Nina Levy is a dance critic and the editor of Seesaw, a new digital arts magazine that readers and writers are flocking to for its intelligent and playful commentary. Nina and her team are filling the vast gap that has been left by the demise of traditional media models and providing a crucial part of the arts ecosystem. Nina shares why she writes so lovingly and passionately about the arts.
What music gets your heart racing?
I heard a podcast about the making of Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” recently – reminded me what a fantastic song it is, a total heart racer… so that’s something that’s been on my mind recently. At the other end of the music spectrum, there’s Vivaldi’s Gloria.
What calms you down?
There’s so much that soothes my soul, from Elgar’s Enigma Variations to “New Slang” by The Shins.
What do you sing along to?
It might be easier to talk about what I don’t sing along to. I love singing. My dad is a singer and used to conduct singalongs at my birthday parties when I was a kid. I couldn’t wait to be in a choir like my dad and was thrilled when I finally went to a school with a choir, in year 7. I still belong to a choir… Perth indie pop choir, Menagerie. I’ll sing along with any song I like… and occasionally even songs I don’t like.
You have a soft spot for ballet. What is it that appeals to you about this art form?
As a dancer I love the discipline of a ballet class. My mind tends to race a lot but when I’m in class I slow down and focus. Although the classes I do these days are open (where the teacher sets new exercises each week) I get a lot of pleasure from the predictable structure of a classical ballet class.
As an audience member, I love the aesthetics of ballet, the purity of its lines, the combination of grace and athleticism. The musicality of ballet is a large part of the appeal too. Here in Perth we’re so lucky that West Australian Ballet is accompanied by West Australian Symphony Orchestra – two live performances in one!
What do you hope people will experience when they visit Seesaw magazine?
When Varnya Bromilow and I decided to found Seesaw last year, a big part of our motivation was our belief in the importance of arts journalism that is intelligent and engaging. I hope that the reviews and features on Seesaw not only inspire readers to attend more performances and exhibitions, but provide reading pleasure in their own right.
Why does the WA arts sector need a digital arts journalism platform?
WA’s incredibly vibrant arts sector punches well above its weight, but media coverage of this flourishing arts scene has been languishing for some years now, thanks to devastating cuts in print media. Media coverage of the arts is a vital part of the arts ecosystem, connecting artists and companies with audiences. To quote the wonderful Stephen Bevis, former arts editor of The West Australian, “In this digital age, a respected and quality digital platform for arts journalism is as important a piece of infrastructure as a theatre or a gallery.”
Where did you learn the skills to be a magazine editor?
That’s a good question! I have an honours degree in English – I learned a lot of about writing clearly and concisely completing that degree – but it didn’t have a journalism component at all! It was a degree in English literature.
I went on to complete a second Bachelor of Arts (as you do) in dance and during that degree I had to write many reviews. I owe a lot to my dance history and analysis teacher, the late Maggi Phillips, who encouraged me to be brave with my opinions and experiment with language.
Aside from that, I learned the skills of writing and editing on the job. I got my first break into arts journalism in 2007 editing dancewest for Ausdance WA and went on to freelance as an arts writer and critic for Dance Australia, a national dance magazine, and The West Australian newspaper. In 2011 I was appointed editor of Dance Australia’s website and then in 2016 I was appointed co-editor of the magazine. Mentors have been very important to me – I have learned a huge amount about editing from being edited by Karen van Ulzen at Dance Australia (now my co-editor) and Stephen Bevis at The West Australian.
What is your most electric moment in the theatre?
When I’m watching dance (particularly contemporary dance) and I see movement that appeals to me, sometimes my leg will give an involuntary twitch. I think that’s a pretty electric moment in more senses than one.
I also love that moment when a really fantastic dance work finishes and there’s a communal murmur of appreciation before the applause.
What’s the thing you love most about your work?
Getting in the zone when I’m writing, when the words just flow and nothing else matters… that’s the best thing about my work. I also feel very fortunate that my work sees me combine two of my favourite things: writing and the arts.
What is your favourite place in Perth?
The beach is my number one… but I am also very fond of my daily walk, which takes me through various parks and ovals in North Perth and Leederville. I time it so that I walk through Leederville oval at sunset… I love to see the expanse of sky at that time of day. There is something comforting and uplifting about the vastness of our sky, even in the inner city.
Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the arts?
Yes! I love making stuff… in particular, I enjoy sewing, knitting and baking (and eating the results). And I am passionate about singing in Menagerie Choir.
As aforementioned, I also love going for walks and looking at the sky – for my last birthday my dear friend Lydia gave me a membership to a wonderful club called “The Cloud Appreciation Society”. It was the most perfect birthday present.
Last but certainly not least, my family and close friends make everything worthwhile.
Thank you Nina Levy for taking part in Celebrity Soft Spot. For more information about Nina and to get your arts fix head to Seesaw Magazine.