Eugene Loring began his choreographic career by focusing on an American archetype in “Billy the Kid,” his most famous ballet, created in 1938.
He ended his career by widening his vision to encompass the rise and fall of cultures with “Time Unto Time” in 1981.
“The ballet is about creation and destruction in global terms, like (among) nations, or in individual terms, like a man and a woman,” said Patrice Whiteside, the executor of Loring’s estate. She is in Irvine this week staging the ballet for UCI faculty dance concerts, today through Saturday at the campus Fine Arts Village Theatre. It was Loring who created the university’s dance department in 1965 and remained its head until 1980.
“It’s called ‘Time Unto Time’ because parts of the movement are about humankind’s development and destruction, development and destruction of itself: building and then destroying, and then building and destroying (again).”
Set to Bartok’s “Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta,” Loring’s “Time” utilizes eight men and eight women. (Loring’s “Billy the Kid,” with Royal Danish Ballet principal Alexander Kolpin in the title role, also is on the program.)
“You have leaders and you have followers, and you have dominant people and you have submissive people, and you have non-thinking people and thinking people. You have nationalities,” Whiteside said.
“The first section deals with growth and destruction as a general, humankind experience. The second deals with industrialization and the deterioration of industrialization.
“The third movement is about relationships--good relationships, bad relationships--between Man and Woman.
“The fourth movement deals with ethnic differences: How the nations tolerate each other and don’t tolerate each other.”
Does Loring take a hopeful or a dim view of the cycle?
“I think it’s neutral,” Whiteside said. “By the end of the work, some people make it and some people don’t. So it’s like asking, ‘Is the glass half-empty or half-full?’ It depends on how you look at it.
“I think maybe at that time he was a bit retrospective on his life. . . . Maybe the work reflected this kind of perspective.”
Loring died less than a year after finishing the ballet. He began to get ill during its staging, Whiteside said.
“First, for about four months, we thought it was a sinus problem. And then from there, once he discovered it was (brain) cancer, it was just a matter of time. . . .
“His death was long and drawn-out and very painful. I wish the cancer would have just gone directly to the respiratory system. . . . But it went around (the brain). He lost his sight, he lost his hearing, he lost his fine motor skills, he lost his respiratory (control). . . . I wish it would have just taken him. . . . For a dancer, for a choreographer, it was pretty devastating.”
Whiteside began her dance training with Loring when she was 12, attending Loring’s American School of Dance in Hollywood and later going through his undergraduate program in dance at UC Irvine.
When Loring became closely associated with Oakland Ballet in 1975--for which he created “Time Unto Time"--Whiteside already was a principal dancer with the company. She became his assistant until his death.
Working with Loring was “extremely demanding,” Whiteside recalled.
“He was a real perfectionist,” she said. “But it was real stimulating. . . . He did not have a sense of humor in rehearsal. It was all business. He was always well-prepared. He knew exactly what he expected out of you.”
Still, the emphasis wasn’t always on steps, she said.
“Sometimes, you wouldn’t even dance a lot in rehearsals. We’d just sit and talk about who are you, where were you born, why do you feel the way that you feel? I think it’s because he was an actor before he was a dancer. . . .
“It worked. You’re such-and-such a person--what do you hate? That was one of his favorite questions. Because a lot of his ballets would deal with strong emotions. He’d ask the dancers, ‘What do you hate the most? I want you to think about that as you’re doing this movement.’ There is a lot of anger in ‘Time Unto Time.’
“Consequently, I do the same thing. A lot of times we just talk in rehearsals. And with the (UCI) kids, it’s harder because they’re younger and they don’t have life experiences, so to speak, to draw on. . . .
“He always felt that if your emotional intent was not sincere, your movement was not going to be sincere. So emotionally you have to be in the right place in order for the movement to look correct.”
Eugene Loring’s “Time Unto Time” and “Billy the Kid” (with Royal Danish Ballet principal Alexander Kolpin in the title role) will be danced on the UC Irvine dance faculty concerts at 8 p.m. today through Saturday and also at 2 p.m. on Saturday, at the Fine Arts Village Theatre on the Irvine campus. Tickets: Weekdays and Saturday matinee: $9, general; $6, UCI students; Friday and Saturday evenings, $11, all seats. Information: (714) 656-6616.