Former modern dancer Debra Levine, a graduate of the City University of New York, is a Los Angeles arts writer specialized in dance. She blogs about dance, film, and music on arts•meme founded in 2008.
The Pittsburgh native has lived in New York, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Tel Aviv. Her criticism and feature writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, Dance Magazine.
She wrote regularly in the past for La Opinión, the Long Beach Press Telegram, and the South China Morning Post.
Levine is a specialist in the career of the jazz choreographer Jack Cole. She contributed an extended essay on Cole to the Dance Heritage Coalition’s “100 American Dance Treasures” on-line dance encyclopedia.
For the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, on August 3, 2013, she gave a dance talk about Jack Cole prior to an “Oscars Outdoors” screening of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” She also interviewed Academy Award-winning dancer George Chakiris for the Academy.
For Turner Classic Movies, she co-hosted “Choreography by Jack Cole,” a full evening broadcast of four films featuring dance numbers created by the great Hollywood choreographer, air date September 10, 2012.
For UCLA Film & Television Archive, Debra curated “A Tribute to Choreographer Jack Cole,” in August 2012, screening “The I Don’t Care Girl” (Fox, 1953), with an in-person appearance by the film’s star, Mitzi Gaynor.
Debra was a Scholar in Residence at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival the summer of 2011. The prior year, as a Research Fellow, she contributed on a panel at the Pillow addressing Jack Cole’s Hollywood career.
Debra has twice been a Fellow in NEA Arts Journalism Institutes. In 2009, she was a fellow at the NEA Dance Criticism Institute at the American Dance Festival at Duke University. In 2010, she was a fellow at the NEA Classical Music & Opera Institute at Columbia University in New York.
In August 2009, she led the successful grassroots campaign, “Save Film at LACMA” to restore the 40-year-running classic film program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) after its cancellation.
Grants from the Cecil B. DeMille Foundation and the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation have funded Debra’s dance history research and arts journalism respectively.
To learn about corporate writing, please see Levine & Associates.
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I fell in love with dance — classical ballet and modern – during the so-called dance boom of the 1970s. A performance by New York City Ballet at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena, when I was age 15, launched my lifelong dance-going habit. Soon thereafter, Nureyev visited my home town, too, heading up the Australian Ballet’s touring production of “Don Quixote.” The year was 1971, and my grandmother made me a full-length, dark red velvet skirt to wear to the performance. I was hooked.
As a teen, I pored over my suburban high school library’s limited dance collection. My favorite was Balanchine’s New Complete Stories of the Great Ballets. I don’t believe anyone else touched it; it was always waiting on the shelf for me. I memorized photos like the ones from Agon, in which Arthur Mitchell partners Diana Adams. There was something startling and reckless but so exquisitely composed about Agon‘s shapes. The unexpected commingling of the earthy and the ideal still draws me to Balanchine’s work.
Living in Hong Kong in the mid-1980s, I started to write about dance for the South China Morning Post. When Merce Cunningham Dance Company visited the colony in 1984, I learned that Merce had read my advance piece and that he liked it. He found it amusing, I was told, that I called his dancers “the brainiest in New York.” He apparently thought otherwise.
After the MCDC performance that night, my then boyfriend, a China-born classical pianist, and I chatted with John Cage as he knocked down his sound equipment. A wonderful memory. Here’s a piece about Merce Cunningham from 2005.
A treasured experience was interviewing Edward Villella, the former New York City Ballet star and artistic founder of Miami City Ballet. Chatting about Balanchine and Robbins with Mr. Villella — a beautiful person as well as a great dancer — was a high point of my life. Read the article.
I recently met the great dancer-singer-actor, George Chakiris, who starred both on stage and in the film of “West Side Story,” winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance. George is a great American dancer of his generation. My brief interview with George Chakiris here.