Professor of Dance Fellow of Jesse H. Jones Regents Professorship in Fine Arts 1978-2013
Yacov Sharir, renowned international choreographer, dancer and much-beloved faculty member at the Department of Theatre and Dance, passed away September 29, 2023 at the age of 83.
Professor Yacov Sharir came to Austin in the spring of 1978 to start the American Deaf Dance Company. One day after his arrival he was invited to apply to, and later accepted, a position at The University of Texas at Austin’s dance for drama program. Thirty-six years later, UT’s dance program (renamed in the 1980s) has evolved into a leading model for other programs across the United States.
A duel citizen of Israel and the United States, Sharir spent his early career as a dancer with the Batsheva Dance Company School, the Stuttgart Ballet, and the Ballet Theatre Contemporaine in Paris. As a performer, he had the opportunity to work under the direction of many dance legends including Martha Graham, Jerome Robbins and José Limón. While touring with Batsheva Dance Company, he was asked by his peers to teach a class – a first for Sharir. He explains, “I don’t know why they turned to me because there were other company members who had teaching experience. I started teaching that class and have never stopped.”
In 1982, Sharir founded the Sharir Dance Company, the resident dance company of the UT Department of Theatre and Dance. The company, and later, Sharir + Bustamante Danceworks, introduced Austin to exemplary national and international artists whose work had previously been exclusive to the larger markets such as New York City. The perception of dance in the community was forever changed.
With ingenuity and determination, Sharir secured funding to commission a monumental ten-year project with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. The College of Fine Arts provided vital space for Cunningham’s rehearsals and in exchange the department’s students had unprecedented access to artists of the highest caliber.
As a choreographer and teacher, Sharir pioneered the use of new technologies, including virtual reality, intelligent fabrics and interactive systems in performance. His work earned him prestigious fellowships from the Banff Centre for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.
For Sharir, retirement did not mean slowing down. Determined to stay at the forefront of new technologies, he continued his research and choreographed new works that served as an incubator for discovery.
“There is a fortune in being a teacher in terms of what you give and what you get,” Sharir said. “To see the transformation in students’ lives is unbelievable. You’re not only teaching dance. You’re teaching your life experience and you’re sharing with them very precious moments. That’s a treasure.”