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Lewitzky's L.a. Legacy Celebrated

September 27, 1986|LEWIS SEGAL | Times Dance Writer

At 70, Bella Lewitzky has a lot to answer for.

Through the example of her 20-year-old company, Lewitzky has proven that dance of uncompromising personal vision and imposing technical standards can survive in Los Angeles yet achieve international recognition.

Recently she founded a dance center downtown that promises to supplement the scattered, temporary, improvised and mostly inadequate dance venues now available with facilities enviable anywhere.

Most of all, however, Lewitzky may be important for preserving some vestige of cultural continuity in this city of impermanence--for forming a living link between Los Angeles dance pioneers (including her mentor, Lester Horton) and a still-active generation of dancers who initially performed in her company and eventually left to pursue independent artistic visions.

On Thursday, nine of these ex-Lewitzky dancers honored her with a program at the Los Angeles Theatre Center: "The Lewitzky Legacy in Los Angeles." Unlike the ambitious "Dance L.A. Dance" festival last November celebrating Horton, this was essentially an intimate, family affair.

If many of the choreographic offerings turned out to be mediocre, so what? When a gift is heartfelt and handmade, who complains about the workmanship? Certainly not Lewitzky. Sitting in the second row of the basement theater, she accepted the tribute graciously, blowing kisses around the room: the matriarch of L.A. dance feted by her sometimes errant but undeniably devoted offspring. It was quite a night.

Of the five solos presented, two achieved extraordinary dramatic intensity. In "Return," accompanied by ominous tolling/vibrating music by Peter Davison, Iris Pell used alternations of smooth rising and reaching motions with sudden punishing sprawls and collapses to the floor to brilliantly evoke a sense of indomitable heroism overcoming brutal setbacks.

In "Is It Love," Gary Bates danced to pop-gamelan music by Daniel Lentz, imaginatively suggesting through gestural fragments, quivering limbs, occasional disintegrating facial expressions and his restless/mindless prowling of the stage the character of a man at desperate loose ends.

Next to the depth of these pieces, their willingness to go beyond mere demonstrations of dancer mastery in order to reflect out-of-control experiences, Fred Strickler's "Excursions" (music by Samuel Barber, sensitively played by pianist Althea Waites) and Rebecca Bobele's "One Over One" (music by Mark Nauseef) looked like empty showpieces.

Strickler's tap technique proved as formidable as ever, and his use of both torso motion and stage space often seemed inventive here. However, by synchronizing his steps in a doggedly literal manner to Barber's score, he created a near travesty of dancer musicality.

Flawless in her concentration, her control of weight, her ability to flow through the unlikeliest shifts of stance, Bobele looked as virtuosic as Strickler. However, her rambling solo sometimes took her into highly questionable territory (post-modern moonwalking?) and only in a section where galvanic pulsations of energy seemed to propel her helplessly into turns did "One Over One" appear anything other than a very flashy etude.

More substantial, Loretta Livingston's "Invitations" reconceptualized social dances and devised marchlike passages of loose yet pointed character interaction to trace links between popular culture and sexual indentity.

Big-band music conjured up a light, pseudonostalgic style and the quirky, yet highly accomplished performances (by Lori Bryhni, Kurt Weinheimer, Madeline Soglin, David Plettner and Livingston) deftly deflated the false expectations of ballroom romance.

The most weakly danced piece Thursday, Jan Day's "Home," deployed five women (Vicki Alexander, Denise Gardener, Rose Polsky, Carol Shiffman and Day) in supportive circle formations, interludes of bouncy interplay and other platitudes about togetherness set to music by Craig Kupka.

Lynda Davis' solo "Colorfalls" (music by Harold Shiffman) featured more violent hair-lashing than a Kabuki lion dance. But, unlike Davis' tawny mane, the choreography lacked luster, body, shape and style. Except for "Excursions," the pieces were accompanied by taped music.

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