Keith Terry makes money slapping his body.
"I consider myself a percussionist and rhythm dancer," he says.
He did study percussion for many years. But still ...
At first it seems a little strange, watching him contort into some obtuse position in order to slap a part of his body that most of us have trouble reaching without a long handle. But then you close your eyes and listen to the different tones he emits. Yes, it is musical. Body music.
"There are many body musics that have existed for centuries," he explains, "from hambone in this country to armpit music in Ethiopia. And there are many traditional dances that involve clapping and stomping and snorting and carrying on."
Terry also steps on small, squishy, squealy rubber toys. You know, blue ducks and pink dinosaurs. The kind your dog chews on. Terry lines them up on the floor and steps on them, and they squeak in various pitches. But close your eyes and listen. Yes, it is musical. Creature music.
"I bought them for my oldest daughter," he says of the toys. "Then quickly, I took them away from her." They're instruments, after all. "Now I buy everything in duplicate."
Terry also shakes those can-shaped cardboard things that make barnyard noises. Remember them? You turn them upside down and they go "Mooooooooooooooooooo." Actually, he uses the ones that make sheep noises.
"I prefer cows," he admits, "but they just aren't loud enough."
What he does with these baaaa-ing cans is shake them in just the right way so they sound like, well, like soul-filled backup singers. He sings the Tina Turner part of "Proud Mary" with the sheep doing the "yeah" parts. He doesn't have Tina's luscious prancing legs. And the sheep cans don't look much like backup babes. But close your eyes and listen. Yes, it is music. Pretty great music, at that.
Keith Terry performs at the Barns of Wolf Trap on Saturday night at 7:30. Tickets are $12 and available at Ticketron. For information, call 202-432-0200.
HOME AGAIN, SPIRITUALLY
A few years back, Washington dancer-choreographer Maida Withers felt as if she were losing her focus on life -- that it had become meaningless, spiritless, soulless. She had just wrapped up a tour through Central America, and, naturally, she was a bit burned out. But there was more to it than that.
"I wanted to reaffirm my direction as an artist," she says. "I wanted to get back to a basic experience in my life. To begin again. And I wanted more to go somewhere associated with my early life rather than later life to do this. So I went back to the land of my birth. I went home."
Withers's home is the border between Arizona and Utah, where her ancestors settled five generations ago. She went there in 1987 "to film a dance piece on the land," but she found herself entranced by the "mystical side" of the land, the "spiritual" side. She came to "understand the land" as the ancient tribe of Anasazi did in A.D. 500. She stayed.
During her self-exploration there, Withers developed several works -- three of which she will present with her troupe, the Dance Construction Company, at Dance Place this week.
The first, "Spirit Path/Migration/Remains," is a long, complex piece that incorporates her new-found ideology.
"It's a reflection of the ancient presence that makes you feel what you feel when you are dancing with the sunrise and dancing with the sunset," she says. "You sense the fourth dimension."
The movements are very simple. The score is coarse and natural -- the David Hykes Harmonica Choir mixed with human breathing, chanting, the clopping of horse hoofs and the sound of drumming on rocks. Behind the dancers are slide projections of earth textures -- mud, sand and stone.
"It is about the land," Withers says.
The second work, "Crossing the Edge," is more introspective.
Two dancers tread a diagonal line ("the place between earth and sky") as local musician Bruce Robinson wails on his saxophone.
"The man and woman establish a rapport on this ledge," she says. "They find a way to exist on this small space. After a while, they contemplate crossing this line. And they step off the line into space."
Of this piece, she says, "It's about making it across the precipice."
The third, "Still Rush," is a shorter and more traditional work.
Following a score by the Philadelphia percussion ensemble Shaman, seven dancers slither and slide and fight their way from one side of the stage to the other. The goal is to exit, to escape.
This dance, says Withers, is about driving desire coupled with an extreme expression of emotion.
"And ultimately," she adds, "there is a burst of jubilation."
Maida Withers and the Dance Construction Company perform Saturday night at 8 and next Sunday afternoon at 4 at Dance Place. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $8 for students, seniors and professional artists. For information, call 202-269-1600.
GUITAR TIMES FIVE
They had all been students of legendary Washington guitar virtuoso Sophocles Papas. So when Papas died a few years ago, the University of Maryland asked local guitarists Charlie Byrd, John Marlow, Jeffrey Meyerriecks, Myrna Sislen and Larry Snitzler to participate in a memorial concert at a guitar conference. Rather than perform separately, however, the five combined talents and founded the Washington Guitar Quintet.
Originally, the quintet was only going to do that one performance at the university, but, as Snitzler says, "We all had such a good time, we continued to get together."
They'd go out to Byrd's home in Annapolis and spend mornings practicing and afternoons sailing. Because a repertoire for guitar quintet was virtually nonexistent, the group reworked all sorts of compositions, from Vivaldi to Gershwin to Reinhardt, and asked other guitarists, such as Brazilian bossa nova player Laurindo Alemeida and local musician Glenn Smith, to pen some works for them.
"The possibilities are five times greater," says Sislen. "We can duplicate almost an entire orchestra. When you hear the sound, you're not hearing five times louder, it's five times greater, the range of things that can be played. It's a much richer sound, and the textures can be much more complicated."
They performed in the Washington area and eventually started touring nationally. This autumn, they began to record an album, but midway through, Byrd became ill and had to have surgery. He is still recovering, so they asked Carlos Barbosa-Lima, a Brazilian protege of Papas, to fill in for a while.
As Sislen explains, what was at first a lark has turned into a full-time job. But make no mistake. It's not all work.
"It's the next best thing to heaven," she says, "that we have on this earth."
The Washington Guitar Quintet performs at the National Presbyterian Church Friday night at 8. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for students and seniors, and are available at the House of Musical Traditions, the Guitar Shop or at the door. For information, call 202-291-0286.