The Top Ten Reasons I Qualify as a Dance Reviewer
Cal. State Univ. Los Angeles, May 17, 1997
L E W I T Z K Y
"FOUR WOMEN IN TIME" & "NOS
Archival Film Clips of BELLA LEWITZKY
Walter Kennedy - Adrienne Clancy - Karen Woo
Lori McWilliams - Heather Harrington - Darrin Wright
Melody McKenney - John Pennington - Michael Mizerany
Yolande Yorke-Edgell - Roger Gonzalez Hibner
David Plettner - Charlene Arrias - Anna Nuse
On a balmy Saturday night the So. California dance community gathered at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State LA (the campus where it began thirty years ago) for the final performance of the Lewitzky Dance Company and to honor the brilliant career of its choreographer/director, Bella Lewitzky. At the age of 81, she has tired of the constant struggle to financially support the company. She's not retiring, just changing the direction of her artistic path. The festive evening began with charming, bittersweet introductions of over fifty past performers, techies and front office staff by Bella and longtime musical collaborator Larry Attaway. The current company were also brought out, including "the youngest member," Beverly High's own Darrin Wright!
The live dance performances took an emotional back seat to the evening's celebratory purpose. Yet, they served as vivid reminders of the reasons behind the evening's showering of tribute.
Lewitzky's most recently commissioned work, "Four Women in Time," inspired by feminist artist Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party" was the first of the two pieces presented.
On a bare stage, in four sections, accompanied by the full company, emotional and forceful dancers, Lori McWilliams, Yolande Yorke-Edgell, Karen Woo, and Heather Harrington portray, in order; a life creating goddess; a symbol of spirituality; a legendary teacher/philosopher; and writer Virginia Woolf.
Set to Attaway's shimmering, gamelan-inspired electronic score, Lewitzky, in addition to her trademark sculpting of surprising shapes and poses, offers a variety of Asian movement and gestures, from dervish, Indian, and Javanese classical dance. In the final section, these are contrasted with modern Western gestures of angst and ecstasy.
In white leotards with gauzy tails, each lead dancer sharply etched a memorable character. McWilliams' sensuous primeval earth mother, bathed in glowing gold light (by lighting designer KT Graham), gives birth to the world as dancers roll out from between her legs. The Shiva-like goddess is ultimately crushed by hooded male domination.
The saintly Yorke-Edgell, enters by walking across the lotus-seated supplicants, and rarely touches the floor as she is ingeniously elevated and transported by her devotees. The music contributes to the ethereal atmosphere with long pure tremolos and chimes. At the end, she is also destroyed by the hooded males.
Woo represents Hypatia, the Roman scholar/philosopher, and while teaching her "students" movement from the first section, she displays rock steady balance in a succession of arduous poses. When the sound of wailing voices is heard...yep, out come the hooded goons to torture and kill.
Harrington's Woolf convincingly wrestles with internal demons; crawling, running in circles, slapping her face. After letting her hair down, literally, she experiences rapture, and eventual, peace in a beautiful and moving display of floor work.
"Nos Duraturi," choreographed to Stravinsky's heroic "Symphony of Psalms" for the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival, is a life affirming, triumph of brotherhood over violence. It featured a daring solo by Karen Woo and a poignant duet by John Pennington and Walter Kennedy.
Clad in proletarian gray unitards, the company cleanly executed frantic floor work, rigid extensions, twitchy jumps, and unison crossing patterns. Seamlessly performing the difficult partnerings, gymnastic constructions, and liquid transitions; they clearly demonstrated why they've earned world-wide acclaim.
The program concluded with film clips from the Lewitzky archive--with the young Bella performing with a strength and grace that portended greatness; and the mature Bella showing how it was realized. The still vibrant grand dame of West Coast modern dance closed the evening with heartfelt thanks; and, as a long-time defender of artists' rights, an admonition that it is up to all of us to continue zealously guarding that freedom of expression.
Theatre, Cal. State Univ. Los Angeles May 17, 1997
Tickets $30, $37 - Gala tickets $250 included black tie dinner, to raise $250,000 to document Lewitzky's works that will be archived in the Library of Congress, the NY Public Library Dance Collection, and at USC.
© 1997 by B. L. Weiss
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