Founded in 1981, Benita Bike’s Dance Art Company celebrated its 35th anniversary with a performance at the Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater located in the CSU Long Beach Dance Center. Benita Bike should take great pride in her accomplishment of sustaining a modern dance company for that many years and she should be proud of the concert that she just presented at the Martha B. Knoebel.
The program consisted of one premiere, On Beat 3; two older works, Through The Lens and Southern Memories; and three more recent ones Renaissance 5, For Rose and In The Garden. Benita Bike’s concerts have always had excellent production values and this performance was no different. Her lighting designer, Shawn Fidler did a perceptive job of bringing Bike’s choreographic visions into focus and he managed to light the dancers so that we could see the subtlety of their facial expressions, their movements, and the color and detail of Diana MacNeil’s beautiful costumes. For Benita Bike’s work, this is essential.
Renaissance 5 is a frisky, fun piece performed to music from Une Fête chez Rabelais (A Party in Rabelais) by Ensemble Clement Janequin, Dominique Visse and from Music Disonesta (Music Dishonest) by Anonima Frottolisi (Anonymous Frottolisi). I’m told that these were bawdy Italian songs from that period and indeed, I looked up the term Frottolisi and found that it meant indecent music. Performed wonderfully by dancers Rachele Donofrio, Clare Kiklowicz, Dominique Lyons, Trudy Niess-Stevens, and Linnea Snyderman, Renaissance 5 is a great concert opener. MacNeil’s vibrant colored costumes paid homage to the Renaissance era, with a touch of humor in the design. Bike’s fast paced choreography gave us a glimpse into the dance forms of that era while keeping the movement modern.
For Rose is a very touching work and a personal one for Benita Bike who lost her mother in 2015. It is a beautiful look into the effects that a mother has on her daughter, and the memories and family traits that we carry with us through life. We see the pain of her loss, the struggle to accept that loss and the memories that linger still. Here too, Fidler’s lighting and MacNeil’s costumes greatly enhance the look inside the relationship between mother and daughter. Rachele Donofrio and Dominique Lyons gave strong performances and brought deep emotional feeling to their characters without over-acting.
Through The Lens is one of Bike’s older works and it is a more straight forward movement piece without a specific narrative. One can see the influence of her early years working on the east coast with Emmy Devine, Karen Levy, Ruth Carrier and others. It speaks to the Avant-garde modern dance era. Bike’s movement here is technically difficult but her dancers make it look easy and they appear to enjoy dancing this piece. The vocals in one piece of music is very humorous, adding another layer to the fun.
The songs in Southern Memories took me back to my years growing up in Virginia. This is not one of Bike’s stronger works, but there are sections that bring vivid images of a woman looking back at her humble upbringing in the south. Three simple wooden foot stools and the recorded narrative aid us in the ever changing scenes that take place during this dance. We go from being in church to watching two friends play outside, to observing a country social gathering.
On Beat 3 is a short piece filled with fast footwork, entrances and exits, leaps and turns for the dancers. Costumed in simple but fierce red costumes, Clare Kiklowicz, Trudy Niess-Stevens and Linnea Snyderman excel in this rapid fire movement piece driven by the music Tin Play by Swedish composer Per Andreessen. Dancer Clare Kiklowicz, along with Shawn Fidler’s well-called lighting cue, deliver a stunning ending.
In The Garden was performed by dancers Donofrio, Kiklowicz, Lyons, Niess-Stevens and Linnea Snyderman and we see what appears to be three rituals taking place by these five women. Red rocks were methodically placed for each section; a straight line and two different circle formations. An inventive costume change takes place after Part I when the pale gold bases of female statues (or the trunks of trees?) are taken off to reveal silver or light lavender skirts. I enjoyed the detailed attention that the dancers brought to the placing of those red rocks. It was meditative in nature. Because this was the last dance on the program, if one is not absorbed in this process, it might give the impression that the dance is too long. Here, as in other dances on the program, my eye was drawn to Dominique Lyons. She has a commanding stage presence and the maturity to trust her training. By doing so, Dominique allows the dancer in her to take flight.
Benita Bike has brought together a very strong group of performers, a brilliant Lighting Designer and an extremely talented Costume Designer. It is also clear that Ms. Bike is a demanding but kind rehearsal and artistic director. This performance appeared to go off without a hitch. My only production criticism is that some closing light cues were late.