, Anna Halprin, guest artists. During this time, Maida studied in In the summer of 1956 at the Welland Lathrop/Anna Halprin experimental dance studio in San Francisco, CA. Anna Halprin invited Maida to participate that summer in the early “dance deck” workshop with Anna Halprin in San Marin County, CA. In the summer of 1957 (6 or 7) Maida participated in the eight-week summer dance program at Colorado College with German artist/educator Hanya Holm. In 1958-59 Maida taught dance at Rick’s College where she met her husband Lawrence Arlen Withers. In 1960 Maida completed her MS in Dance with a minor in Education at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah where she studied with Joan Woodbury and Shirley Ririe along with guest artist Lucas Hoving and in the summer with Alwin Nikolais. (Maida taught later in NYC at the Alwin Nikolais school.) In Salt Lake City, Maida taught children’s dance at the Virginia Tanner Children’s Dance Theatre/Creative Dance Program. During the summer of 1959 Maida studied at the American Dance Festival (ADF) in New London, Connecticut where she studied dance with Lucas Hoving, Martha Graham, Louis Horst (composition), and Merce Cunningham. This was an important summer. It is where she became aware of the “radical performance ideas” of John Cage through his public lecture and performance. Maida taught dance at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana 1960-63, where she also performed as an actress. On a 1962 Purdue University faculty grant, Maida studied with Mary Wigman in West Berlin, Germany and at the Folkwangschule in Essen Werden, Germany. In 1965 Maida began teaching dance at the George Washington University where she participated in establishing the MA in Dance (1965) and the BA in Dance (1966) in the School of Education. Maida established the GW Summer Dance Workshop three-week intensive program that lasted for ten summers and featured herself and national artists Norman Walker, Yvonne Rainer, Rudy Perez, Mel Wong, Don Redlich, Pat Catterson, Sara Rudner, and others. In 1988 the MFA in Dance in the Department of Theatre and Dance was established, in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Currently the dance program resides in the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design. In 2007 the MFA Distance Learning Program in Dance at GWU was established. It was one of the earliest Hybrid Dance Programs in the USA. Maida has taught many different courses but generally taught undergraduate level courses such as Dance Technique as Performance, Dance and Movement Improvisation, Trends in Performance Art, Dance Composition, and Choreography, and advising Honor’s Theses projects. Maida has served as the Artistic Director of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design Dance Season of performances, guest artists, cultural projects, fall and spring semester. In 2020-21 Choreography became Choreography/Filmmaking and students created film shorts in the course. In 2021, Fall Semester, Maida took a sabbatical leave of absence to prepare for the Legacy Exhibition tentatively scheduled for Corcoran Gallery 1 and the South Atrium, Oct/Nov 2022, Washington, DC.