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George Zoritch in Arizona

November 15, 2009 | 10:10 am

George Zoritch When Jory Hancock was discussing taking a job at the University of Arizona, he learned the opening was created by the retirement of ballet legend George Zoritch.

"You don't replace George Zoritch and that's really how I approached the job here," said Hancock, now the director of the School of Dance and interim dean of the College of Fine Arts. "I had heard about him my whole life."

Zoritch, who died Nov. 1 at 92, remained a force in Arizona's dance department after retiring in 1987. "He was 70 and taking classes," Hancock said. "We would use him to demonstrate. ... He was the [Mikhail] Baryshnikov of his time.

"He really pushed [students] along. He paved the way for good things to happen."

Hancock and his wife, Arizona dance professor Melissa Lowe, drove with Zoritch to a hotel restaurant to celebrate his 90th birthday. Zoritch, who by then had trouble walking more than 30 steps at a time, wanted to drive his car.

"He drove like 90 miles an hour," Hancock said. "There was still a bit of the Russian spirit in him with the gas pedal."

-- Keith Thursby

Photo: George Zoritch in 1937. Credit: Zeitgeist Films