It is tempting to guess exactly which paintings by the anguished Dutchman inspired Bella Lewitzky to create “Impressions 2 (Vincent van Gogh),” a remarkable eight-part work that received its first L.A. performance at Royce Hall, UCLA, on Friday night.
The choreographer seems to have been thinking of the knobby country folk in “The Potato Eaters,” the crows flying over a vibrating wheat field, and perhaps the sullen inmates of the asylum of St.-Remy-de-Provence, walking in a tight, doomed circle. Farmworkers vaguely reminiscent of the peasant paintings of Jean Francois Millet--one of Van Gogh’s great influences--also appear, bending to nip bits of vegetation from a vine or plant a seed.
Lewitzky’s piece unfolds in unexpected ways. Seemingly closest to the artist’s sensibility are those sections (“Workers,” “Walkers” and “Portraits”) that evoke a homely angularity (with movements fleetingly reminiscent of Eugene Loring’s townsfolk in “Billy the Kid”) and a downtrodden, plaintive, lonely quality.
Yet, in the “Landscape” sections, trademark Lewitzky movements--the relaxed leanings and balances, the lithe acrobatics and agile floor work--gained an urgency that made them plausible equivalents for Van Gogh’s vision of the natural world as a pulsing energy field. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely fanciful to see in the occasionally quivering limbs of the dancers a shorthand for the painter’s agitated brushwork.
Other elements of the piece were equally felicitous. Larry Attaway’s score underlined changing moods in discreetly evocative ways--with a silvery pinging, an echoing whistle, a country tune, a dull chime, a dry clatter. And the billowing curtains pulled across the stage by a dancer between each section underlined the major expressive device--color--of the artist’s work.
“Impressions 1 (Henry Moore),” now shorn of its narrative component, easily recalled the British sculptor’s familiar configurations. Stunning in the self-possession of the motionless, tall-backed seated dancers and the various enfolding and reclining postures of its female cast, the piece--created last year as the first part of a projected trilogy--does not quite convey Moore’s essential monumentality and weightedness.
A fleet and fluent performance of Lewitzky’s 1970 “Kinaesonata” (to music by Alberto Ginastera) completed the program, with a brilliantly articulated solo by Claudia Schneiderman.