Idyllwild Arts honors modern dance legend Bella Lewitzky: Lewitzky chaired ISOMATA contemporary dance program

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Three dance concerts this week at Idyllwild Arts Academy celebrate the life and legacy of dancer and choreographer Bella Lewitzky who, during her internationally renowned career, taught at IAA when it was known as the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts. Here, IA students Diana Worby and Andres Castillo dance in one of Lewitzky’s choreographed pieces, “Pietas,” reconstructed by Iris Pell and Sean Greene.Photo courtesy Ellen Rosa-Taylor

Three dance concerts this week at Idyllwild Arts Academy celebrate the life and legacy of dancer and choreographer Bella Lewitzky who, during her internationally renowned career, taught at IAA when it was known as the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts. Here, IA students Diana Worby and Andres Castillo dance in one of Lewitzky’s choreographed pieces, “Pietas,” reconstructed by Iris Pell and Sean Greene. Photo courtesy Ellen Rosa-Taylor

Modern dance legend Bella Lewitzky, 1996 National Medal of Arts recipient, built a career that eschewed then-prevailing standards.

She crafted a dance career based in Southern California rather than in New York, the dance citadel of the period. She cofounded Dance Theatre in Los Angeles in 1946 as an interracial school and company that artistically fought religious fanaticism, bigotry, abuse of women and violent anti-Semitism.

Called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951, she refused to testify on constitutional grounds and afterward famously said, “I am a dancer, not a singer.”

She was hailed by colleagues and in the dance world as a gifted performer, choreographer, educator and artistic director. She was known to be an accomplished public speaker, a quality that served her well since she was also a major social activist.

Born in 1916, Lewitzky formed her most successful company at the age of 50, in 1966, as the Lewitzky Dance Company. The company achieved international fame, touring in 30-week seasons. From 1954 until 1972, Lewitzky chaired the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts contemporary dance program as principal teacher/choreographer during the institution’s summer programs.

At the age of 80, Lewitzky announced that the 1996-1997 season of the Lewitzky Dance Company would be its last. At its final performance in May 1997, she said to the audience, “The arts are under threat more than ever before … What legacy I have left here will die unless you become responsible for keeping it alive.”

At 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18, Idyllwild Arts Academy honors Lewitzky’s centenary with a reception and dance concert at the IAF Theatre on campus. Three of Lewitzky’s pieces will be performed — “Iris” (solo), performed by Faith Messer; “Turf” performed by Jonathan Smith, Victoria Koberg, Carlos Martinez and Alexis Kuykendall; and “Pietas” (a duet), performed by Diana Worby and Andres Castillo. All Lewitzky’s pieces are being performed with permission from the Lewitsky Trust. IAA is one of the few dance programs in the United States that offers Lewitzky Technique as part of its program.

Ticket information for the dance concert is available at www.eventbrite.com/e/bella-lewitzky-100th-birthday-celebration. Although the site notes the free Friday event is sold out, the same concert will be performed on Wednesday, Nov. 16, and Thursday, Nov. 17, at the same time and location. There is no charge for admission.

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