When Robert Ivey passed away in August 2011, Charleston lost a beloved fixture in the arts community. Though Ivey personally asked Michael and Olga Wise to take over as artistic co-directors at the Robert Ivey Ballet Company in the event of his death, they have big shoes to fill. Michael Wise, who danced for three years with the Moscow Classical Ballet, became very close with Ivey in his last years. Wise says they shared the same vision, and he and his wife understood a lot of Ivey’s dance ideals.
“The statement that we have been trying to make, not just for Spoleto, but this whole entire year is that the Robert Ivey Ballet did not pass away with Bob,” Wise explains. “He created the foundation. He gave it life. But that’s part of what a person’s legacy is — to make sure that what you build and design can continue on even after you pass.”
Wise points out that when Ivey first started the ballet company, they performed full-length classicals. Only when it got harder for Ivey to teach and choreograph did he start allowing others to guest teach in choreographic styles like jazz and hip-hop. The company slowly started shifting away from the classical foundation and toward a contemporary one. The Wises have taken their leadership roles during this transitional phase as an opportunity to bring the Robert Ivey Ballet back to its classical foundation, which they discussed with the company’s director before he passed.
This year’s festival season will be the company’s first without Ivey. Their main production, Mesmerize, should give audiences a good idea of the company’s new direction, though you’ll see more than just classical ballet. “I think that would be a little too strong, or a little bit too harsh of a representation,” Wise says. “We feel that there has to be some representation of contemporary and neoclassical pieces.”
Mesmerize will feature a piece that’s been performed for more than 100 years, “Le Corsaire pas de deux,” along with a classical pas de deux from Firebird. Michael and Olga personally taught all the classical pieces in Mesmerize to the dancers, since they learned the original choreography in Russia from people who’ve handed it down for generations.
Most importantly, Wise wants to change the Robert Ivey Ballet Company’s reputation in Charleston as the “other” company. “For us, the hardest thing to push is to let people know that the Robert Ivey Ballet is not going anywhere.”