It feels a bit improper to talk about a work-in-progress, but Maida Withers Dance Construction Company’s newest project is something of a special case. Withers invited audiences to a two-day December run of Collision Course a.k.a. Pillow Talk, a full-length dance that she hopes to develop into a theater piece. That Withers has an interest in crafting a piece of theater is a unique prospect—most mainstream companies in DC aren’t making or presenting movement work of any kind, so the idea of an established dancer and choreographer like Maida Withers working to create theater is an exciting one.
The show as it currently exists is a dance work free of a traditional narrative, but not of story. The “body-based art of free uninhibited movement” weaves together a series of episodes: Dancers move in and out of the stage picture, sometimes creating scenes alone or in a duet, or at times in a complex group scene with physical dialogue that ranges from gentle to violent. It should be noted that Pillow Talk is a straightforward subtitle: pillows abound in this work. Throughout the show, the dancers more often than not have pillows in hand, under foot, or on-body. The pillows feel like characters in the story too—there were moments in which they looked like a dancer’s lover, or when they seemed to represent something frightening, like a nightmare or a bad memory. They were both friendly companions and weapons. And sometimes they were just pillows, doing their unsung, familiar pillow duty of providing rest and comfort, a place for tears, or being that soft thing that breaks falls and supports bodies.
Perhaps because of the pillow element, the show had a certain intimacy to it, almost as though we were watching the dancers in their own bedrooms, where their most private of actions and emotions are carried out and expressed. This is the kind of intimacy that works well in theater, as was Withers’ dramatic use of spoken text. For the workshop performance, the company used playback of writer and performer Alissandru Caldiero alongside composer Steven C. Hilmy’s live scoring. I particularly enjoyed the repetitive (and existential) nature of the line “Is this is story? Is this a story?” and its echo, “Who cares?...Who cares?” throughout an entire episode. Overall, the text was a fun exercise in abstraction.
I’m interested to see what decisions are made in the future. How would a live performance of the text change the tone of the piece? Or, what if the dancers themselves spoke? The text had its own sense of poetry, musicality, and rhythm, which moved in tandem with Withers’ choreography and Hilmy’s minimal but effective score. The dance itself forms a structural arc, which again, speaks to its potential as a theater piece. The dance begins with a low center of gravity and a kind of sensuality to it, with dancers writhing on the floor and creating various shapes and tableaus as a group. As each scene goes by, movements expand, dancers pop around the stage like hot kernels, and new dance elements are brought into the mix as the musical and vocal tempos rise. To come full-circle, Collision Course ends with a low center of gravity once more; this time, however, after a fight and snowstorm of feathers. The end felt more restful than sensual, more of an absolute, as though the dancers had learned some great lesson along the way.
I don’t know what the future of the piece holds, of course, but I would love to see the theatrical elements of this dance fully realized. The video, spoken elements, and emotional trajectory can all be taken to higher heights, and it’s lovely to know that dance can benefit from the tools of theater, just as theater would benefit from the power, creativity, and beauty of dance.
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