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David Leventhal, who recently retired from performing with Mark Morris Dance Group after 14 years, dances with an alchemical blend of precision, muscularity, and intelligence. These qualities all shone through in one of his favorite roles, the Lark in Morris’ sublime L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. Leventhal has also cherished dancing the lead in The Hard Nut opposite his wife, Lauren Grant. Even in checkerboard pants, the part of the Nutcracker Prince gave Leventhal the chance to show off his superbly elegant line.
Leventhal, 37, grew up in Newton, MA, where he figure-skated before studying at the Boston Ballet School at the age of 8. He hit a wall at 13 and took a break from dancing, eventually becoming editor of his high school newspaper. He attended Brown University, where he started taking modern dance classes. “I realized that I had been brainwashed into thinking that modern was only for people who couldn’t do ballet,” he says. Leventhal earned a 2010 Bessie Award in performance to cap off his illustrious run with MMDG.
Leventhal will continue to perform with the company as a guest artist, but he is well into the next phase of his career. As the program manager and one of the founding teachers of the Dance for PD program, a collaboration between MMDG and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group, he oversees a curriculum that includes teaching people with Parkinson’s and training teachers from around the world. “There’s enormous satisfaction from using dance and music to improve the lives of those with a chronic condition,” he says. At Mark Morris Dance Center, he also teaches intermediate/advanced modern and an all-boys class, like the one that lured him to dance to begin with. —Susan Yung
Lois Smith (1929–2011)
The National Ballet of Canada’s first leading ballerina, Lois Smith, died in January. Smith grew up in a British immigrant family in Vancouver and couldn’t afford to take ballet regularly until age 15. Despite the late start, she became a founding member of NBC in 1951.
Smith and then-husband David Adams (“Transitions,” Jan. 2008) forged a high-profile partnership that dazzled audiences during NBC’s first decade. Dubbed “Mr. and Mrs. Ballet” by the media, they danced across North America and on television. As a prima ballerina of distinct refinement and sophistication, Smith helped to establish NBC’s reputation as a credible classical company.
“She was beautiful, elegant, serene, and so feminine,” recalls NBC artistic director Karen Kain, who as a young girl first saw Smith dance in 1959. “She became an inspiration to me throughout my ballet school years.”
Smith performed all the major classics—she was partnered by Erik Bruhn in his version of Swan Lake—but was also much acclaimed in 20th-century works, particularly as Caroline in Tudor’s Lilac Garden.
Smith remained with NBC until chronic injury compelled her to retire in 1969. She then opened her own school in Toronto, which she later integrated into the Performing Arts Program of George Brown College. Smith, who also choreographed for opera and television, directed the school until returning to British Columbia in 1988. She remained active in the dance community until the effects of Alzheimer’s took their inescapable toll.
David Leventhal in Mozart Dances. Photo by Stephanie Berger, courtesy MMDG.