The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

81° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Dancers benefit from guest instructor’s visit

    Tim Glass / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Walter Kennedy, Associate Professor of Dance at the University of Oregon, instructs Briley Neugebauer, a dance senior, in the Inna Gittings Dance building on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010.  Kennedy is teaching UA dance students as a guest choreographer.
    Tim Glass
    Tim Glass / Arizona Daily Wildcat Walter Kennedy, Associate Professor of Dance at the University of Oregon, instructs Briley Neugebauer, a dance senior, in the Inna Gittings Dance building on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010. Kennedy is teaching UA dance students as a guest choreographer.

    Saturday afternoon marked the beginning of what is most likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for 10 members of the University of Arizona’s School of Dance Ensemble.

    While approximately 130 dancers attended the School of Dance’s open auditions for its coming season, which were held during the first week of classes, only two men and eight women were selected to take part in this year’s guest work — an opportunity that allows students to work with prominent dancers and choreographers to learn a celebrated work.

    In years past, the School of Dance has honored the mastery of distinguished choreographers, such as George Balanchine, by presenting “”Serenade”” in 2008 and “”Four Temperaments”” in 2010; Donald McKayle, in performing “”Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder”” also in 2010; and Paul Sanasardo, with the school’s reconstruction of Metallics in 2006. This year, the school is set to pay homage to one of the best in the world of modern dance: Bella Lewitzky.

    While she is now recognized around the globe as a masterful choreographer, Bella Lewitzky first emerged in the dance scene around 1934 as a protégé of Lester Horton, a figure who is considered to be one of the founders of modern dance. Along with serving as a principal in his company, Lewitzky was basically the “”canvas”” on which Horton built his technique, known as the Horton Technique. Several years later, Lewitzky then also collaborated with Horton and founded the Dance Theater of Los Angeles in 1946.

    It was not until 1966, many years after she had left the Dance Theater of Los Angeles, that Lewitzky made her own directorial mark by founding her own company, Lewitzky Dance Company. Over the course of its 30-year duration, her Los Angeles-based company performed around the U.S. and internationally. Lewitzky received many accolades for her work throughout her career, including the National Medal of Arts awarded by President Clinton.

    To honor Lewitzky’s legacy, the UA School of Dance will present “”Recuerdo,”” which is claimed to be one of Lewitzky’s most poignant works of art, as part of its February concert entitled Premium Blend.

    But bringing her work to the stage is no easy matter. The School of Dance not only had to gain permission to present the work but also had to find a dancer in tune with Lewitzky’s movement: the style, the vision and the slightest nuances of her choreography. So they called in Walter Kennedy, her right-hand man.

    A famed performer and choreographer himself, Kennedy, who currently serves as an Associate Professor in the Department of Dance at the University of Oregon, has danced with numerous companies throughout his career, including Lar Lubovich, Anna Sokolow and John Goode. In turn, Kennedy’s choreographic works have been featured around the country — more specifically, at the Dance Kaleidoscope Festival in LA and numerous American Dance College Festivals. Kennedy, however, spent most of his career as a principal dancer with Lewitzky Dance Company and was trained by Lewitzky herself to be one of her master teachers.  

    “”I danced with Bella for nearly 20 years,”” said Kennedy. “”And then I was the company’s rehearsal assistant for seven years — from 1990 until our farewell concert in 1997.””

    Lewitzky’s originality and passion for the art is what Kennedy says attracted him to her movement.

    “”Bella was always experimenting with new ways of movement. She never wanted to repeat herself,”” says Kennedy. “”And she rarely came in to a rehearsal with a rigidly set plan. It was about the process. She said to me that sometimes the movement tells you where the piece must go.””

    “”Recuerdo,”” as Kennedy remembers, was a piece that took Lewitzky on an emotional journey.

    “”Recuerdo means ‘I remember’,”” says Kennedy. “”And essentially that is what the dance is about. It was a sort of ‘looking back’ for Bella.””

    Accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful piano score by one of her most important and closest collaborators — her music director Larry Attaway — the dramatic movement seems to speak in a tone of lament.

    “”The piece, (“”Recuerdo””), begins with a trio of women who, after dancing, leave the soloist. A man then enters the stage and partners the woman soloist; however, he also ends up leaving her alone on stage,”” Kennedy said. “”We don’t know why — we never really receive a literal explanation as to what their relationship is.””

    The relationships throughout the piece, as Kennedy expresses, are up to the audience’s interpretation. The aesthetics of the dance also lead the audience to draw their own meaning from the work.

    “”This was a fairly different piece for Bella in 1990,”” Kennedy said. “”It uses more of a traditional movement vocabulary than what we were using at the time.””

    However, the lucky few students chosen to learn “”Recuerdo”” do not seem to mind learning a more traditional piece of choreography, especially when working to learn such memorable choreography.

    “”I was really excited when I found out that I had gotten picked to work with (Kennedy),”” says Lauren Truby, a dance and physiology senior. Truby was one of the 10 students selected perform “”Recuerdo”” in February. “”He has been so much fun to work with. Since he danced with (Lewitzky) for so long, he gives us a lot of insight into her movement and the intentions behind it. And he is also able to draw from his experiences working with her, like the way he believes she would have wanted things to be done.””

    After two days of rehearsal, Kennedy seems just as pleased to be working with the UA Dance students.

    “”The dancers have been incredible to work with,”” he says. “”The movement is very demanding, but they are very mature for their age. They walk into rehearsal strong and hungry to take it on. They see it as a challenge.””

    For Truby, the challenge has been in the specificity and power of Lewitzky’s choreography.

    “”It’s been quite a test to really learn to adapt to a really specific style and a specific way of doing things in such a short amount of time. I’ve been focusing on really trying to absorb what Bella’s intentions were and what her type of movement was since I haven’t been trained extensively in it,”” Truby said. “”There’s also a lot of strength involved in the dance, so it’s been a challenge to train our bodies to find that strength and to know how to use it to make the movement work and convey the energy that (Lewitzky) was envisioning.””

    Not only have the dancers had the arduous task of mastering the style and steps to Lewitzky’s piece, but they also must do it before Kennedy leaves at the end of this week.

    “”It’s a 17-minute piece, and the dancers are learning it in five days,”” Kennedy says, shaking his head in disbelief. “”We are really biting down on it. The dancers are working hard, but we are going to have them tired by Wednesday.””

    As tired as they may be, the dancers don’t seem to mind the dance’s strenuous schedule. As they wait for rehearsal to start, many sit against the wall, laughing and talking amongst themselves.

    “”We have been rehearsing around four or five hours each day,”” said Truby of the rehearsal process. “”But the rehearsal is divided into sections, depending on what part of the dance he wants to work on at that time. There’s a trio section which I am in, a soloist and a partnering section. So that gives us a little bit of a break.””

    Along with getting to work with UA students, this endeavor has also reunited Kennedy with a former Lewitzky company member: Amy Ernst.

    “”It has been such a pleasure to work with Amy again,”” says Kennedy. “”We were partners for many years when we both danced in the company and are the dearest of friends.””

    Ernst, who is a an Associate Professor here at the UA School of Dance, performed with the Lewitzky Dance Company for ten years and is helping Kennedy teach “”Recuerdo”” to the UA Dance Ensemble.

    “”Neither I nor Amy had the opportunity to dance this piece. The male solo is meant for a taller man, and unfortunately I was never tall enough,”” Kennedy said. “”There always seemed to be someone else taller than me in the company at that time. So, we are actually teaching the dance from a video, which is actually a fun challenge for us.””

    After Wednesday, Ernst will then take over “”Recuerdo”” rehearsals, meeting with the dancers several times a week to polish and run the piece until Kennedy returns for the dance’s premiere in Premium Blend.

    “”I have no concerns about leaving the piece with Amy,”” Kennedy said. “”Amy is a phenomenal dancer. She has a fantastic eye for, and a deep knowledge, of Bella’s work. I know she will bring it fully into performance quality for Premium Blend.””

    With its drama, strength, and great emotional passion, “”Recuerdo”” will certainly be a dance to remember.

    “”It may be a bit somber at times,”” says Kennedy.  “”But it really draws the audience in.””

    More to Discover
    Activate Search