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Take A Bow 

Odyssey 2001 pays tribute to Tucson's great dancers.

In a quiet cul-de-sac in the shadow of the Tucson Mountains, a condo house built in typical Southwest architectural style is decorated in anything but typical Southwest shtick. Instead of coyotes and cowboy art, international memorabilia from five continents frame its views of the Arizona sunset.

Autographed photos of the greatest of Russian ballet dancers crowd the slump-block walls, vying for space with black-and-whites of Hollywood stars. In between are elaborately cast medals, including one from the Bolshoi Ballet, family mementos and souvenirs of life in old Russia.

"Look at this champagne glass," exclaims George Zoritch, still fit at 83, as he holds up a fragile etched glass that's been in his family for years. "All these things were in my studio," he adds, gesturing toward his pictures. The objects are a chronicle of a life well-lived, a life that took Zoritch from a Russia in uproar ("I was born in Moscow during the Revolution in 1917") to the world's great ballet stages, and on to Hollywood and Broadway.

The acclaimed Russian dancer ended his colorful career with a 14-year stint teaching ballet at the University of Arizona, hence his Tucson home. This Wednesday, January 31, the department will offer a multimedia tribute to the old dancer as part of its Odyssey 2001 dance concert at Centennial Hall.

"I'm very touched, very touched," Zoritch says. Though he's fluent in nine languages, traces of a Russian accent still cling to his English.

The tribute will include a video put together by dance division head Jory Hancock giving the highlights of Zoritch's career, a career the retired dancer is only too happy to recollect in person. His mother was an opera singer ("She was always considered very beautiful"), and though her life on the stage scandalized her own parents, she fled with her two boys to their home in Kovno, Lithuania, after her husband betrayed her with another woman. Young Yuri (later George) never saw his father again.

"At 11, Mother took me to see (the ballet) Coppélia in Kovno," Zoritch remembers. He was so taken by the ballet that afterwards he couldn't stop leaping about. "I came home and endangered the china. I was unbearable."

His mother took him to audition at a local ballet school, run by a graduate of the famed Maryinsky Theater School. He was accepted immediately. After training in Paris as well, Zoritch launched a long career with a series of troupes that toured the world, including the Grand Opera Russe, the Russian Classical Ballet, Ballets Russes de Paris and Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, working with such choreographers as Bronislava Nijinska. He spent 10 years in two different segments, before and after World War II, as principal dancer with Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. He fled to America during the war, became a citizen and almost immediately stepped into that most American of art forms--the musical.

"I was in 18 films, four in Rome and 14 in Hollywood," he says, working with such stars as Errol Flynn, Cary Grant, Alexis Smith and Loretta Young. After his own dancing days were done, he opened a ballet school in Hollywood, where he taught for eight years before moving on to quieter Tucson. Zoritch published an illustrated autobiography just last year, Ballet Mystique: Behind the Glamour of the Ballet Russe (Cynara Editions, $45); he'll be selling and autographing books at the concert.

"It will be a really exciting evening," says Hancock. Appropriately, the tribute concert also will offer up plenty of dance. The evening is part of Tucson's Arts Odyssey's celebration of local arts, so Hancock balanced the program between the UA's dance troupe and two professional companies in the community. Alternating with the student dancers will be members of Ballet Tucson, the city's newish professional ballet company, and Orts Theatre of Dance, Tucson's leading modern dance troupe.

Here's a rundown of the dance program:

· A highlight will be Carmina Burana, an hour-long work to be performed by 25 UA dancers, choreographed by visiting prof James Clouser. A former dancer with American Ballet Theatre and a principal with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Clouser was balletmaster and acting director at Houston Ballet and director of the Dayton Ballet. Clouser composed his Burana some 25 years ago, and Melissa Lowe, now a UA dance prof, and Hancock both danced it with Houston. The 1937 music by Carl Orff was inspired by bawdy poems written by medieval monks in the margins of sacred texts, Clouser says, and it's inspired numerous choreographers, including Germany's pioneering choreographer Mary Wigman.

"I tell the story of the monk or scribes tempted by demons," Clouser explains. "The costumes' lines are medieval, but stylized: the legs are revealed, the body is revealed. It's a distillation of medievalism in oranges, reds, blues and greens. ... It's fun to see the young dancers dig into it. It's difficult ... (but) this department is quite special and has some of the best talent in the country."

· Ballet Tucson, a small professional troupe that grew out of Mary Beth Cabana's Ballet Arts school, will dance her Classical Symphony to the music of Prokofiev.

"It's a neoclassical work for 20 or 21 dancers," Cabana explains. Danced on pointe, the 15-minute piece is "sculptural, full of fouettés and turns and hops." The company last performed it at its Dance and Dessert concert last February.

Cabana notes that the Centennial Hall show represents a homecoming of sorts for her troupe. Her dancers first performed there in the 1980s, but not in the years since. "It will be fun to perform there again."

· John Wilson, a UA prof who will retire at the end of this school year, contributes Indri's Dream. A scholar of world dance, Wilson here combines Hindi styles with progressive jazz in telling the story of a young Hindu girl and her love for Krishna. The 8-minute work will feature about 16 dancers.

· Orts Theatre of Dance, the city's leading modern dance troupe, offers up an excerpt from Balanced Edge, an evening-length performance piece that premiered last fall. The work is a mix of floor and trapeze dance, poetry, music and video; the concert segment will include a giant mobile trapeze filled with flying dancers.





Odyssey 2001, a dance concert featuring the UA dancers, Ballet Tucson and Orts Theatre of Dance, kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, January 31, at the UA's Centennial Hall. Tickets are $10 general, $8 for seniors and students; they're available at the box office. Call 621-3341.

The evening includes a tribute to dancer/teacher George Zoritch. During intermission and after the show, Zoritch will sell and sign copies of his new autobiography, Ballet Mystique: Behind the Glamour of the Ballet Russe (Cynara Editions, $45.) The book is also available by mail for $45 plus $5 for shipping. For information contact Zoritch at 884-8123.

More by Margaret Regan

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