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Out of the Woods / Ailey II a big hit, thanks to Harold Levine

Published 11:45 am, Wednesday, March 13, 2013
  • Westporter Harold Levine has been a champion of causes helping Bridgeport's inner-city youth. Photo: Contributed Photo, ST / Westport News contributed
    Westporter Harold Levine has been a champion of causes helping Bridgeport's inner-city youth. Photo: Contributed Photo, ST

 

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It was joyous and exhilarating. The dancing of the Ailey II dance company at the Westport Country Playhouse Sunday night was nothing short of sensational -- so much so that you might think you were attending a Broadway show right here in town. The dancing was astounding -- and inspiring.

Performing before a packed house to benefit the Neighborhood Studios of Fairfield County, Ailey II, the tour company of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, drew an enthusiastic crowd.

The benefit honored Westport's Harold Levine as outgoing chairman of the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation. The Ailey dancers previously performed at the Westport Country Playhouse in 2009.

According to its website, Neighborhood Studios (formerly the Music and Arts Center for Humanity) offers arts education in Bridgeport to children and adults, in particular special needs students, at-risk individuals, and the artistically gifted. Research shows arts education to be an effective way for children to learn and grow.

Neighborhood Studios, founded by Patricia Hart 30 years ago, has provided arts education to more than 1,000 children in their schools, after-school programs, at its Bridgeport headquarters, and through its summer programs. Its arts curriculum is specifically designed to improve academic performance, increase graduation rates, and serve as a catalyst for lifelong success.

Levine, a vigorous, 91-year-old Westport cultural and educational icon, has been responsible for his contributions to arts programs for young people in Bridgeport over three decades. He met Alvin Ailey when Levine's wife, Sue, joined a Bridgeport organization assisting the blind which, in turn, invited Ailey to help the children learn dance. Levine and Ailey hit it off and success followed.

Levine also stands out among those progressive thinkers and activists who have long believed in stimulating greater understanding of and participation in programs that foster better relations between whites and blacks. Indeed, Levine has stirred the social conscience of thousands of area residents with a passion for closing the gap between the races.

Yet another historic event in this endeavor was Harold Levine's introduction of the Anti-Defamation League's national "World of Difference" program, whose aim was to combat prejudice and discrimination and promote diversity across the country.

Levine, a friendly and highly-successful fundraiser, recently stepped down as chairman of Neighborhood Studios after seven years. He had been involved with the nonprofit for 25 years. He helped bring Ailey Camp, a summer youth dance program run by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, to Neighborhood Studios. Ailey Camp's Bridgeport program is one of only six such programs in the country.

Some of Levine's other contributions include working with local and regional leaders to secure a lease for Neighborhood Studios' current location at 391 East Washington Ave. in Bridgeport and funding to renovate the facility. He also worked with Bridgeport Public Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas to provide arts, music and dance programs for children during and after school and during the summer.

Outside of Neighborhood Studios, he has served the boards of numerous other organizations, including the Fairfield County Community Foundation and the New York Advertising Foundation (Levine was a founding partner of Levine, (Chet) Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver, an ad agency that in 1989 was named "Agency of the Year" by AdWeek. And he is currently a member of the Westport Library Advisory Council.

Asked why he thought there were only a token number of black people living in Westport -- depsite all of the programs our town has launched -- Levine replied, candidly: "I believe that Westport is virtually all white, because all upscale communities want it that way. It's a status thing, and no effort is made to encourage non-whites to consider buying in, and it is not particularly comfortable for non-whites to come into Westport because their children will not have other non-whites to play with, and the fear their children will be exposed to "incidents." It is a national pattern. People seem to be comfortable with their own kind racially, religiously or economically based."

Nonetheless, he adds: "I would encourage Westporters to get involved with children of Bridgeport to broaden their horizons. Westport kids have virtually anything they want. Bridgeport kids, on the other hand are mostly poor, and do not."

Alvin Ailey, born in Texas in 1931, was a choreographer who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958. His most famous dance is "Revelation" -- a celebratory study of religious spirit -- and it was performed Sunday night. Ailey received the Kennedy Center Honors in1988. A year later, on Dec.1, 1989, he died of AIDS in New York City.

Woody Klein is a Westport writer. His "Out of the Woods" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at woodyklein12@gmail.com.