- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2006

Two highly individual artists premiered lively, probing works over the weekend that combined political and artistic concerns through movement, original music played live and large, eye-catching projections.

From there each took off in different directions.

On Saturday night at Dance Place, Marc Bamuthi Joseph was Dionysian in the pain and rage he brought to “Scourge,” the sad tale of Haiti’s continuing disintegration.

The night before at Lisner Auditorium, Maida Withers was Apollonian in “Thresholds Crossed,” an impressionistic view of Russia and the United States using images of the gulag, Abu Ghraib, patriotic statues, messianic leaders and marching soldiers as background for choreography that abstracted these concerns. The interaction of the American and Russian dancers in her cast and her own strong duet with Anthony Gongora were the focus of “Thresholds.”

Mr. Joseph, a choreographer-dancer and nationally acclaimed hip- hop artist, adds a brilliant stream of words to theater pieces that are increasingly recognized as forging a new art form out of what began in the streets.

Onstage he is a force of nature, fierce in his intensity and searing honesty. In the past he has brought solo works to the stage, but in “Scourge” four other performers match his commitment.

Mr. Joseph dramatizes the tragic plight of Haiti through the story of a Haitian immigrant who has committed suicide (a suggestive metaphor) and the trip back to her homeland, where she wanted to be buried. Accompanying her body is Mr. Joseph as her father and two vivid, appealing dancer-rappers — Dahlak Brathwaite as her son and Delina Patrice Brooks as her daughter. Rounding out the cast, dancers Coco Killingsworth and Adia Tamar Whitaker are equally involved.

Mr. Joseph explores the plight of Haiti from a variety of perspectives, trying to find its soul — “The undead unrest underneath, speak the word voodoo and watch the faces freeze,” as he lights a little shrine.

At other times he lashes out at this country’s abandonment of its near-neighbor, citing statistics.

The son expresses his dismay and disdain for a mother country so alien to him, but notes ruefully, “Our family tree was transplanted in America, which reared us up — strange fruit.”

Musicians Tommy Shepherd, Ajayi Jackson and Sekou Gibson conjure up island music and the dancers match them, hips and arms gyrating in ecstatic, convulsive movement.

For those who missed this galvanic work there is another chance to see “Scourge” Wednesday evening at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in Fairfax. (For more information call 703-993-2787 or go to www.gmu.edu/cfa.)

Miss Withers only planned a single performance of “Thresholds Crossed,” though she plans to present it in Russia next spring. Even if only one or two key Russian dancers can arrange their schedules to travel here again, the work would still be valid and should be seen again.

Mr. Joseph would like to take “Scourge” to Haiti but, facing grim reality, he’s waiting for the turmoil there to subside; he doesn’t want to endanger his cast. In the meantime “Scourge,” which he calls a work in progress, will tour the United States over the next year.

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