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PERFORMING ARTS : After 10 years with Bella Lewitzky and 10 years with her own dance company, Loretta Livingston reflects on her career--but only because we asked. : A Dancer's Life, by the Decades

October 02, 1994|Jan Breslauer | Jan Breslauer is a Times staff writer.

Loretta Livingston's career seems to happen in decades. A dancer-choreographer who first became widely known during her 10 years with the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company, she's now about to mark the 10th anniversary of her own troupe, Loretta Livingston & Dancers.

But with milestones come mixed feelings. "It was not an anniversary that I had intended to observe," says Livingston, 44, seated in the West Los Angeles studio where she rehearses. "I like what I haven't done yet. My enthusiasm is always for where I'm going and I didn't want to take the time to stop and look back. It didn't seem like I'd done enough to do that."

Yet persuaded and encouraged by her board of directors' invitation to pick a program of works that she'd like to see again, the choreographer changed her mind.

Besides, Livingston has indeed done a lot. Not only has she earned a reputation as a skilled and lyrical performer, but she's also one of the few artists who have managed to sustain a modern dance company in L.A.

That company--which Livingston co-founded with dancer-husband David Plettner in 1984--has been recognized with acclaim and honors, including multiple awards at the Southern California-oriented Lester Horton Dance Awards in both 1992 and 1993. Loretta Livingston & Dancers' 10th-anniversary concert takes place at the Japan America Theatre on Oct. 15.

If nothing else, the process of putting together an anniversary show has provided Livingston with an occasion for reflection. "I thought that when I got to a certain age, my age, that I would be grown up, that all the mysteries of life would be revealed to me, that everything would fall into its place," she says. "Life would be happy and I would move forward, an incredibly rich and wise person."

But the more Livingston lives and works, the more she realizes that's not the way it is. "I hit this age and I know less than I did before," she says. "All life is a mystery. My friends continue to die of AIDS. My family members are starting to go. At the exact minute when I thought life was supposed to synchronize into its grace, it flipped on me--and right at the time that I was having my 10-year slump."

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Livingston has made her choreographic mark with a dual focus on matters both intimate and global. Many of her dances put the balancing act of emotional intimacy under scrutiny, yet she also frequently addresses historical and ecological topics.

Inspired in part by Hiroshima survivors' journals, Livingston's "Don't Fall, Pomegranate" (1989), for example, is a stark solo that resounds with images of Apocalypse. Similarly, "A Window in the Passage" (1991) is a four-part dance with a loosely narrative focus on people adjusting to a new environment. It was influenced, in part, by Livingston's response to the Persian Gulf War, which took place as she was shaping the work.

"Paper/Scissors/Rock" (1986), on the other hand, is an emotionally intricate love pas de deux for the choreographer and Plettner.

To Livingston, though, there's a connection between the two types of dances. "For me, the threads of the big geological-archeological concerns is the macro metaphor for the micro that we go through, the chronology for each of us as a human. They are two opposites perhaps, but to me they're not polarized."

Included on the 10th-anniversary concert program are "Balances" (1983), a solo using delicate feats of balance as a metaphor, "Paper/Scissors/Rock" and "The Archives" (1991), a dance that features a gallery of characters who portray the history of world cultures. A total of eight dances are on the bill, including the premiere of the duet "Balances, Too."

The anniversary bill includes more of Livingston's intimate works, though that's partly because the choreographer's more ecological dances tend to be epic and not suited to a mixed-bill format. "I chose works that are mostly about relationships," Livingston says. "A lot of them are smaller works, duets and trios. They were the ones that went into the humanness of us all."

Livingston's concern with the environment may be partly attributable to a life spent entirely in California. Born in Paso Robles, she moved to Los Angeles to study with Lewitzky and to attend CalArts in 1971. Livingston joined the Lewitzky company in 1973 and began to tour as she completed her studies at CalArts.

Over the years, she began to take on more prominent roles. And by the time Livingston met Plettner in 1980--when the Lewitzky company toured North Carolina and he auditioned to join the group--she was one of its key artists.

Plettner joined the Lewitzky company, but Livingston ended up leaving in 1983, and Plettner soon thereafter. "My real school was 10 years on the road with Bella, being apprenticed to a master," she says. "I left because I needed to grow in a particular way that I could not unless I was on my own."

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