Maida Withers, whose love of risk and the unknown has led her, and us, through dozens of daring choreographic expeditions over the past decade, refuses to mend her ways. She's always been less interested in charming spectators than in prodding them into unexpected modes of perception; she's always preferred to take a grand leap into the abyss than an easy swim across the pool. She hasn't changed in these respects, one is gratified to note.

"Stall," the hour-long opus on which she collaborated with composer John Driscoll and a team of artist colleagues and which received its American premiere last night at the Pension Building as part of the 9th Street Crossings festival, has many of the familiar Withers trademarks. It's challenging -- no less to the audience than to the dancers; it's also bold in conception, at once stark and vivid in atmosphere, and mammoth in dimension. Perhaps more than any previous Withers endeavor, it is uncompromisingly austere. Though it operates on many sensory levels simultaneously, it is devoid of explicable "content" -- it's a play of stringent abstractions, an evolving matrix of visual, aural and choreographic forms.

In a sense, the Pension Building interior was itself a formidable collaborator. The vastness of the space and the awesome scale of its colonnaded galleries, suggesting both Roman grandeur and gothic mystery, turned the place into a combination set, sounding board and phantasmagorical canyon. A huge raised platform functioned as dance stage; suspended above it at midsection, from a scaffolding of beams, was Driscoll's rotating twin loudspeaker, like a giant, angular bow tie. In the "pit" (the building's large circular floor fountain) sat Driscoll, feeding sound through his electronic console to the overhead speaker and four massive peripheral speakers. Alongside him was Philip Edelstein, controlling the tempo and direction of the rotating element. Driscoll modulated the soundscape in relation to the dancers' movements, creating what he has called a "sonic architecture." Bill DeMull's tidal lighting scheme emphasized the suspensefulness of the work's unfolding.

Yet, though the character of "Stall" seemed defined by the varying resonances set up between the choreography, the sound and the entire visual picture framed by the building, the dancing -- by Withers and four members of her Dance Construction Company -- remained the center of attention. The movement, too, had its unmistakable Withers traits, such as dipping and whirring winglike arms, or the circular formations expanding from tight knots to great turbulent arcs. Structurally, the work proceeded from an opening trio through a Withers solo and two duets to a motionless interlude dominated by the speakers -- a symphony of whooshings, pipings, clangings and hissings -- and on through another solo and duet to a culminating, sculptural trio for Withers, Dale Crittenberger and Frances Babb, leading to a coda involving all five dancers (the others were Heather Watts and Wendell Lockhart). The dancers moved together like comrades in arms, with an intensity and flow that seemed as much mutual as individual.

Though the thread of a distinctive personal vision runs through all of Withers' works, no two of them are ever quite alike, and "Stall" is no exception -- it's one of a kind. How well it may stand up to repeated viewing is difficult to predict from first acquaintance, but last night, assuredly, it was a singularly provocative and absorbing experience. By Alan M. Kriegsman

Maida Withers, whose love of risk and the unknown has led her, and us, through dozens of daring choreographic expeditions over the past decade, refuses to mend her ways. She's always been less interested in charming spectators than in prodding them into unexpected modes of perception; she's always preferred to take a grand leap into the abyss than an easy swim across the pool. She hasn't changed in these respects, one is gratified to note.

"Stall," the hour-long opus on which she collaborated with composer John Driscoll and a team of artist colleagues and which received its American premiere last night at the Pension Building as part of the 9th Street Crossings festival, has many of the familiar Withers trademarks. It's challenging -- no less to the audience than to the dancers; it's also bold in conception, at once stark and vivid in atmosphere, and mammoth in dimension. Perhaps more than any previous Withers endeavor, it is uncompromisingly austere. Though it operates on many sensory levels simultaneously, it is devoid of explicable "content" -- it's a play of stringent abstractions, an evolving matrix of visual, aural and choreographic forms.

In a sense, the Pension Building interior was itself a formidable collaborator. The vastness of the space and the awesome scale of its colonnaded galleries, suggesting both Roman grandeur and gothic mystery, turned the place into a combination set, sounding board and phantasmagorical canyon. A huge raised platform functioned as dance stage; suspended above it at midsection, from a scaffolding of beams, was Driscoll's rotating twin loudspeaker, like a giant, angular bow tie. In the "pit" (the building's large circular floor fountain) sat Driscoll, feeding sound through his electronic console to the overhead speaker and four massive peripheral speakers. Alongside him was Philip Edelstein, controlling the tempo and direction of the rotating element. Driscoll modulated the soundscape in relation to the dancers' movements, creating what he has called a "sonic architecture." Bill DeMull's tidal lighting scheme emphasized the suspensefulness of the work's unfolding.

Yet, though the character of "Stall" seemed defined by the varying resonances set up between the choreography, the sound and the entire visual picture framed by the building, the dancing -- by Withers and four members of her Dance Construction Company -- remained the center of attention. The movement, too, had its unmistakable Withers traits, such as dipping and whirring winglike arms, or the circular formations expanding from tight knots to great turbulent arcs. Structurally, the work proceeded from an opening trio through a Withers solo and two duets to a motionless interlude dominated by the speakers -- a symphony of whooshings, pipings, clangings and hissings -- and on through another solo and duet to a culminating, sculptural trio for Withers, Dale Crittenberger and Frances Babb, leading to a coda involving all five dancers (the others were Heather Watts and Wendell Lockhart). The dancers moved together like comrades in arms, with an intensity and flow that seemed as much mutual as individual.

Though the thread of a distinctive personal vision runs through all of Withers' works, no two of them are ever quite alike, and "Stall" is no exception -- it's one of a kind. How well it may stand up to repeated viewing is difficult to predict from first acquaintance, but last night, assuredly, it was a singularly provocative and absorbing experience.