Bella Lewitzky: Dance Maven and Maverick

While the intersection of film and dance has been on the rise, most recently because of the global pandemic, Los Angeles-based Bridget Murnane has been working in those two arenas for years: She was not only a professional dancer in the 1980s, having performed with, among others, Gloria Newman, but she also earned a master’s degree in dance from UCLA in 1985, where her thesis was video as a choreographic tool.

Serendipitously, one of her professors had been the late Allegra Fuller Snyder (daughter of Buckminster Fuller, she was also an American dance ethnologist, choreographer and author), who had urged her to consider film. This, and Murnane’s frequent forays to the film department to help students with shoots, then led to her receiving a master’s of fine arts in 1990 from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, with her work having since been screened in more than thirty international festivals.

Murnane’s latest project, Bella, is a feature-length documentary about choreographer, dancer, arts advocate Bella Lewitzky, who formed Lewitzky Dance Company in 1966. Before disbanding the troupe in 1997, the charismatic dancer had also created more than 50 major concert works, with the troupe having toured to critical acclaim in 43 states and 20 countries.

Lewitzky, who died in 2004 at age 88, also received numerous awards during her lifetime, including six honorary doctorates, the first California Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement (1989), and the 1996 National Medal of Arts by then-President Clinton. In 1970 she was also the founding dean of the dance program at California Institute of the Arts. Once described by the New York Times’ Anna Kisselgoff as, “an extraordinary artist with an astounding mastery of technique,” Lewitzky comes breathtakingly alive through Murnane’s film.

Indeed, Bella is already racking up honors, including Best Documentary at the Festival Internacional Cine de América (Mexican premiere), Best Documentary Feature Director at the Shenzhen International Film Festival (China premiere) and the Award of Excellence at WRPN Women’s International Film Festival, with Morgan Sandler winning a best cinematography award at the Madrid International Film Festival for his contributions to Bella.

Murnane is decidedly on a roll, and while the film has been screened at more than a dozen American and international festivals to date, Bella, receives its Los Angeles premiere on January 19, 2023, kicking off the prestigious Dance Camera West Festival.

In addition, a special event takes place on January 21 at the L.A. Dance Project studio, where attendees will see film clips and a pair of Lewitzky reconstructions. Also of note: an exhibition featuring mostly never before seen photographs of Lewitzky taken by Viktor Von Probisic during the years 1937-1938.