Robert Ivey, a distinguished dancer, choreographer and artistic director, will be remembered for the many lives he touched in the Charleston arts community.
He died Friday after a long illness. Born in Australia in the 1930s, Ivey came to the United States as a high school student following the death of his parents.
Founder and artistic director of the Robert Ivey Ballet and director at the Robert Ivey Ballet School, he studied ballet at the American Ballet Theatre School while attending Columbia University in New York as a pre-med student in the 1950s, eventually earning a degree in radiology before turning to dance full time. Ivey later would study at the Ballet Arts School in Carnegie Hall.
His professional credits included major roles on Broadway and in Europe — among them the New York and London productions of “West Side Story” — and his work earned numerous grants and awards. Ivey was a member of the Swedish State Theatre and Royal Norwegian Ballet and performed on European tours with such stars as E. G. Marshall, Sada Thompson, Ester Rolle and Liv Ullmann.
Ivey had served as dancer and choreographer in residence for the Brevard Music Center and for the Spoleto Festival USA. He was a past president of the Charleston Area Arts Council and a professor of dance in the Theatre and Dance Department in the School of the Arts at the College of Charleston.
Colleagues said Ivey’s influence is felt widely in Charleston area artistic circles, and that his example would endure.
Mayor Joe Riley said that Ivey “made such a wonderfully positive impact on the arts scene in Charleston, and touched so many lives in the process.” He added that Ivey had been involved in the local arts scene for as long as Riley has been mayor, and was always ready to help with community activities. “He was just such a bright spirit, a ray of sunlight.”
Tony Roe, a principal dancer with the Robert Ivey Ballet Company, said he has been dancing with the company for 30 years.
“When I was 13, Bob told me that I should always stay with the ballet. He said it would give me a thread to connect to other people. He said it will open you to the world in a way you can’t imagine. And he was right.”
Winner of the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award from the South Carolina Arts Commission for excellence in the Arts, Ivey directed and choreographed productions for the College of Charleston’s Center Stage while also directing productions for the Robert Ivey Theatre Series, Charleston Opera Company, East Cooper Theatre and the Footlight Players Theatre.
Through the years he steered numerous musicals for the Piccolo Spoleto Theatre Fringe while also coordinating the Piccolo Spoleto Dance Series.
“The biggest thing I would say about Bob is that it is a huge loss to the Lowcountry, and that he will be sorely missed by a lot of the people in the arts, not only in the world of just dance, but all over the United States,” said colleague and friend Jill Eathorne Barr of the Charleston Ballet Theatre. “He has taught many young dancers a love of dance he loved so much himself.”
Ivey, one-time national artistic director for Don Davis Impresario Europe Tours, traveled to Colombia, South America, in October 1986 to act as the dance consultant for Incolballet, the National Dance Company, a post sponsored by Partners of the Americas in Washington, D.C.
In recent years, Ivey was an artistic director for the South of Broadway Theatre Company and also directed and choreographed “Many Moons,” the first opera to be performed at the College of Charleston.
His association with the Piccolo Spoleto Festival dated to its founding in 1979.
“In our experience working with him, we found him to be one of the most generous, hardworking members of Charleston’s arts and cultural community, making enormous contributions to the quality of life in the Lowcountry,” said friend and collaborator Ellen Dressler Moryl, director of the Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs.
Funeral services will be announced later.
Editor's note: Previous versions of this story contained an error.