The carpet, carefully covered with black tarps, was the stage. The two rows of chairs, filled with curious library goers, was the audience. Every so often a powerful leap or spin brought the dancers so close that a rush of air could be felt as they moved passed. When the music ended, the five-member troop breathed heavily in exhaustion, but just for a moment—the audience always ended the performance with resounding applause.
Usually a dance performance brings to mind a stage, lights, and rows of chairs that house like-minded individuals that appreciate the art of dance. However, the DanceArt Company performance on the second floor of the La Crescenta Library was anything but.
Curious patrons of the library of all ages attended the event hosted by the Friends of the La Crescenta Library. The chairs were slow to fill up as people began to trickle in and the dancers were forced to stretch on a small patch of uncovered carpet on the side of the room due to the small space.
This didn’t stop the troupe from performing all three modern dances with grace and ease and by the end of the performance the room was packed with patrons.
Benita Bike, the choreographer and artistic director of the dance company, described the event as an interactive outreach dance program.
During an outreach performance, Bike utilizes the time the dancers spend changing costumes to quiz the audience on what they thought about the performance to encourage them to think critically about modern dance.
“The whole idea is to bring dance to people,” said Bike. “Most of these people would not go out to see dance, but now they’ve had an experience because it was brought to them.”
Bike has brought her company to perform at the La Crescenta Library for several years now and her goal was the same now as it was in previous years: to bring modern dance to the general public.
“Hopefully, over time, they’ll take themselves to a theater and see a dancer,” said Bike.
According to Bike a theater with a stage and appropriate lighting would be the preferred venue of choice, but she was quick to point out the benefits of dancing in a smaller, public space.
“You’re getting to see the dancers very close,” said Bike.
The virtues of a smaller space became clear as the dancers took their positions for the first dance titled “Renaissance 5.” Every movement, from broad leaps to a twitch of the hands, was noticeable to the audience. In fact, Bike encouraged the audience to watch the dancers bodies closely to get a feel for what they were trying to express.
Rachele Donofrio, Clare Kiklowicz, Dominique Lyons, Trudy Niess-Stevens, and Linnea Snyderman moved fluidly to 16th century music during the first piece, but if the dancers seemed to stare right through their audience as they moved by that’s because they were. While the audience was encouraged to examine every move, the troupe needed to maintain a little bit of distance from the already close and intimate setting.
“Often time, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but we’re not allowed to make eye contact with the audience because [the dance] is supposed to have that very distant feeling,” said Lyons.
After “Renaissance 5,” the troop switched up their tempo to perform a more chaotic piece called “Through the Lens.”
While the first dance contained five parts, it was pieced together by the music and the similar dance moves the troupe used. “Through the Lens,” however, had three parts that were more quirky and hard-edged than the first dance.
The second piece was set to equally quirky music which punctuated the dance with strange sounds.
During the costume change for the final piece, the audience tired to guess the symbolism and meaning behind the dance. From trees to bugs, everyone had their own theory. According to Bike, each one was right.
“You have to tell them it’s OK,” said Bike. “It’s OK to say what you think.”
The last piece, “In the Garden,” was less symbolic and more literal.
Using props, such as red rocks and triangular skirts to imitate tree trunks, the troupe explored life in a garden though their dance.
Afterward, the troupe mingled with the audience, or as Bike hoped, new fans of modern dance.