Julia Levien (1911-2006)

Julia Levien was the child of Russian, Jewish immigrant writers. They were steeped in culture: music, art, poetry and theater. Julia’s home was a place where Jewish artists and intellectuals gathered. Julia’s first Duncan dance teacher at the age of nine was from this circle of friends, Estelle Harreton who was a pupil of Maria Theresa. As a child Julia also studied some ballet with a cousin and the Dalcroze and Wigman technique with Bird Larson. These classes, like many from that period were very influenced by the Duncan aesthetic.

In 1923 Julia sought out Anna Duncan who was teaching in Carnegie Hall. In 1925 she was one of those chosen to perform with Anna at Lewiston stadium. the troupe was considered the original school and Company of Isadora Duncan. In 1927, after Isadora died, Irma came to NY with her Russian troupe. The company was called back to Russia but Irma stayed to fulfill her contract with Sol Hurok. Julia, along with Hortense Kooluris, were among ten dancers chosen to replace the Russian dancers. This group was called the American Isadora Duncan School and Company. Julia toured internationally with Irma in the 1930s and 1940s. She also performed solo Duncan Dance concerts and she presented her own choreography which reflected social concerns of the period. Julia presented concerts at such venues as Town Hall and the 92nd St Y. In a 1943 NY times review, John Martin wrote “Ms. Levien danced the Duncan pieces in a totally different manner which is nonimitative, nontraditional and her own. She moves with great beauty and an apparently innate sense of dynamics,” he continued, describing her performance of her own choreography: “Few dancers can manage to make sustained, lyrical movement so engrossing simply as movement.”

In the 1950s she formed the Duncan Guild along with Hortense and Gemze DeLappe. The Duncan Technique and aesthetic was at the heart of her many years of teaching and coaching that coincided and followed. Julia married and moved to Far Rockaway, where she raised her son, Elliot. She continued to teach and perform.

In 1977 Julia, along with Hortense Kooluris, formed Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Co marking the 100th anniversary of Isadora’s birth. Later renamed the Isadora Duncan Commemorative Dance Co., they performed on a regular basis at the Riverside church, Symphony Space and other prestigious NY venues. The commemorative company has spawned companies and dancers around the world.

Julia coached many individual Duncan Dance dancers and propagators for performance including Lori Belilove (and company), Jeanne Bresciani, Theda Detlor, Ellen Foreman, Catherine Gallant, Annabelle Gamson, Barbara Kane, Beth Jucovy, Judith Landon, Jodi Liss, Iris Park, Adrienne Ramm, Andrea Seidel (and company), Elizabeth Schwartz and Kathleen Quinlan. She also coached and set works for the Ohio state University Dance co., Sophie Maslow Dance company, Cal-arts Dance Workshop, Sorbonne University, the Paris International Dance Conference and The Place (London).

Julia was also a well-regarded visual artist. Her Duncan Dance drawings and sculptures have been on exhibit and her drawings are included in her books “Duncan dance- a Guide for Young People” (Princeton Press, 1994) and her self published book “Images” (1997)

Video Recordings include Ohio state University Dance Company (intro by Elizabeth Kendall), Legacy of the Dance of Isadora Duncan (produced by Penny Ward 1988, dancers include Ms. Levien with Hortense Kooluirs and Lori Belilove, Jeanne Bresciani, Beth Jucovy, Judith Landon, Iris Park. and Adreinne Ramm), Isadora Duncan Technique and Choreography (produced by Virginia Brooks 1979, with the Isadora Duncan Centenary Company,), Isadora Duncan Dance Technique and Repertory” (1995 with Andrea Seidel and the Isadora Duncan Dance Ensemble), Ohio state; Billie Mahoney, “Dance On” and television interviews- with Viki Blain (Many of these videos are available at Lincoln Center Dance Library, Dance Films Associates, Inc., The Dance Library of Israel).

As Jennifer Dunning has written in Ms. Levien's Obituary “When Julia Levein taught the Duncan technique, she wove together classroom exercises with a running commentary on the arts and social issues as well as the major influences that helped to shape Duncan’s philosophy of movement…. A small, no-nonsense woman, Ms. Levien spoke her mind as a teacher in upbeat ways and had boundless curiosity — and opinions.

…Though she was not the only knowledgeable restager of the dances, Ms. Levien’s reconstructions helped to prove that Duncan choreographed rather than improvised dances, and that they had structure, set steps, gestures and patterns, all informed by a philosophy of naturally flowing and gravity-bound movement. Ms. Levien’s teaching made clear that Duncan’s simple-looking moves demanded extreme focus and concentration to achieve not only the correct execution but also important and distinctive tones or emotional qualities”.

Ms. Levien continued to coach, lecture, sculpt and draw until her passing in 2006 at the age of 94. Her Roosevelt Island NY neighbor and lifetime friend and protege, Adrienne Ramm, discovered her death.

This biography was compiled by Beth Jucovy (lifetime student/protege of Julia, Duncan dancer, teacher, coach and director) from Julia’s own resume, from interviews conducted by Shirley Romaine and from the obituary written by Jennifer Dunning.


Publications

Isadora Duncan Dance: Technique and Repertory with the Isadora Duncan Dance Ensemble, Miami, Fl. distributed internationally by Dance Horizons/Princeton Book and Video Company. Directed by Andrea Mantell Seidel and Julia Levien, copyright 1994.

Isadora Duncan: Technique and Choreography. Dance Films Association, Distributer: Virginia Brooks. (Hortense and Julia). 1978. 29 minutes. 48 W. 21st Street, #907, NY, NY 10010 (212) 727-0764.

Levien, Julia. "Isadora Duncan and the Spanish Dance." In Society of Dance History Scholars Proceedings, pp. 162-164. Fourteenth Annual Conference, New World School of the Arts, Miami, FL, 8-10 February 1991.

Levien, Julia. "Sources of Style in the Dances of Isadora Duncan." Ballet Review 6, no. 4 (1977-1989): 44-49.

Levien, Julia. Duncan Dance: A Guide for Young People Ages Six to Sixteen. Illustrated. Pennington, NJ: Princeton Book Company Publishers, 1994; Dance Horizons, 1994. ISBN 0-87127-198-2

Levien, Julia. Images Drawn from the Dances of Isadora Duncan, NY 1997.

Memorial Tribute for Julia Levien

The Legacy of the Choreography of Isadora Duncan. Dance Films Association (members only). (Hortense and Julia). 1988. 45 minutes.

Affiliations

Isadora Duncan Commemorative (Centenary) Dance Company — Founder

Isadora Duncan Dancers USA

New Duncan Dancers — Performer (1933—1934)

Videos

Collection Title Date
Catherine Gallant and Dances by Isadora YouTube channel Con grazia staged by Julia Levien 1988
The Collection of Adrienne Ramm Isadora Duncan's 110th Birthday Celebration 1987
Beth Jucovy and Dance Visions NY YouTube Collection Julia Levien's staging of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique
The Collection of Adrienne Ramm Russian Worker Songs
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company performs Brahms 7
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company performs Allegro con grazia
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Gemze, Hortense, Julia, and Sylvia perform Cymbals
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Julia performs Gypsy
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Gemze, Sylvia, and Julia perform Dance of the Furies

Related items in the Archives

The Collection of Catherine Gallant > Photos > Julia and Hortense

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Photos > Julia, Ruth and Hortense

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Photos > Irma Duncan's Isadora Duncan Dancers in Cuba

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Photos > Julia Levien, Hortense Dolan (Kooluris), Mignon Garland — 1942

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Photos > Mignon Garland, Hortense Dolan (Kooluris) and Julia Levien — 1943

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Photos > American Isadora Duncan Dancers — 1930

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Photos > Julia Levien teaching Barbara Kane the Mother Etude

The Collection of Janaea Rose Lyn (McAlee) > Photos > Memorial Performance Dancers

The Collection of Adrienne Ramm > Photos > Julia and Hortense

The Collection of Adrienne Ramm > Photos > Julia leaping

The Collection of Adrienne Ramm > Photos > Photo of Julia Levien — 2012

The Collection of Christy Cornell-Pape > Programs > Irma Duncan — Isadora Duncan Dancers — Mar 13, 1932

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > Isadora Duncan Dancers in Minneapolis — 1930

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > Worker's Dance League Recital — Jan 07, 1934

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > Duncan Dance Congress Program — Nov 15, 1942

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > Duncan Dance Guild Program — 1943

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > Duncan Dance Guild, Carnegie Hall — Apr 24, 1944

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > The Isadora Duncan Dance Memorial, 1952 — Dec 14, 1952

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Riverside Dance Festival — Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — May 26, 1977

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — Oct 23, 1977

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Duncan Dance Festival — Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — 1978

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Riverside Dance Festival — Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — Jan 05, 1978

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — Jun 24, 1978

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Riverside Dance Festival — Isadora Duncan Commemorative Dance Company — Jan 24, 1979

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Isadora Duncan Commemorative Dance Company — Nov 16, 1979

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Isadora Duncan Dance Group Gala Ball — Barbara Kane — Isadora Duncan Dance Group — Sep 27, 1996

The Collection of Janaea Rose Lyn (McAlee) > Programs > Roerich Society Leading Dance Personalities — Irma Duncan — Isadora Duncan Dancers — Dec 09, 1931

The Collection of Janaea Rose Lyn (McAlee) > Programs > Isadora Duncan Dance Memorial — Ruth Fletcher, Mary Garland, Hortense Kooluris, Sima Leake, Julia Levien — Dec 14, 1952

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Articles > Duncan Congress, Dance Magazine Article 1943 — 1943

The Collection of Catherine Gallant > Leaflets > Julia Levien Memorial Tribute card

The Isadora Duncan Archive Collection > Other > Performance of Julia Levien's Students

Related references

Kisselgoff, Anna. "Dance: Duncan Works Restaged," New York Times, January 7, 1978, p. 13 (need subscription to read entire article).