"Is this Isadora Duncan Day?"
The question came from a passer-by watching Maida Withers and Dancers perform "Wet and Wonderful on Western Plaza" yesterday afternoon.
Withers, a local choreographer whose creations sometimes seem akin to a Feiffer cartoon, described her newest work, which the dancers have been creating for the past two weeks, as a "dance, music and water sculpture event."
Everyone who passed by the plaza, on Pennsylvania Avenue across from the District Building, stopped to watch, if only for a moment. "I think it's great, a happening right here in the District," said one man whose attention was caught by the white balloons tethered at the plaza's entrance.
"Unusual," pronounced another noontime stroller. "I really don't understand it. It's very . . . freestyle."
The dance began with a recorded Vivaldi concerto. Eleven dancers in leotards, shorts and sneakers ran through the plaza holding sheets of plastic that flew behind them. They eventually wrapped each other in the plastic, and paraded with kite-like structures of the same material.
After the dancers discarded the plastic, the wind picked it up and it danced on its own.
The music changed, to the recorded sounds of sirens, electric drills and traffic. "We will use recorded, ambient sounds from this area to abruptly pull the audience out of the 18th century and into the 21st," said Rogelio Maxwell, who compiled the music for the event. The local composer also played his cello.
"It is my ultimate dream," said Maxwell, "to synthesize the cello. It can be done."
As the dance event progressed, assistants turned on hoses and John Bailey's water sculpture took shape. Bailey, who painted the Marilyn Monroe portrait on a Connecticut Avenue building, joined the other dancers frolicking beneath the bridge of water from two hoses that spanned the plaza. Bailey later activated scattered sprinklers, and as one dancer stood in the middle of a circle formed by the others, a hose spurted high into the air. "We wanted to verticalize the space, so we did it with water," said Withers. "We wanted a weather balloon as tall as these buildings, but it was too expensive."
Part of Withers' purpose is to expose dance to those who don't normally see it. "Dance and a lot of the arts are isolated. If you don't have the money, interest or education, you don't have access. I want to change that."
Withers has always danced in unconventional spaces. In 1975, her "Dance Construction Company" performed in a cemetery. "When you move into a space, you understand something so intimate about that space," Withers said. "I was hungry to do this dance. So I invited a bunch of other people, and we met for 15 days every day before noon to explore the space--sounds, wind, everything. It's not really a dance, we just wanted to coexist and add to this particular space."
Whatever. During the dance, those who had to pass across the plaza did so without hesitation. A woman walked her bicycle through the dance. Two dancers appeared in street clothes, one pushing a wheelbarrow and the other a suitcase on a trolley. "Each pedestrian that walks across here is on stage," Withers exulted. "What a wonderful arena for the human being!"
The event culminated with dancing in the shallow pool. When it was over, the traffic continued, as did the construction and the stream of lunchtime strollers. "We have become part of the scenario," said Withers, "and now people expect every day for us to show up. After 15 days, it's sort of sad that it has to end."
A dancer unfastened the red balloon in the middle of the fountain. The Vivaldi concerto resumed. The crowd clapped and whistled as the dancers began to splash, play and dunk each other in the water.
"Is it over?" asked an audience member.
The applause faded. The balloon disappeared into the sky.