That was my takeaway after viewing Luminario Ballet‘s wonderful performance, Sunday June 23 at the Skirball Cultural Center, of two absorbing works by choreographer Bella Lewitzky. Pictured are excerpts from “Inscape” (1976). The work is driven by its marvelous costumes — stretch “duotards” designed by Rudi Gernreich, who, prior to his vigorous career as a groundbreaking fashion designer was Lewitzky’s fellow dancer in the Lester Horton Dance Company.
Moving to Los Angeles in 1989, I often attended concerts by the Lewitzky Company in its final decade. I squirmed and squiggled in my seat, finding much of her body-intensive “Creatures from Planet X” style badly outdated. Where was the rhythm, where was the structure, where was the dynamism?
Watching with fascination in the Skirball setting, the same modality felt different. There was an admittedly old-fashioned but pleasing physical relating between the dancers (okay they were joined together in a single costume!). But somehow I found myself enjoying a body-to-body conversation that carried an emotional content that has gone missing in contemporary choreography. The choreographer’s prolonged sense of timing enabled that. I was left wondering if perhaps I had been too young to appreciate the tone and dramatic arc of these works. Or maybe I just dislike the “now,” and like the “historic”??
Equally absorbing was “Turf” (1993), a male quartet that gets down-and-dirty and was inspired by the Los Angeles riots of 1992. The works were reconstructed by Lewitzky dancer John Pennington for Luminario Ballet with another former Lewitzky-ite, Diana MacNeil, overseeing the Gernreich costume recreations. The live performance was part of the Skirball’s “Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich” exhibit. It’s all part of Los Angeles cultural history — both Lewitzky and Gernreich were left-leaning Jewish artists of Los Angeles bringing a political context to their work. I’m happy to hear rumors that this historic work may travel to New York?