Times Staff Writer

To the percussive rhythms of a rehearsal score, six Bella Lewitzky dancers spin into a group, freeze into centaur-like figures, then fall, roll and rise into other sculptural shapes.

Casting a critical eye, Lewitzky says, "That doesn't work. We can't do it that way. It's very predictable. . . tidy.

"Take the opposite direction," she suggests.

Lewitzky is busy creating "Impressions" for the Los Angeles Festival, working at her outdoor studio behind her Hollywood Hills home. The new work, inspired by Henry Moore's sculptures, will be seen on a program that includes Lewitzky's "Facets" and "Pietas" at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the James Doolittle Theatre.

Clad in a purple leotard and perched upon a metal artist's stool, Lewitzky looks pleased with the revisions. "OK. Stretch out," she tells her dancers, who take the opportunity to sprawl exhausted in the bright afternoon air.

Later, Lewitzky explains why she made the change.

"At that point it (the choreography) was predictable, which was negative to me. If the mind's eye gets there before the dancers get there, it's redundant," she says.

Lewitzky called the work "Impressions" because "in no way" did she try to imitate the sculptor.

"Moore doesn't need to be amplified in any way," she says firmly. "I'm making a parallel statement in my medium, which is kinetic, which is warm flesh and blood and not stone."

"There is motion in Moore," she adds, "but it's arrested. To make it actually mobile and not be false to it is a major challenge."

Because Lewitzky feels that Moore's female figures make the greatest impact upon viewers, she focused the new work on the six women in her company, giving them Moore's two-figure designs as problems to solve in movement.

"They experimented and invented a great deal," she says with a smile. "So the work is quite collaborative. But it was very difficult for them to develop each design and relate it to the others. And with three figures, they got lost. So I did certain sections beyond the two-figure designs. The total focus, I really choreographed."

She took the reclining figure, for instance, as a recurring theme.

"Moore used the reclining figure over and over: abstractly, in three parts, literally, in so many ways. It would be difficult to do Moore and not have reclining figures."

Structurally, the 20-minute work is "a series of etudes.

"It begins with six women presenting themselves first as the people they are by just a very simple walk," Lewitzky says. "Then the last person drops onto the floor into the first two-figure form and (the work) continues with two-figure forms, staying close to Moore.

"But suddenly we found a section that opened up and became something (else) of its own."

A daughter of a painter ("I was weaned on Cezanne, my father's favorite"), Lewitzky has always wanted to do a piece on Moore because of her deep sympathy with Moore's aesthetic principles.

"His aesthetics are the same as mine. He says that most art--good art--is based on particularity, and I feel the same way. He says that more people are form-blind than are color-blind. I feel the same way.

"I think the similarities would be true of most artists," she adds.

To reinforce those principles, excerpts from Moore's writing are used in the tape created by Larry Attaway, Lewitzky's longtime musical collaborator.

"Larry researched the time and the town Henry Moore's mother grew up in," she says, "and the folk songs she might have heard, and used them--rearticulated them--as he wants them to be heard."

Initially, Lewitzky had visions of a elaborate theater work: dancers in green, pink, black or white make-up--to suggest the colors of marble--forming sculptural figures on revolving pedestals.

"Moore was very caught up with pedestals," she says. "He was very concerned with what his art was placed on.

"But then I dropped all that. I decided to go to the bare bones. Simplicity and honesty are more affecting."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World