When it came time for UC Irvine to celebrate its silver anniversary, Betty Tessman, manager of Lively Arts and Lectures at the university, knew just who to ring up.
"We wanted to have a dance company here," Tessman recalled during a recent phone interview, "and I thought: Would there be anybody I could pick who would be better than Bella Lewitzky?
"The Lewitzky Company is one of the foremost modern dance companies in the United States as well as internationally, and it just happens to come from California. I always feel we should honor the folks at home."
So the 25th Anniversary Committee commissioned what would become Lewitzky's "Episode No. 1: Recuerdo (Remembrance)," a work that will receive its premiere performances by the Lewitzky Company on Friday and Saturday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. Tessman declined to reveal the amount of the commission.
Lewitzky said that UCI approached her without placing any restrictions on the work other than stipulating that "they were interested in receiving a premiere."
"That was fine with me," Lewitzky said in a phone interview from San Jose, where her company was performing last week.
"It means I am forced to the wall to complete a new piece. So much time is spent in bringing in new company members, maintaining repertory and just handling financial woes that it's a pleasure to be able to do the reason for all the of the above, which is make a work.
"The work doesn't have a specific link to UCI," she added. "But it has links. UCI has been very kind to us. We have appeared again and again on that campus. It feels like a home to us, which would be true for UCLA, Occidental College or Pepperdine University--the people who have taken us under their wing. We celebrate with all of them. I'm not sure they celebrate, but we do."
The new piece will fall in the middle of two otherwise different programs at the Barclay. The other Lewitzky works will be "Game Plan" and "Impressions No. 2 (Vincent van Gogh)" on Friday; and "Impressions No. 3 (Paul Klee)" and "Pas de Bach" on Saturday.
Lewitzky described the new piece, set to a score by her longtime collaborator Larry Attaway, as lasting approximately 17 minutes.
"Basically, it's like an extended woman's solo, which explains the 'I Remember' part of it," she said. "It starts with a trio of women and then introduces a solo woman. Then the trio of women, who act in a kind of a choric fashion, disappears behind a scrim, and a man enters and there is a duet. Then the man also retreats to the past, and the woman remains in the final solo.
"It's dark, yes. I think 'sad' is a good word. But it's very touching, I hope. At least all my company is responding in that fashion.
"I'm so involved in the making process, it's hard to gain distance from it. It's an emotional piece in a very simple fashion.
"Usually it takes me a tour of a new work before I can distance myself from it and look at it objectively and not subjectively."