For five hours on Sept. 15, Maida Withers, performance artist extraordinaire, danced, spoke and beguiled art lovers while suspended in a glass box above the Corcoran Gallery’s entrance for her performance piece “This Space Occupied,” a part of the gallery’s “Take It to the Bridge” series.
Withers is a professor of dance at George Washington University as well as a founder of the Maida Withers Dance Construction Company, a nonprofit performing arts organization. Foregoing the classic image of a dancer of her caliber, Withers was dressed in nothing but a black trench coat, combat boots, a black veil and what looked like a black body suit.
At the start of her performance, Withers climbed into the glass box which had been filled with various articles of clothing as well as handmade signs that said things like, “Mergers, Acquisitions, Futures,” “Don’t confuse a want with a need” and “Cultural Vandalism.”
Accompanied by the live electronic music of Steve Hilmy, who is an adjunct professor of music at George Washington University, Withers alternated between dancing, contorting her body and speaking about the Occupy movement during her stream of consciousness performance.
Withers was constantly changing character and costume through out the performance. Starting out as a caricature of the “one percent” she said, “We are capitalism at work. We know what’s best.”
At one point she switched her trench coat for a T-shirt decorated with a gold sequin dollar sign. Later, she huddled in a corner of the box, and, while banging her head against the glass she repeated, “Nothing changes but my heart keeps beating.”
Without notice, she put on a flannel shirt and immediately changed her persona into a representation of an Occupier. Dispelling stereotypes about the “99 percent,” she mournfully claimed that she could go to work if she just had her briefcase, explaining that she had lost her briefcase at McPherson Square when the police made her pack up. It was one of the few times in her performance where Withers had an understandable narrative.
Although there were no chairs for people to sit and watch, many gallery visitors sat on the stairs or stood in awe of Withers abstract actions. Passerbys were encouraged to ask Withers questions while she was in the box by using a microphone. While many of the questions were straightforward, Withers answers were usually more complex.
Occasionally evoking laughter, one person approached the mic and asked “Why do you keep changing costume?” Withers immediately struck a pose and replied, “Oh, dear. This is not a costume.”
Nancy Tartt, a colleague of Withers, came to see her and was astounded by the performance.
“I’m invested in the ‘wow’ factor of the experience,” Tartt said. “[Withers] is fearless in the most beautiful way.”
“This Space Occupied” was the final performance in the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art “Take It to the Bridge” series in conjunction with the Washington Project for the Arts. The series brought in local artists to create performance pieces, exhibits and installations. “Take It to the Bridge” ran from July 18 to Sept. 15.