Nearing the conclusion of its 42nd season, on May 20-21, 2023 at Stomping Ground L.A., Benita Bike’s DanceArt Company presented an inspiring program. The majority of the works on the concert were created within the past three years proving that modern dance is alive and well on the west coast. Bike’s choice of music has always been a strong element of her work, and this program was no exception ranging from traditional to classical to sound score of everyday noises. Benita Bike’s company was also represented by a strong cast of dancers Nola Gibson, Lauren Gold, Lydia McDonald, Micay Jean, and Skye Schmidt.
Griot Songs was a wonderful visualization of the music by Kasse Mady Diabate, Jennifer Higdon, and Ensemble 3MA. It was, however, more than just that. Bike took the music and structured her dance in ways that followed different instruments, the melody and the several layers of the composers’ compositions. Dressed in beautiful costumes by Brynn Holmes, Griot Songs was both sensual and energetic. Solos morphed into duets, trios, and quartets. Couples mirrored each other, adding a layer of meaning to unison dance phrases. Skye Schmidt stood out in her very musical solo and intricate hand gestures.
Griot Songs was filled with spirals and movement phrasings that circled around themselves and the performance space, providing a hint into her modern dance training with the late principal dancer of the José Limón Dance Company, Ruth Currier. The very strong cast that performed this work was Nola Gibson, Micay Jean, Lydia McDonald, and Skye Schmidt.
Two benches placed upstage left and a dancer lounging downstage right reading a book, provided insight into the title of Bike’s next work, Benches. The props provided a park-like atmosphere for two strangers, Schmidt and Gibson, to meet, converse and share what they were experiencing. Later two friends, Gold and McDonald, move the benches to a location of their liking and position them into L-shape that provides a more intimate environment.
Bike’s use of the benches never tired and she told the story of these four people without being too literal. The dancing was the narrator without any spoken word and Bike left enough untold so that it was left to the viewer to fill in the storyline. I was impressed with how seamlessly Bike moved her dancers from the benches to the more complex dancing without losing the thread of the relationships between the performers. The music was by Os Musicos de Tejo, traditional music by VIDA, and Hang Massive. The costumes were designed by Brynn Holmes and Diana MacNeil.
Plugged began as a serene pure movement piece with all five company members weaving familiarly structured phrases. Costumed in tie-dyed unitards by Diana MacNeil that resembled patterns seen on an audio waveform, Dean Wallraff’s wonderful but irritating sound score was filled with telephones ringing, cars honking, doorbells ringing, and other noises that modern day humans are bombarded with. Not only did those sounds begin to irritate the listener, but Bike’s choreography also shifted to reflect the exasperation that one too often experiences from indoor and outdoor “noise.” At one moment dancers mimed the placing of earplugs into their ears and the sound also stopped only to resume when the plugs were removed.
Following a brief intermission, Bike premiered her new three -part work Aspects of Me that, like its title, explored different sides of a person’s emotional makeup. Me and Myself, danced by Gold and Jean, used unison movement that broke up and mirrored, demonstrating an introspective exploration. Me and the Branch followed Schmidt as she dragged, drew shapes and partnered a dried palm branch that once held the tree’s seeds. Me and Her examined the parts of ourselves that we might not always understand. Here the ”me” character was performed wonderfully by McDonald who tried to relate to those outsiders performed by Gibson, Gold, Jean, and Schmidt.
At the end of Aspects of Me, the dance spoke to me, “I am not complete.” The ending was a question without an answer or resolution. It was, however, an excellent beginning. The beautiful costumes that allowed one to see the movement were designed by Bryan Holms, and the music was composed by Viet Cuong; sound score by Dean Wallraff; and Paul Tortelier.
The evening concluded with Bike’s Schoenfield Dances set to excerpts from works by composer Paul Schoenfield. There was a rag, a fughetta, a shuffle and a boogie. Dressed in lovely dresses by Diana MacNeil, this was a wonderful closing piece filled with Bike’s signature structure of shaping the space, defining it, and bringing motion to sound. One section I most related to as someone who has had bouts with insomnia.
One of Bike’s many choreographic talents is that she understands how to make dancers performing in unison look like choreography instead of classroom phrases facing the mirror. She takes the unison, reshapes it, and redesigns it all while not losing the unanimity of the performers. Other choreographers, take heed!
The Lighting Designer who created exquisite and varying environments that enhanced Bike’s work was Shawn Fidler.
For more information about Benita Bike’s DanceArt Company, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: (L-R) Lydia McDonald, Skye Schmidt, Nola Gibson, Lauren Gold in Benita Bike’s Benches – Screen shot by Dean Wallraff