10 Questions With…Michael Levine
Meet Michael Levine…dancer, teacher, app creator…yes, I said app creator…read on to find out more…
1. How did you become involved in dance?
My mother. Isn’t that what we all say? My Mother was a recreational ballet dancer and attended performances while living in San Francisco. When I was younger and jumping around from activity to activity, she put me in “ballet”. I took to it and progressed fairly quickly beyond the level that my small town could support. I was lucky to have two parents that were willing to drive me further afield to get better training.
I ultimately left school early to attend the San Francisco Ballet School as a full time scholarship student. I was never a dancer because of the pretty parts: tutus and tights, etc. I loved the physical, the theatrical, and the transformative. Interests that expressed themselves throughout my career.
2. Where did your career take you?
Artistically or Physically?
Artistically it took me far beyond what I dreamt possible for me. The roles that I have portrayed and the ballets that I have gotten to be a part of still amaze me. Part of what I loved about being at Joffrey during the time that I was there was the mix of contemporary and historic ballets that we were doing at the time. When I look back at the roles that really strike a cord with me they are all theatrical in nature. For example: Romeo from Cranko’s Romeo & Juliet; Death from Kurt Joos’s The Green Table; and the Lover from Tudor’s Lilac Garden. Romeo and Death because I saw both of those ballets as a kid and loved them, but I never thought I’d do them, much less the leads. The Lover because it was the first time that I was moved beyond myself in the role I was portraying.
Physically my career took me all over the world. I was lucky while I was in both Joffrey and ABT that both companies were traveling a fair amount. I always found it fascinating how people in different countries would react to performances. In the end I was fortunate to travel to the Mediterranean several times: Greece, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Egypt. I was on multiple tours to Europe, Asia, Middle and South America. I was fortunate to work with my wife for most of my career and we took advantage of the travel. After one tour to Australia we stayed on in New Zealand for 10 extra days (we considered that our honeymoon even though it was years before we got married). It was a fabulous way to see the world and I feel very blessed to have all those memories.
3. What are you doing now?
Currently, I do a little bit of everything. I am still dancing as a freelance artist. Most of what I do as a dancer is partnering with local talent. Even though I come in to do the leading role I don’t feel that I’m there to out-shine the local talent; instead, I’m there to teach them. In that way, I feel that it is more like mentoring. I’m teaching them how to partner, how to perform.
I also perform a fair amount with San Francisco Opera, which is a lot of fun. In my three years there I’ve done more stage combat, climbing and tumbling than dancing. For me, it’s a joy to be in the theater on such a big stage being someone else. I also teach. I teach locally where we live and nationally for summer intensives and workshops.
And I’ve started to develop software for dance.
4. You have developed an app–can you share some information about what it is?
I’ve developed an app called Pocket Accompanist for the iPhone and iPod touch. It’s a music playback app for dance professionals at all levels.
5. What are some of the features of this app that teachers might find most useful?
Well the biggest feature that most people will find useful is tempo control. Most people will identify this as pitch (from your CD players that have that function). This is similar but only alters the tempo without changing the pitch. You can go up or down by 30% with the slide of a finger. You can also save a tempo change on a per song basis on a given playlist. That gives you the ability to set tempo for a song for a class and never adjust it again.
In addition to tempo you have greater playlist control than the built in music player and the ability to change the in and out points of a song. More advanced features are: greater looping options based on the in, out and a third loop point, being able to add tags to songs for easier searching and greater playback options.
An example of the three point looping would be in ballet class. Say, for instance, that you wanted the four-count intro into a track, but then wanted to loop the body of the track, essentially running forever until you stop it. You can do that with the three point looping. I love it for pirouettes. The groups can just keep going until I’m ready to stop. It’s almost like having a pianist in the room.
Those running rehearsals would probably like the “mark” feature. You can drop a mark (think bookmark) anywhere you want in a track in order to jump back to that point. You can give the marks unique names for easier identification. You don’t have to guess where one section starts or where a transition happens. It’s marked.
6. Is the app complicated to use, or fairly user-friendly?
I believe it is fairly user-friendly. If you are familiar with the Music app for iPhones and iPod touches it should feel familiar (at first). However, I wanted to strike a balance between simple and feature rich. For example, there are apps out there that can change the tempo of a song but you can’t teach ballet class with them because they have no playlist control. I didn’t want to make an app that was so simple it only had one feature, nor did I want an app that was so feature rich it was impossible to use in class.
I have tried to put everything in that I thought could be useful to a professional dancer without being overwhelming. Additionally I tried to build it in layers like an onion. If all you need is to import a playlist that you already have and use the tempo control, it should be pretty straightforward to use. Then, once you’re ready to dive into it a little a little deeper – there’s a lot there.
I also wanted to address two different approaches to teaching: spontaneous and planned. If you are a spontaneous teacher and just like having a playlist and adjusting the tempos to suit the class on the fly, you can do that. If you want to plan out exactly how long each track is, what tempo, how many times it plays and what the delay between each track is, you can do that. Ultimately the app is meant to be flexible in its use.
7. Where can people find this app if they are interested in getting it?
It is available on the Apple App Store.
8. Do you have plans for other dance-related apps?
I do. I have several other apps in the design phases. I believe that Pocket Accompanist has the widest appeal, so it was the first to come to market.
9. What has been the best part about developing this product?
Just having an idea come to fruition that could possibility help the greater dance community. I’ve been using iTunes and an iPod to teach for years now. But I always felt restricted by the lack of functionality. Everywhere I went I heard the similar laments: to have your music in your pocket and to be able to do x, y & z with it. Well now you can. I can tell you that teaching with it is fabulous. You have much more freedom. Even though I built it, I can’t wait to become more fluid and practiced with all that it has to offer.
10. What is next for you?
My wife, Maia Wilkins, and I are expecting our second child, so we’re excited about that. I will continue to dance as long as I am able. I have always been analytical about dance and I have enjoyed teaching and exploring coaching and look forward to my growth in both of those directions. Getting the word out about Pocket Accompanist keeps me busy and I continue to work on my other projects.
BIO: Michael Levine has danced professionally for over 17 years. Formerly a principal with the Joffrey Ballet, Levine has had the pleasure of dancing numerous leading and principal roles.
He has danced as Romeo in Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet, Death in Jooss’s The Green Table, Iago in Limone’s The Moore’s Pavane, The Lover in Tudor’s Lilac Garden, Albrecht in Freddy Franklin’s staging of Giselle, and The Prince in Ashton’s Cinderella. Levine has performed numerous Arpino and Joffrey works, including: Arthur St. Leon in Pas de Deesses, A Round of Angels, Sea Shadow, and Light Rain. Other leading roles include choreography by: Kylian, Balanchine, and Pilobolus.
Levine worked with choreographer Donald Byrd on the collaboration with Ramsey Lewis, To Know Her, and in the creation of Motown Suite; both for the Joffrey.
Away from the Joffrey, Levine was involved in the creation of Lauri Stalling’s full evening work Eidelon and performed in some of her other works, including Bacchus’ Vessel, In the Belly of Grace and Sprawling Orchid.
While at American Ballet Theater, Levine had the pleasure of appearing in James Kudelka’s Cruel World, Kevin McKenzie’s Transcendental Etudes and Lar Lubovich’s world premier of Othello and A Brahms Symphony.
Michael Levine has received recognition for his technical ability and classical line as well as for his excellent character portrayal. From the LA Times, Chicago Sun Times, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Washington Post, and in between, he has been favorably reviewed across the country.
Levine has taught, coached, and helped lead workshops throughout the country including: The Joffrey Ballet, Lou Conte Dance Center, Point Park University Pittsburgh PA, University of Wisconsin at Steven’s Point, and Eastern Connecticut Ballet.
Michael Levine’s photography captures moments from his unique, experienced dancer perspective. Levine enjoys sharing time both on stage and off with his beautiful wife Maia Wilkins.