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Rachel Torres lifted by sister “bees.” Photo: Madeline Campisano

Presenting educational material as part of a performance is risky; the audience may feel they’re being lectured, and the lesson can overshadow the art. Lara Segura pulls it off, however—and makes it look effortless—in “Bee Conscious,” the hour-long dance she premiered at the Vine last weekend. Segura weaves in the information—about bees—deftly and leavens the instruction with witty dance, by a strong 11-member cast, that’s a pleasure to watch.

“Bee Conscious” has seven sections pertaining to different aspects of bees’ lives, each of them introduced by a video on the back wall. The videos are brief and well-produced—think, Nature Channel—and Segura doesn’t make the dancers compete with a giant image behind them; when the video ends, the dancers have the stage.

To the insistent pulse of music by the Firefly Choir and Zoe Keating, dancers in the opening section, “Swarm,” do moves that seem directly inspired by bees—vibrating, clustering, shaking their heads. In “Hive,” they create a sculpture with their yellow-gloved hands to suggest the hexagonal architecture that nature, in its genius, has given hives. And “Waggle GPS” dramatizes the dance done by bee scouts to let the community know where they’ve found a good source of nectar.

Forming hexagons in “Hive.” Photo: Madeline Campisano

There are also distinctly human moments. The dancers in “Swarm” face us in a phalanx, arms extended to the sides and heads slightly bowed, in a striking symbol of community reminiscent of Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations.” Dancers come together in ballets of mutual support, and at times the whole group lifts one dancer overhead.

A hilarious section, “Yaaas Queen,” opens with a video informing us that after a drone desperately pursues a queen, and yippee! he gets to mate with her, his testes explode and he dies. Segura tapped her one male dancer, John Paul Lawson, to play the queen and he vamps it up deliciously, in a glittery skirt and eye mask, as six women swoon over him to a demented electronic version of “Flight of the Bumblebee” (by Tina Guo).

Bees are in trouble these days, and Segura addresses that in “Dying Swarm.” Introduced by a video about colony collapse disorder, the dancers reprise movements from the opening “Swarm,” but make them feeble and uncoordinated. The Alvin Ailey phalanx forms, but breaks apart. Vibrating movements become spastic death throes.

One element that didn’t work for me was several humorous video vignettes titled “If People Reacted to People the Way They React to Bees.” Brianna Pilkington keeps approaching Stephanie Smith, and Smith runs off or tries to swat her away. I guess the videos gave the dancers the chance to change costumes, but these felt too much like filler.

Speaking of costumes, Segura and Joe Brown designed them, and they’re terrific, a range of individualized clothing in shades of yellow, gold, black, and white that makes this production a visual treat.

In a brief welcome, Segura announced that her aim is to make politically conscious dance. That places her in a modern-dance lineage that reaches back to Martha Graham and Lester Horton, includes more recent work by Bill T. Jones, Urban Bush Women, and was a hallmark of San Diego’s Eveoke Dance Theatre. It’s a powerful legacy, and Segura seems a strong candidate to be part of it.

“Bee Conscious” played last weekend only.

Janice Steinberg

Janice Steinberg

Award-winning dance journalist Janice Steinberg has published more than 400 articles in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Dance Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She was a 2004 New York Times-National Endowment for the Arts fellow at the Institute for Dance Criticism and has taught dance criticism at San Diego State University. She is also a novelist, author of The Tin Horse (Random House, 2013). For why she's passionate about dance, see this article on her web site, The Tin Horse

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