I’m not a dancer, nor a dance professional of any kind. But as the 40 plus year partner of Andrew Milhan, who formerly worked for Bella Lewitzky as her Technical Director and Lighting Supervisor from the late 70’s to the late 80’s, I have seen a lot of dance. Additionally, after leaving the Lewitzky Dance Company, Andy became the Lighting Designer and Technical Director in the Dance Department at California State University, Long Beach, where he worked for some 21 years.
One of the greatest things about living close to the LA dance community in those years was the exceptional opportunity I had to spend some time with Bella. Anyone who knew her understood her tremendous strength of character and the almost indomitable will power she manifested. Beyond that, her artistry, her astounding choreographic creativity, never failed to move me, as it did anyone who had the great good fortune of seeing her company perform.
Bella was very popular in France in those years. And I once had the wonderful fortune (due to some money Andy had won on a game show, of all places) to travel with the company and join them, as they were doing a residency at a place called Châteauvallon, an old renovated Roman amphitheater not far from Toulon in the south of France. It was a wonderful three weeks, and I was privileged to assist a bit as an informal translator. I had majored in French in college, lived in France for a while, and taught the language for a time early on. So I was fluent enough to occasionally be useful.
After that, I became Bella’s informal translator for the many reviews she received in French newspapers. She was greatly loved by the French, and almost all of the reviews I had the opportunity to translate referred to her as la doyenne de danse, the Dean of Dance. It always amazed me how inordinately flowery French dance critics were when they wrote reviews. It made Bella laugh more than once, when I presented her with somebody’s very highfalutin language about her. The Bella I knew was a complete straight-shooter and didn’t much care for flowery figures of speech—about her, or anyone else, I think.
Although Bella has been gone for a long time now, I will never forget the kindness with which she always treated me, as Andy’s partner, and the complete acceptance I always felt from her. Although not in any way sentimental—at least so far as I could tell—she invariably showed me genuine warmth and amiability. I will always be grateful for that, and for the simple opportunity of getting to know an artist of her high stature. Indeed, I can only call it a great honor to have had the opportunity to play a small—very small—role as translator of her French reviews. She was then for me, and will always remain, la grande doyenne de danse.
Written by and submitted to LADC by Paul M. Lewis, April 7, 2020
Paul M. Lewis is a former academic administrator who cherishes the earth. He has traveled to more than thirty countries, speaks several languages, and believes that the planet has its own kind of consciousness. He currently lives in Long Beach, California, with his partner of forty years.
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Featured image: Bella Lewitzky Dance Company class – Chateauvallon 1986 – Photo courtesy of the Author