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From the Footlights: Force of nature

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Tamara Levinson was such a small bundle of kinetic energy growing up in her native Buenos Aires that her parents - themselves professional tango dancers - could barely contain her. So they didn't even try. Instead, Levinson's mother Viviana enrolled her effervescent daughter in a local gymnastics class. "I was a fiery little kid who needed to run and jump and scream," said Tamara. "It gave me someplace positive as a girl to put all that extra energy." Since her mother's fateful decision more than two decades ago, Tamara has discovered more than a few "positive places" of her own to channel her still-overflowing energies, first as an Olympic athlete and later as a dancer performing with the likes of Madonna and Gwen Stefani.Most recently, the Astoria resident has seemingly found the perfect vehicle for her talents and energies as a cast member of the popular Off-Broadway show "Fuerzabruta." Depending on her role during a particular performance (both the male and female cast members rotate roles), Levinson may spend at least part of the show's 75 minutes swinging from a rope high above the ground, falling backwards off a moving conveyor belt or circling round and around while attached to a huge aluminum fan.No matter what her particular role, Levinson, like the other performers in "Fuerzabruta," is certain to spend at least part of each show dancing joyously with the throngs who pack the Daryl Roth Theater for each performance. "There is nothing like this sort of theater for an actor," said Levinson. "Every production is special in its own way, but nothing compares to this."Depending on your perspective, "Fuerzabruta" is a collection of highly imaginative, sometimes violent, other times psychedelic performance-art pieces. More contemplative audience members, however, may easily see some powerful social commentary about alienation and the brutality of modern existence lurking in the gyrations and bravado of the production (the word fuerzabruta itself means "brute force" in Spanish)."One of the things that I like best about this piece is that it lets you interpret things your own way," said Levinson. "Diqui ['Fuerzabruta' creator Diqui James] gives you all these images that you won't soon forget and lets you make up the story around it."Athlete to performer The Off-Broadway stage was the last thing on Tamara Levinson's mind when her mother enrolled her in a gymnastics class when she was just 5 years old. Young Tamara soon started showing aptitude in the sport and by the time she was 12 was training as an Olympic-level athlete in rhythmic gymnastics. "I trained almost 12 hours a day every day from age 12 to 18," she recalled. Levinson was on the U.S. Olympic rhythmic gymnastics team in the 1992 summer games in Barcelona. After growing up with her family in Maryland, Levinson decided to move to New York City after the Olympic games to pursue a career as a dancer and actress. "The first thing I had to learn was that is a big difference between sports and performance," she said. "Sports is more about the inside, whereas performance and dance are about expressing yourself outside or externally."As was the case in her gymnastics career, however, Levinson was a quick study and a string of impressive successes followed. She spent upwards of nine years in the New York and touring with productions of "De La Guarda," also by Diqui James.Levinson was also only one of only four dancers, from thousands who tried out from across the country, selected to tour with Madonna in her 2001 tour. She was also chosen, in entirely separate auditions, to dance with the pop icon on her 2004 and 2007 tours. "It is a much different experience dancing in a show like that than in 'Fuerzabruta,'" she said. "First of all, because you have 20,000 people there every night, and also because the show is so tightly choreographed."She recently toured with pop star Avril Lavigne and has performed and done videos with Gwen Stefani. Her work with "Fuerzabruta," however, is something she particularly cherishes. "It's an amazing feeling to look down out of the bottom of that poop and see all these people looking up at you with huge smiles on their faces," she said, regarding the show's loveliest and most otherworldly scene. "I have the greatest job in the world, making people happy every night."Fuerzabruta is playing at the Daryl Roth Theater, 20 Union Square East at 15th Street, Manhattan; 212-239-6200. Worth the Trip:There aren't too many places in the world more romantic than our beloved Manhattan. So, if you aren't planning to treat your beloved to one of Queens' coziest bistros or night spots, consider a trip to the city for one of these special Valentine's nights:Ellington Love Songs: What better way is there to romance your special someone than this evening of love songs, performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis? Songs like "Mood Indigo" and "Satin Doll" will make this an evening to remember. Feb. 14Ð16, 8 p.m., in the Rose Theater, Broadway and 60th St. CenterCharge, 212-721-6500. After the show, visit Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, the city's most romantic jazz club, with a wonderful view of Central Park. Freddy Cole and Friends are playing Manhattan Romance Feb. 12Ð17. Tickets, 212-258-9595 or -9795.Metropolitan Opera: When it comes to depicting the drama, angst and passion of love, nothing competes with opera, and particularly the Met. The night before Valentine's Day, Feb. 13, the Met presents Georges Bizet's "Carmen," the "indelible portrait of the willful gypsy woman." For lighter fare, try Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14. Later in the month, on Feb. 28, the opera debuts a new production of Benjamin Britten's "Peter Grimes," as Tony Award-winning director John Doyle makes his Met debut. For more information call 212-362-6000 or online at www.metoperafamily.org.For Luciano Pavorotti With Love - A Valentine Tribute: Several renowned performers will pay tribute to the late, great tenor at this Avery Fisher Hall concert, at 8 p.m. on Feb. 14. Tickets, 212-721-6500.

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