For more than 13 years, David Leventhal has delighted audiences around the globe. As a member of the Mark Morris Dance Group, he has performed in 45 of the company’s works, including lead roles in The Hard Nut, L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato and Romeo and Juliet, on Motifs of Shakespeare. Since 2001 the dancer has also been working hard behind the scenes as an instructor at MMDG’s Brooklyn-based school and community dance center.
In July, Leventhal, who’s married to fellow company dancer Lauren Grant, turned his focus from touring to broadening MMDG’s reach. His first order of business: guest teaching at Seattle Theatre Group’s one-week summer DANCE This Camp in Port Townsend, Washington. Leventhal often leads MMDG Dance for Parkinson’s Disease workshops at STG, and the company participates in STG-sponsored school residencies when touring through the Evergreen State, so being involved in their summer dance camp only helped establish a stronger partnership between the two groups, says Leventhal. By forming more of these types of educational programs, the company hopes to expose Morris’ imaginative and musical repertory to teen and pre-professional dancers across the nation.
Dance Teacher: Mark Morris’ choreography can be difficult to grasp. How do you teach it to new students?
David Leventhal: Mark’s work is incredibly specific and constantly surprising, which works well for teens and young adults because they tend to be naturally curious and get bored easily. I always aim for mental and physical understanding and honest effort in my classes, not perfection. The process is about learning how to learn and forming good placement habits. What we try to achieve in these classes is a conversation between technique and the repertory—Mark’s work—and what’s useful technically and stylistically in order to perform it correctly.
DT: What has been the biggest challenge for you about transitioning from a full-time performance career to more teaching?
DL: Transitions are always bittersweet, but they are inevitable in a dancer’s life. I’ll miss being onstage and working with my incredible fellow dancers, as well as Mark. But the opportunity to give back by inspiring and engaging other generations and communities in this work more than makes up for any nostalgia I have about my time performing. MMDG has a tradition of nurturing teachers among its dancers, and those of us who teach are passionate about sharing Mark’s work.
DT: Is there one such teacher who inspired your career?
DL: The late Marjorie Mussman. She had the ability to change the way people danced and to transform our bad habits into good practices. She also had an uncanny way of seeing each dancer’s potential and understanding that the path and process to reach full potential were unique for each dancer. She knew exactly what each student needed to become a better dancer, and she used a firm but disarming manner to get you there. DT
Seattle-based freelance writer Leslie Holleran holds an MA in dance history from the University of California, Riverside.
Photo by Amber Star Merkens, courtesy of Mark Morris Dance Group