Sunday, February 27, 2011

* Vergiu Cornea: A Century, 1912 - 2011

Vergiu Cornea in the Ithaca College Theatre 
performing his original choreography, 
Pavane Triste, (1969)
to Ravel's 
Pavane for a Dead Princess

When Vergiu Cornea  (pronounced CorNAYuh) emigrated to America's Ithaca, New York,  from Roumania in 1956 he had lived under two tyrannies:  

As Premier Danseur of the Berlin OpĂ©ra Comique and  Balletmeister of the Hamburg Statsopera, he had been given a personal armed enforced Nazi military escort to the theatre every night at the order of Goebbels during Hitler's reign, an armed guard to stave off the actual wolves which roamed the streets at the time;
as a Roumanian citizen, he had fled post- World War II communist rule in that Iron Curtain country, where he had performed in trio as dancer with ballerina Iris Barbura and pianist Sergiu Celibidache, later an internationally acclaimed conductor.
Iris Barbura

When he arrived in Ithaca in 1956, where his partner, Iris Barbura had preceded him, America's anti-communist xenophobia prevailed and he wound up being, not a celebrated artist but a janitor in the Ithaca YMCA, "cleaning toilets" as he liked to remind listeners.

A lucky break landed him a job as ballroom dancing instructor at Cornell, and then the pioneering presidency of Howard Dillingham, who would build an all new Ithaca College campus  from scratch on South Hill, provided opportunity for Cornea to become Instructor of Drama and Dance in Ithaca College's nationally known Drama Department. 

He retired at 65 in 1978 having risen to Associate Professor of Drama and Dance, and still lives in Ithaca on the eve of his 98th year.

Twenty-three years of students have felt his exacting artistic influence, including this writer, who had him as an Acting 101 teacher in 1964 in what was left of the downtown Ithaca College campus, the theatre and speech buildings. 

After several years of lobbying beginning in 2003 as Cornea was about to turn 90, I persuaded the Ithaca College alumni magazine to do a feature article about the maestro in 2006, which they entitled Prince of the Dance.

It was worth the wait: 

That excellent article by Barbara Adams can be read by clicking on the link above.  After it was published alumni, who had been Cornea's students, banded together and nominated him for the Alumni Association's Distinguished Faculty Award, which he received the following year.

Note:  Mr. Cornea died this year, 2012, at age 99, almost reaching his 100th birthday.