Lewitzky’s Braking Point


Two years ago, modern-dance pioneer Bella Lewitzky announced she would disband her company by June 1997. At that time, the final day seemed a millennium away, or at least an endless tomorrow away.

But as far as Orange County is concerned, “Here’s tomorrow,” Lewitzky, 81, said recently from Nashville, Tenn. The company is there before its final Orange County date Saturday at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. (The absolute final concert will be May 17 at Cal State Los Angeles.)

Besides wanting to pursue other interests, Lewitzky decided to call it quits because she has felt creatively stifled by the corporate structure involved in keeping a dance organization going. Passing the company on to someone else wasn’t acceptable to her backers, she said.


“I had really been ready to [stop] the day before I made that announcement,” Lewitzky said. “The decision was a long time in coming. I arrive at things usually very slowly, but once I arrive at a decision, I wish it could be that moment, which you cannot do.

“So I have been well prepared for this, as has the company. Most of the company members touring with me joined for a two-year period, and the ones who have been with me for endless years, bless them, are kind of ready too.”

At Saddleback, the program will include Lewitzky’s “Meta 4” (created in 1994) and “Game Plan” (1973) and Susan Rose’s “Displacements” (1993).

The program reflects artistic choices made in the face of the physical limitations of the venue.

“Mostly when I go to a facility, I first must hear from our technicians about the size and equipment of the theater. They say, ‘These are the pieces you cannot do there.’ So I don’t have free choice.”

Even so, “I always look for a relatively balanced program. ‘Meta 4’ is choreographed in a more traditional fashion. It has a beautiful score [by Robert X. Rodriguez]. It’s easy for an audience to look at.


“ ‘Displacements’ is a bit disturbing because Susan asked for an ugly piece of music. She was interested in--at the time--deconstructivist theory and was working toward a sense of societal displacements. People [in the dance] are slightly angry without a clear focus of their anger. The movement is very inventive.

“I brought up ‘Game Plan,’ which is aged and kind of fun. It’s about a game--not about winning and losing, but about obeying the many complex rules by which the game is played. It’s never quite the same, except the ending, which is always the same.

“For me, it was an experiment. The first time we did it, the dancers came up to me and said, ‘We can’t do this. It’s so complicated.’ A year or two later, they said, ‘We have another rule we want to add.’

“We now have a penalty box. If they catch someone making a mistake, then they can send them to the penalty box, where they have to do tendu battement [a ballet step].”

There may be an inside joke in having her modern dancers do a ballet step, but Lewitzky’s work has always ranged through a variety of styles combining movement, sculptural form and drama. She did not create a specific movement vocabulary as did Martha Graham, but her dances often reflected a moral force and her social concerns.


For all the preparation for the end, the company has discovered at least one surprise.

“Our older company members say, after a performance, ‘Guess we say goodbye to that piece,’ ” Lewitzky said. “It’s a small mourning when the last performance happens. That peculiar sensation is a leave-taking I hadn’t counted on, though it was perfectly logical.


“I’m not really greatly concerned with the survival of the repertory,” she continued. “I’m not a person who cares about saving things. In my life, I don’t save things. They have a time to be and a time to grow and I don’t think that’s tragic.”


Still, the company has a record of her works.

“Every dance I’ve ever done had been recorded on videotape, out of necessity,” she said. “When cast changes happened, we didn’t have time to rehearse them from scratch. I’d say, ‘Go to the videotape, learn as much as you can, then get coached.

“But those videotapes are not meant to reveal the dance as you would have seen it in the theater. They’re meant to record it.”

Lewitzky’s future is still up in the air.

“And I’m so glad. It’s a wonderful sensation. I don’t set up scenarios. I never have. That’s where I am peculiar. I only realized this when people talk about where I want to be. I never set out to be in a specific place in my life. I like to live life, not plot it. I like to be surprised it.”

* The Lewitzky Dance Company will make its final Orange County appearance Saturday in the McKinney Theatre at Saddleback College, 28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. The program includes Lewitzky’s “Meta 4” and “Game Plan” and Susan Rose’s “Displacements.” 8 p.m. $20-$22. (714) 582-4656.