On February 27, at 2:00 in the afternoon, we were treated to not only a beautiful balmy Saturday at Tierra del Sol’s horse country in Sunland, California, but to a much needed live Outdoor Dance Show, directed and choreographed by Benita Bike, Artistic Director of Benita Bike’s DanceArt Company.

After Bike’s informative intro to the afternoon’s performance, she gave us a hint of her beginnings and vision of “moving paintings,” and introduced her first piece called “Benches.” This was a lyrical movement piece made up of three engaging vignettes.  It soon became evident that it was a gift of effortless dance.  Her well-chosen technically savvy dancers in their earth toned slacks and tops designed by Bryan Holmes and Diana MacNeil, allowed the dancers to show their individuality yet collective unity.  The story shortly revealed to the audience that strangers can become friends… creating a lovely narrative of friendship.

The first, a pastoral piece with moveable benches, began with the choice of a lilting sixteenth century (circa 1790) Portuguese song,  Os Efeitos da ternura performed by Os Músicos de Tejo which invited the audience to sit back and, finally after nearly a year of pandemic solutions of zoom presentations, simply asked us to enjoy this gift of live music and dance. The engaging masked dancers, the soulful dynamic Sarah Gertler and the statuesque Clare Kiklowicz simulated a simple walk in the park which relaxed into a playful duet.  Then delighted us with counter movements underscored by the engaging Mikensie Johnson and Trudy Niess.  Each highlighted their particular and unique qualities.  The pas de quatre moved into a dreamy, well-staged weaving encounter that nearly brought tears to our eyes after a year of sequestering.  It was so lovely to see live movement and dance the way it was made to be performed; with life, in time to the music, and with dancers moving through space with the freedom and energy of young colts.

Benita Bike's DanceArt Company in "Plugged" - Photo by Bari Lee

Benita Bike’s DanceArt Company in “Plugged” – Photo by Bari Lee

The second piece was a heartrending sea faring song, “Weave my Love a Garland.” It is a traditional song of a young wife preparing for her husband’s return from the sea.  Mikensie Johnson’s poignant and expressive interpretation of this heart- rending tune transported the audience back in time.

And the third movement pushes the pulsing rhythms of Once Again by Hang Massive with a dance for four that shows the wonderful and intelligent angled and circular staging of Bike’s  keen sense of form and musicality with her expert staging.   A beautifully constructed gem of a piece.

After a short break and Q & A, the dancers donned their pastel flowered tunic dresses designed by Mac Neil and the second act began.  The composer was the brilliant eclectic Paul Shoenfield, with excerpts from his tongue-in-cheek “Peccadilloes.” Bike’s piece was aptly entitled, Shoenfield Dances.

Benita Bike's DanceArt Company in "Schoenfield Dances" - Photo by Dean Wallraff

Benita Bike’s DanceArt Company in “Schoenfield Dances” – Photo by Dean Wallraff

The crafty rhythmic movements were dance forms: the Rag, Fughetta, Shuffle and Boogie.  The Rag, Interpreted by Johnson, Gertler, Niess and Kiklowicz with a new edition, the raven haired Lisa Barskaya, who added her technical musicality and effortless use of space to the group, further enhancing the fleet footed performers in Bike’s afternoon.    The quadrant of pieces so beautifully integrated with signature movements, reminiscent of Ragtime, with dancers performing quick footwork, shouldering and oppositions; then the counterpoint and cannon of the choreography of the Fughetta; the third piece presented sounds and sliding of the feet in the Shuffle; and the last was the clever stop, shoulder shaking and quick escape of the Boogie. Each movement had its own character, each dancer giving their own nuance to the piece.  The subsequent steps were made for a rousing ending.  It left the audience wanting more…and as the sun started going down, the crowd stayed, hoping to feel a bit more of the joy of the afternoon.

Such a lovely time, with the remembrance of how important live dance is needed in our lives.  Benita Bike’s DanceArt’s Outdoor Dance Show  gifted us with an important return …something that cannot easily be replaced by electronics.  Thank you Benita and Company for your “welcome home” to Living Dance.

To visit the Benita Bike’s DanceArt Company website, click HERE.

Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Benita Bike’s DanceArt Company – Denai Lovrien in Southern Memories – photo by Dean Wallraff