|Principal venue||Joffrey Tower
|Artistic Director||Ashley C. Wheater|
|Associated schools||Academy of Dance|
Corps de Ballet
The Joffrey Ballet is a professional dance company resident in Chicago, Illinois. The company regularly performs classical ballets, including Romeo & Juliet and The Nutcracker, while balancing those classics with pioneering modern dance pieces. Many prolific choreographers have worked with the Joffrey including Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, George Balanchine, and founders Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey. Founded as a touring company in 1956, it was based in New York City until 1995. The company is now headquartered in Joffrey Tower.
In 1956, a time during which most touring companies performed only reduced versions of ballet classics, Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino formed a unique six-dancer ensemble that toured the country in a station wagon pulling a U-Haul trailer, performing original ballets that were created by Robert Joffrey. While Joffrey stayed in New York City to teach ballet classes and earn money to pay the dancers' salaries, Gerald Arpino led the troupe across America's heartland. The ensemble's first performance in a major city occurred in Chicago in 1957. The Joffrey Ballet originally settled down in New York City, originally named the Robert Joffrey Theatre Ballet. In 1962, modern choreographer Alvin Ailey was invited to make a work for the company. Rebekah Harkness was an important early benefactor and she made international touring possible (Soviet Union, 1963). But in 1964 she and Joffrey parted ways.
Joffrey started again, building up a new company that made its debut in 1965 as the Joffrey Ballet. Following a successful season at the New York City Center in 1966, it was invited to become City Center's resident ballet company with Robert Joffrey as artistic director and Arpino as chief choreographer. The 1960s and 1970s were a golden era for the company. Arpino's 1970 rock ballet Trinity was a big hit; Joffrey revived Kurt Jooss's The Green Table in 1967, followed by revivals of Ashton's Façade, Cranko's Pineapple Poll, Fokine's Petrushka (with Rudolf Nureyev), and Massine's Le Tricorne, Le Beau Danube and Parade. In 1973, Robert Joffrey asked Twyla Tharp to create her first commissioned ballet, Deuce Coupe. The company continued as City Center Joffrey Ballet until 1977. From 1977, it performed as the Joffrey Ballet, with a second home established in Los Angeles from (1982-1992). In 1995, the company left New York City and returned to Chicago to establish a permanent residence. The first several years in Chicago were financially arduous for the company, causing it to nearly shut its doors more than once; however, recent years have seen a significant revitalization as the performances have attracted larger and younger audiences. In 2005, the Joffrey Ballet celebrated its 10th anniversary in Chicago and in 2007 concluded a very well received two-season-long 50th anniversary celebration, including a "River to River" tour of free, outdoor performances across Iowa, sponsored by Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa.
The Joffrey Ballet has been hailed as “America’s Company of Firsts.” The Joffrey Ballet’s long list of “firsts” includes being the first dance company to perform at the White House at Jacqueline Kennedy’s invitation, the first to appear on American television, the first classical dance company to use multi-media, the first to create a ballet set to rock music, the first American company to perform a rock ballet in Russia (bringing with it the first American rock band ever to perform in Russia), the first and only dance company to appear on the cover of Time magazine, and the first company to have had a major motion picture based on it, Robert Altman’s The Company.
The Joffrey Ballet appeared in the major motion picture Save the Last Dance (2001), when the two protagonists of the story saw the company perform Sea Shadow and Les Présages in Chicago. It was also the subject of Robert Altman's penultimate film, The Company (2003). This movie stars Malcolm McDowell as the ballet company's artistic director, a character based on Gerald Arpino, and is composed of stories gathered from the actual dancers, choreographers, and staff of the Joffrey Ballet. Most of the roles are played by real-life company members.
Currently, the company comprises 42 dancers and performs its regular October-May season at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, and engages in several domestic and international tours throughout the year. Its repertoire consists of both classical and contemporary pieces, as well as annual December performances of The Nutcracker, presented in conjunction with the Chicago Sinfonietta.
On July 1, 2007, Gerald Arpino, co-founder, resident choreographer, and artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet, retired from day-to-day operations after 50 years with the company, taking the title artistic director emeritus, which he held until his death on October 29, 2008. In October 2007, Ashley Wheater, assistant artistic director and ballet master for San Francisco Ballet, and former Joffrey dancer, became the third person to serve as artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet when he was named as Gerald Arpino’s replacement.
The Joffrey, is now located permanently in its new facility, Joffrey Tower, at 10 East Randolph Street in downtown Chicago, Illinois. The company’s commitment to public access is met through the most extensive touring schedule of any dance company in history, an innovative and highly effective education program including the much lauded Joffrey Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, and collaborations with myriad other visual and performing arts organizations.
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