Revival of iconic “Billy the Kid” ballet honors its original choreographer, Eugene Loring, founding chair of UCI’s dance department

Grab your posse and head for the Claire Trevor School of the Arts for a revival of “Billy the Kid,” a ballet by UC Irvine founding faculty member Eugene Loring, who died in 1982. Staged in honor of the campus’s 50th anniversary, the performance is part of Dance Visions, an annual constellation of faculty works. The program will also feature choreography by faculty members Tong Wang, Shaun Boyle and Donald McKayle. It runs from Wednesday, Feb. 11, through Sunday, Feb. 15, in the Claire Trevor Theatre on campus.

Molly Lynch, associate professor and artistic director of Dance Visions, says “Billy the Kid” provides an exciting vehicle for linking Loring’s legacy to current UCI dancers.

“I think this has been an eye-opener for many of our students who didn’t know about him and the fact that he was founding chair,” Lynch says. “And it has taken a great deal of commitment from the students and the department because it’s a 40-minute ballet – much longer than most student productions. For me, it’s very personal because I’m a graduate of UCI and trained here. I earned my master’s in 1981 – the same year Loring retired.”

Loring began dancing in his father’s Wisconsin saloon and was at ease with all kinds of dance. He choreographed such Broadway musicals as “Carmen Jones” and “Silk Stockings” and had an extensive career in Hollywood, directing and choreographing for film and television.

He was already a luminary in his field when Clayton Garrison, founding dean of UCI’s arts school, hired him in 1965 to chair the dance department. “Billy the Kid” had been commissioned in 1938 by the Ballet Caravan company and premiered in Chicago. It has enjoyed an unbroken history of production since. The rousing score is one of the most familiar and enduring by American composer Aaron Copland, and it was the first of his three iconic ballet scores, followed by “Rodeo” and “Appalachian Spring.”

“This is not a classic ballet but an American classic,” says Lisa Naugle, professor and chair of dance. “Much as Aaron Copland incorporates classical and American folk music in the score, we take Eugene Loring’s vision from the past and expand upon it in the current culture, with its diversity, change and complexity.”

Famed regisseur Howard Sayette is staging the production. His distinguished career as a dancer, teacher and ballet master includes a four-year stint with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and many years with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York. Sayette has worked with some of the 20th century’s greatest choreographers, among them Antony Tudor, Bronislava Nijinska, John Butler, Alvin Ailey and Katherine Dunham. He has particular expertise staging “Billy the Kid.”

Ticket information is available on the Claire Trevor School of the Arts’ events page. For maps, driving directions and parking information, go to www.arts.uci.edu/directions.

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