Dance Camera West Presents BELLA Review — Brio Both On and Off the Stage

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It reminds of the crowd-pleaser LOL scene in the Broadway musical HAIR when Supremes-lookalikes are revealed to be crooning from one clingy dress covering their threesome…

This costume, though, is not a slapstick gag but rather one of the many explorations that the film’s namesake, choreographer Bella Lewitzky, brought to dance performance with gravitas. In this case, it was through a collaboration with her onetime dance troupe member and later West Coast fashion scene heavy, Rudi Gernreich. You too might marvel at how they, and the dancers in Lewitzky’s troupe, make the costumes the equivalent of another dancer on the stage to partner with, revealing new shapes and body dynamics otherwise hidden.  Sometimes the costumed dancers look like jets about to fly; sometimes they speak to human connections.

Bella, a film by Bridget Murnane, is peppered not only with clips of Lewitzky herself but also with a wide range of snippets of her works, such as the aforementioned costumes’ exploration. We learn, for example, that her enduring collaboration with her architect husband had a lot to do with the mesmerizing work featuring dancers aloft on a pendulum, while others move in and out of stage below.

This set design aimed to solve the problem Lewitzky felt often: that so many large stages reduce the dancers to the stature of mere ants.  She wanted to fill the stage.

 

You too may watch these snippets and feel them as wholly original. Perhaps this was a gift of being West Coast-based and without the conscious or unconscious pressures of being derivatives of the Eastern dance elite who dominated the imagination of dancers and dance aficionados of that time, and perhaps even today. This is not a choreographer who is in any way trying to claim she is Martha-Graham-Not.

There are fewer snippets in this film of Lewitzky dancing compared to more of her coaching. When we watch her as the tough task master insisting that her dancers learn to emote in their limbs’ articulations, it leaves us with a thirst to see ALL her work in its full length.

BELLA is also a Deep Dive Into Politics and Art

More though, through this film we get to know how Lewitzky was forced to tango with dark political forces nearly bookending her career. Early on, it was the McCarthy hearings and getting blacklisted from the West Coast dance world’s source of bread and butter, Hollywood. Later, it was taking on the so-called anti-obscenity requirements to receive NEA grants. Lewitzky — who more or less had to close down her troupe when she refused to sign off on this clause — sued the government and got the win that all artists benefit from.

This is a choice film for anyone keyed into the interplay of politics and the arts, as well as all dance aficionados who love to see originality and spirit animating choreography. Like so many of the Dance Camera West films, Bella is a loud cry to the international dance world to take a deep drink of lesser recognized Western-born choreography.

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Learn more by visiting the BELLA film website.

Read the related story -- DANCE CAMERA WEST Film Festival — PICTURE PREVIEW

 

Image courtesy of Dance Camera West and BELLA Film

Amy Munice

About the Author: Amy Munice

Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.

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