Bella Lewitzky's principal choreographic inspiration seems to be the sculptural possibilities of the human body. ``Impressions No. 1,'' the newest dance on the program I saw in the August series at the Little Theater at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, drew on the sculptor Henry Moore. A program note listed a series of ideas that could almost be blueprints for working either a mass of stone or a group of dancers: two figure forms, mother and child, upright figure and knife edge, three rings. ... Cues like this have led generations of modern dancers to body shape, action, relationships, and metaphor, and they can serve as a rich basis for improvisation, though other, looser processes have supplanted conceptual investigation in recent years as a way of making dances.
I suppose I'm just as caught up as everyone else with the energy-ridden, virtuosic dancing of the '80s, and Lewitzky's Los Angeles-based company, which I hadn't seen in several years, doesn't stress propulsive or varied dynamics. They looked torpid on a sticky afternoon when I needed something more galvanic to engage my sluggish attention.
In ``Impressions No. 1'' the women rocked on the floor in slow, seesaw tandem. The two-person shapes became standing clumps, with arms and legs jutting sharply out of vertical mass. One woman cradled another, allowed her to perch on her shoulders, tried to restrain her when she pulled away. More collective shapes suggested Cubist compositions, with upside-down heads, torsos minus arms, crooked legs sticking out where they weren't supposed to be. Finally the women subsided in waves to the floor and, alternately posed liked sunbathers, and surged and rolled like the tide itself.
``Ceremony for Three'' seemed to be based on a similar idea of plastique, but since it came first on the program, I was noticing how skillfully Lewitzky can provide transitions from one shape to another. The dancers (John Pennington, Kenneth B. Talley, and Walter Kennedy) are very clear about what in their multidirectional world they're reaching for, twisting around, or veering away from, yet they never seem to halt their ongoing progress to crystallize any configuration into a pose. Hardly any shape is repeated or reversed, either. Just when they seem hopelessly pretzeled, or thrown back onto their hands, they find a way to shift their support into a new path or rearrangement of limbs. The effect of the dance - solos and a brief series of duets and trios - is of three men conjuring up intense visions that only they can see.
In ``Nos Duraturi,'' Lewitzky leaves the realm of pure movement to make a statement about the bleak prospects for surviving contemporary anomie. The 12 dancers first wear scanty emblems of street clothing over their leotards, and, at the end, appear in the unadorned dancerly costume, when, presumably, their feelings are the strongest. With strained expressions, they yearn into the wings, surge from one side of the stage to the other, advance on the audience with threatening or possibly exalted gestures. There are sacrificial figures who get lifted and carried by the others, but I don't know why.
They form duets and take turns pulling on their partners, then throwing them to the ground. The nature of their contacts is not only unresolved but impersonal. Though the movements are those of tenderness and struggle, grabbing on, holding, flinging away into quick tight circles, all the couples do the same things. All the relationships seem exactly alike in content. And all the combats and embraces have an equally nullifying effect.
The piece is set to Stravinsky's ``Symphony of Psalms,'' in a tape recording that got somewhat overwhelmed in the Little Theater's intimate space by the sound of the dancers' stamping feet and of bodies slamming to the floor.