DANCE IS IMPORTANT (OR NOT)
Live Broadcast Interview of Maida Withers, USA, by Anton Ovchinnikov, Kiev, Ukraine
Wednesday, June 24, 2020 @ 12:00 pm (noon) USA EST
Join the EVENT: http://facebook.com/event/1204961756562699
After June 24, 2020, the broadcast is available on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyaRd88DJGsu0_PJ-n_2C
or directly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YL6Non6E92
Contemporary art in Ukraine is suffering due to the lack of government financial support. Modern / post modern dance has always had limited support but with the economic impact of the global Carona Virus (COVID-19), Ukraine Government support is even less available. Also, there is serious concern by the Ukraine artists, that consequently, there is less and less opportunity for a following by the public to take place.
Consequently, dance artists in Ukraine, led by Anton Ovchinnikov, are presenting a series of interviews with global dance artists, to explore.
1. How long has a dance been part of your life?
I was born the youngest of 8 children with a pioneer ancestry, in a very small town in the western United States, Kanab, Utah. Kanab was called “Little Hollywood.” The earliest Western movies with the likes of John Wayne, were filmed there because of the beautiful open spaces and scenic RED EARTH SCUPTURES that were perfect for the WILD WEST movies. Other than movie business, there was NO, what I would call high culture symphonies, opera, etc. Instead the town and my family especially were singers, dancers, and actors. That is what people did when they came together. I have always treasured my perspective as a cowgirl and a desert rat.
My introduction to dance specifically was through activities in the public schools starting about age 8 through 16. Saturday community classes included introduction to ballet, contemporary, acrobatics, and tap dance. Tap is where I learned improvisation and entertainment dance. As an undergraduate I was able to major in modern dance with a minor in theatre and acting and performance in student musicals and operas. During this time in the summers I was very lucky to study with the founders of modern dance – Martha Graham, Jose Limon, Erick Hawkins and Alwin Nikolais in the USA where I was introduced to Mary Wigman where I studied in West Berlin. I was also introduced at that time to revolutionary artists introducing post modern concepts: Anna Halprin in San Francisco, Merce Cunningham and John Cage in Connecticut, and internationally at the Folkswangschule in Essen Werden, Germany. It was my great pleasure to meet Kazuo Ohno in Yokahama, Japan where I was collaborating with a poet and singer, collaborators with Mr. Ohno.
At that time, I knew I wanted to create something “other”. Having this strong reference to modern dance, I was able to move forward with the development of the post-modern dance movement starting in the mid-60s and early 70’s. In 1975 I founded Maida Withers Dance Construction Company with six dancers I had trained in a Master of Fine Arts Program at the George Washington University. Through the Company and my own works, I have created over 100 multimedia projects both embracing social and political narratives and experimentation with interactive technology.
2. Very often young people choose dance as their profession, simply because dance is fun. In addition, dance is a way of communication, self-expression and a unique community of people. What would you say to young people who choose dance as their profession from the height of your experience?
Good choice! Very good choice!
Why not follow your passion? Isn’t that how society moves forward? Dance is fun; It is rigorous and demanding physically and emotionally. It is demanding in time and commitment. The studio, if run correctly, creates a family, hopefully a supportive and healthy environment with talented and committed artists. Dancers I teach see and feel the studio is a sanctuary of sorts, a place where other concerns are put aside and all thoughts and ideas are turned toward making art. The emerging artist will know soon enough if he or she develops in the field in such a way as to sustain the physical, emotional, and intellectual demands.
The exhilaration and demands of dancing and performing are sometimes beyond explanation and justification to others. So much work and, often, so little financial compensation. An investment for young people only? What happens after youthful involvement? Life happens! Art happens!
When I began dancing seriously, there were many biases: in the United States, men who danced were perceived as gay so it was not a profession some parents would support; women, consequently, were much more plentiful than men; The profession was dominated by men and often that form of discrimination continues to exist. Do men continue to get more of the commissions to choreograph and direct companies? Change is occurring.
There has been an expansion of support for dance in the USA by Local, State, and the Federal government agencies. There are many inequities in the awards, but, nevertheless, there is more government funding and many more opportunities for performance.
Finally, I cherish my role as a life-time dancer. I cannot image my life otherwise. I measure my life by the works I have created in collaboration with talented and generous dance artists. It can be a rich and contributing profession to yourself and to society.
Honestly, I am still in my body/mind’s memory the sassy tall and lanky girl tap dancing my heart out, creating rhythms, making sounds, and intricate gestures with my feet, improvising and composing spontaneously to entertain and engage the audience. So grateful to dance for a cherished life.
3. What qualities and skills should a modern choreographer have
Speaking as a dancer/choreographer who emerged as part of the “revolution” of modern dance to post-modern dance and now deeply involved in the age of dance and technology my comments may be rather simple since I don’t believe everyone must follow the same path (the road less travelled, perhaps) But here goes:
<enjoy and gain experience as a dancer who has performed for “live”audiences, OR NOT!<exposure to life and all the arts, including dance, to understanding “meaning,” OR NOT!<create, create, and create more….don’t wait until it is too late to dare!
< be fearless and willing to explore ideas for public exchange that are meaningful to you and that you want to understand and that you and others care about, OR NOT!
<serve others so they will serve you!
<you must be willing to make it to see its value!
4. Dance works with a universal tool that is a part of each of us. Many people around the world dance for pleasure, health or self-improvement. Can a dance claim to be more than just a part of a particular culture or entertainment industry?
Interest in the body/mind connection through participation has escalated beyond imagination globally. This happens through so many forms, including yoga, Tai Chi, Zumba. Dance has been an important leader as well. Dance happens for so many and varied reasons. With the CorornaVirus, ballet, jazz, modern classes are online and taking place in living rooms around the world. Access to dance on the Internet reveals so many forms of dance…Hip Hop, Ballywood, TikTok site works through dance on camera and on and on.
BUT, your question may be – Can dance hold onto tradition while also breaking new ground? How can artists engage with audiences beyond entertainment?
Generally it is the young in any society who can envision change and bring change about.
Eventually the public has to have opportunity for exposure and artists have to have support to move forward in the long term. Government surely must play a role.
5. In the 20th century, dance suddenly became an object of interest from many artists. As a result, its role, meaning and functions have changed dramatically. What is dance for you today?
In the 1960s, we challenged the definition of what movements were relevant or acceptable for DANCE; what training, if any, was necessary; where could dance be performed (on the street, in the theatre, in the gymnasium, in the museum, on a roof of a building), what structures were acceptable in creating dances; could process in creating be more important than the outcome/presentation; how could choreography be created through a collaborative process among the dancers; and many other questions. We were looking to engage the body in a wider language. We wanted dance to relate to other art forms that, perhaps, had not been involved in performance. We wanted to dance about other ideas and take place for different reasons. In many ways, we were in a revolution that had happened in many other art forms in the 1920’s and 30’s. That was then. That allowed for massive change and growth for dance.
Many changes came from that period. For example, for 16 years I curated and sponsored the DC International Dance Improvisation Plus+ Festival – two weeks each year artists came from DC, the USA, and other countries who could get sponsorship from their Embassies. Many events took place in museums, on the street, in churches, etc.
6Which of the modern dance artists in your country do you think is important for the development of discipline as such and in the sense of the impact of his work on society, art and culture?
7. One of the ideas that dance artists work with is the idea that the dance can be abstract, not just illustrate what can be told with words. On the other hand, it is almost impossible to perceive the dance abstractly. Dance is a body that every spectator has and every movement of which causes certain associations, reactions and memories. Can a dance be abstract?
8. Quite often one has to hear that for the perception of the dance the spectator must be “prepared” or “educated”. This makes a dance a pretty niche kind of stage art genre. Today, the viewer wants everything to be clear, accessible and spectacular. In this case – is there a future for contemporary dance and what do you think it is?
9. Is dance still an experimental art? What is the place of experiment in your work?
10. Give 5 arguments in favor of the fact that dance should be one of the priorities of support from public funds and private donors?