If you missed the opening night of the 21st Edition of Dance Camera West (DCW) film festival at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, you missed experiencing seven beautiful dance films and the Los Angeles premiere of BELLA, the award winning documentary about Los Angeles’s legendary choreographer Bella Lewitzky by filmmaker Bridget Murnane. There is, however, one more day to experience DCW, co-founded by dancer, choreographer, and filmmaker Kelly Hargraves, that offers a Film Lab hosted by award winning filmmaker Gabri Christa (11am-2pm); The Talkies and Doc Day Afternoon films (3-5:45pm), The Visibility Program winners at 7:30pm and the closing night film SHEILA by Gabri Christa at 8:00 pm. Information and tickets available HERE.
The seven films on the Sunset Screening were primarily filmed outdoors in beautiful settings that involved dancers performing on sand, rocks, in open fields, through a mountainous forest, on a fallen tree, and in and under water, to name only a few of the surfaces. The films included GHU by Imanol G.A., Spain; Morning by Holly Wilder, United States; Matkalla (On the Journey) by Scotty Hardwig, Finland; Fresh oranges into the ocean by Silvia Giordano and Nuanda Seridan, Italy; overandover by McKay House and Utam Moses, United States; Reminiscences by Virginie Brunell, Canada; and Living on the Threshold by Vincent Bruno and Marine Chesnais, France). Each film had its own uniqueness and hopefully some or all will become accessible online or at other dance film festivals.
Bella Lewitzky was a teenager when she first met Lester Horton and it was on her body that Horton developed his technique and for whom he created numerous dance works. Lewitzky worked in Hollywood films, and she was an avid arts activist. She formed the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company in 1966 performing nationally and internationally to critical acclaim. Her company was the first modern dance company to perform at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and did so to sold out houses. The company gave its final performance in July of 1997 and Lewitzky passed away in 2004. She was married to dancer turned architect Newell Reynolds and the mother of dancer, choreographer and educator Nora Reynolds. One may view Lewitzky’s work at the University of Southern California’s Online California Archives (OAC), making an appointment with the USC Music Library and at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
Other notes of interest: In 1951 , Lewitzky was subpoenaed to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee to answer questions about communist activities in the arts. It was there that she replied with her now iconic response, “I’m a dancer, not a singer.” Lewitzky became the founding Dean of the Dance Program at California Institute of the Arts in 1970, and in 1990 she crossed out the anti-obscenity clause on the acceptance form of a $72,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant. She later successfully sued NEA-chairman John Frohnmayer to have the grant reinstated.
Attending the screening of BELLA at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre was truly a family reunion; not just for the former Lewitzky company members but for many artists who have not seen each other for many years. I even ran across dancers from Minneapolis who knew and admired Lewitzky and her work.
I had the honor of knowing Bella Lewitzky and seeing her incredible company perform, and yet there were things about her in this film that I did not know. There were also events and people who were left out like Lewitzky’s involvement with the 1984 Summer Olympics Arts Festival in Los Angeles and her longtime manager and Lighting Designer Darlene Neel. Murnane’s BELLA is an extremely important documentary on not only a major dance artist who originated and successfully ran a modern dance company in Los Angeles for just over 30 years, but a film about an incredibly powerful and influential pioneer of modern dance. Do not miss it if you see that it is screening near you.
For more information on Dance Camera West and to purchase tickets for the closing day, Saturday, January 21, 2023, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Screenshot from “Reminiscences” by Virginie Brunelle (Canada) – Courtesy of DCW.