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, Long Beach Press Telegram, and 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 Turner Classic Movies, she co-hosted “Choreography by Jack Cole,” a four-film tribute to 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 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 to save the 40-year-running classic film program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
Grants from the Cecil B. DeMille Foundation and Elizabeth Levitt Hirsch have funded Debra’s dance history research.
To learn about corporate writing, please see Levine & Associates.
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I grew besotted by dance — classical ballet and modern – during the dance boom of the 1970s. A performance by New York City Ballet at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena, when I was 15, launched my lifelong dance-going habit. 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 the limited dance book collection at my suburban high school library. 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 in these shapes, but so exquisitely composed. 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 began 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 piece and that he liked it. He purportedly found it amusing that I called his dancers “the brainiest in New York.” I knew this because I had studied at the Cunningham school.
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. We share a passion for the choreography of Jack Cole. My brief interview with George Chakiris here.