Cathy Levy: Twenty exceptional years leading NAC Dance

Cathy levy c remi
Cathy Levy © Rémi Thériault

Cathy Levy’s love of dance goes back to her mother.

Growing up in Montreal, her mother enrolled her and her sisters in a creative movement class led by Elsie Solomon. The aunt of the renowned Canadian choreographer Judith Marcuse, Elsie was a devoted teacher who studied various movement methods created by teachers from New York.  

Cathy was hooked. She would go on to study with Elsie for 15 years.

“It was a way for kids to explore their imaginations through movement, space, time. She was an incredible influence in my life.”

Cathy’s mother would also take her to see any dance company that performed in Montreal, including Les Grands Ballets Canadiens – a company she would program many times throughout her career. “It was always such a pleasure as an adult to bring my mother to see dance shows with me.”

In the 1990s, Cathy was Producer of the Canada Dance Festival, and Dance Programmer for Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. But she was interested in the NAC’s vision to become more national, and attracted to the possibilities for programming in three halls, rather than one.

She started as Producer of Dance in 2000, seven months pregnant and with a husband and two-year-old son Jonah in Montreal. Offered the opportunity to stay living in Montreal, she commuted to Ottawa throughout their childhood, often with little sleep. “I would ride the midnight buses so I could be there when the kids woke up.”

It’s been an incredible 20 years. She has programmed a diversity of exceptional artists from across Canada and around the world on the NAC stages. She built a strong audience who trusts her programming choices. And she has made an enormous influence on dance in Canada.

“Many of the things I’m most proud of are things you can’t see. I’m proud that NAC Dance is the co-producer of 100 Canadian co-productions, putting our resources to help the development of new work across Canada.”

She talks about putting the NAC on the map internationally. “There are a lot of artists, who, when you said, ‘please come to Canada to perform,’ all they thought about was Montreal. I did the legwork to talk to them about what an incredible jewel the NAC is.”

She also counts her collaborations with the NAC Orchestra as important achievements, including the Music/Dance commission ENCOUNT3RS, and The Rite of Spring with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch – it was only the sixth time the company had danced Stravinsky’s work with a live orchestra.

She notes the Visiting Dance Artist Program, which supports Canadian choreographers through immersive residency experiences. “I’ve always said: we need to have artists in the building. And for the third year now, we’re providing time and space that is quiet, where they can play, where they can have the resources to do creative work.”

And she’s proud of her team, particularly her 20-year creative partnership with Associate Dance Producer Tina Legari.

In pandemic times, Cathy is trying to help the dance world any way she can. #Danceforth, a series of virtual performances by Canadian dance artists, is part of that effort.

“Artists need hope in a time where it’s hard to find hope. They’re anxious to get back in the studio, for opportunities to show their work. That’s what #Danceforth is about. And many presenters in Canada are working very hard to help artists in the community.”

What keeps her going after 20 years leading NAC Dance?

“The dance milieu never ceases to amaze me. It’s an abstract art form that just doesn’t give up. Dance artists are brave, innovative, risky people who do this work because they have to. And if I can be a small piece of how that process moves forward, it continues to give me the energy to continue the work.  I feel very proud of that.”


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