Treefrog

The Joffrey's rebirth in Chicago

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In A Leap of Faith, Sid Smith of the Chicago Tribune writes about the Joffrey's rise, fall, and subsequent rebirth as a Chicago company.

What do long-time Joffrey watchers think?

The piece is largely a social study, long on history and economics and politics. But it has this to say about the Joffrey's artistic transformation:

And then there are artistic costs. The Joffrey, in its pre-Chicago days, continually broke ground and bubbled with new work. Here, it has become more of a repertory operation, restaging old successes and only dabbling occasioinally in premieres-a fate, to be fair, that plagues large, established ballet troupes worldwide. That has allowed for an ongoing festival of Arpino's lush, highly varied work and a return to the breathtaking commissions and revivals of its touring heyday, from Nijinsky to Tharp, from storytelling novelties of John Cranko to the company's groundbreaking rock ballets.

I must say, I'm appalled by a board co-chair who "admits candidly that '(he's) no aficionado of ballet'." But, in this city, I guess it's always who you know. If he can raise money and visibility and support, I suppose it doesn't matter if he personally enjoys the shows. But how can you truly support something you are not passionate about? Can you be the proselytizer that is needed?

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For housekeeping reasons, I thought I'd just add to this existing thread instead of starting another.

Major changes are afoot at the company. Adam Sklute is going to Ballet West, and taking Mark Goldweber with him as Ballet Master-in-Chief. (This was announced last night at an in-studio lecture/demonstration for contributors, so I hope that is public enough to be an official announcement.) Gerald Arpino is still Artistic Director, of course, but my impression from having attended contributor lectures and open rehearsals over the last couple of years is that his artistic staff was really in charge of the company's operations. (My impessions only, based on who did the presenting and how they spoke; others with more intimate knowledge of the company may have other, and more legitimate, takes.) Anyway: with Sklute's and Goldweber's departure, that leaves Cameron Basden as Associate Artistic Director and Charthel Arthur as Ballet Master, and Willie Shives as Assistant Ballet Master. Basden and Arthur have long associations with the company.

Another curiosity: next year we will see no choreography by Joffrey or Arpino (except for Nutcracker). The season as slated includes Giselle; a Tudor Centennial celebration consisting of Jardin aux Lilas, Dark Elegies, and Offenbach in the Underworld; and an American Modern program consisting of choreography by Paul Taylor, Mehmet Sanders, and Twyla Tharp. I cannot remember a season in the last five or six that I've been attending that did not feature choreography by at least one of the two company founders; usually, in fact, we've had entire programs devoted to their work, often titled something like Accent Arpino.

I am very curious to see how the situation evolves, in terms of staffing and artistic trajectory.

Again my impression, but administratively the company feels very solid. There were probably 60-100 people at the presentation last night, most of whom looked considerably better heeled than I. It feels as though the company is doing the things it needs to do to gather and maintain strong community support and financing (including inviting people like, apparently, me, who it feels can be enticed to give at higher levels by dangling the prospect of more in-studio demonstrations).

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....Sklute is going to Ballet West, and taking Mark Goldweber with him as Ballet Master-in-Chief. .....

Thanks for the insights, Treefrog. The departure of Goldweber is huge news. I'm dumbfounded, to be honest. That, along with the repertoire changes (no Arpino-Joffrey exc Nutcracker), makes me wonder what's really going on. I don't really follow the company politics but have thoroughly enjoyed their presentations over the years.

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Goldweber is supposed to mount Giselle in October. Is that still happening, or will the production be under someone else's care?

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Any signs that the "Joffrey Ballet" is transitioning to become the "Chicago Ballet," as an institution and community presence, if not in actual name?

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Goldweber is supposed to mount Giselle in October. Is that still happening, or will the production be under someone else's care?

I asked Cameron Basden that exact question. She said that current plans are still current plans, but that as this is all still in flux nothing is for certain. I hope that Goldweber will still do Giselle, as I was looking forward to seeing his take on it.

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Any signs that the "Joffrey Ballet" is transitioning to become the "Chicago Ballet," as an institution and community presence, if not in actual name?

They can't have the name, at any rate. A choreographer named Paul Abrahamson astutely snapped up "Chicago Ballet" for his company, which was formerly named "Moose Project".

Bart, your question is spot-on and pretty much what I was wondering when I posted. And if so ... what does that mean for the company and its focus? What will be seeing in coming years?

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In the 60s and 70s, the Joffrey was often described as "America's third ballet company" (after NYCB and ABT). For many, especially the younger among us, it was the definitely "second, " after Balanchine's company.

Now the Joffrey has settled in in Chicago, weaving ties of community loyalty and institutional support. I hope that they are able to keep their identity and links to their unique history and repertoire.

Great companies need a school -- ideally in their home city. Is a move to Chicago desirable for the Joffrey School? Is it feasible?

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I think you are right on track with the school idea, Bart. The company is doing a ton of outreach into the public schools and park district. It has some really cool programs to initiate new dancers to the art, and one program -- the Strobel Step-Up program -- to keep the most talented and committed of these kids involved. So far, though, no regular school. They are making the first foray with a two-week non-residential summer intensive this year, so many of us are hoping this will lead to something bigger and more permanent.

Perhaps someone else knows why they have not started one before? I've always assumed there were contractual issues with the NYC school -- we get the company, they get the school -- but I guess I don't know for sure.

Judging from the talk last night -- and most of the similar talks I've been to -- the company is still leaning heavily on its history. These talks are often heavily anecdotal, about "how Bob decided to do this" or "Mr. Arpino's inspiration for that." In this informal way, I still get the feeling they depend on the past for their identity. But ... these talks are pretty light and fluffy. Their main purpose seems to be to get the donors in, show 'em some ballet up close, and help them to feel connected by sharing stories. I still find the absence of Arpino/Joffrey choreography, and the introductions of new story ballets, to be the most compelling suggestion that changes might be afoot.

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Prior to Joffrey's arrival, Hubbard Street was unquestionably Chicago's biggest dance company. I believe founding director Lou Conte had Joffrey roots. Did the two companies jockey for support, or have they moved in different directions enough that there is no overlap?

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Goldweber is supposed to mount Giselle in October. Is that still happening, or will the production be under someone else's care?

I asked Cameron Basden that exact question. She said that current plans are still current plans, but that as this is all still in flux nothing is for certain. I hope that Goldweber will still do Giselle, as I was looking forward to seeing his take on it.

This has been the Joffrey style with information for years; less than a release, more than a leak. It hearkens back to Joffrey's secretive nature itself. It's part of why finding out things about the company has always been all fluxed up. It happens within the company, too, and you can never be sure until the casting notices are put up.

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I woke up this morning (literally -- my clock radio alarm is set to NPR) to the announcement that Gerald Arpino is stepping down and will become Artistic Director Emeritus in July. Here's the press release.

April 11, 2007 (CHICAGO)– The Chicago-based, world-renowned Joffrey Ballet is proud to announce that Gerald Arpino, legendary Joffrey Ballet Co-Founder and Artistic Director, will become Joffrey Ballet Artistic Director Emeritus as the company culminates its two-year 50th Anniversary celebration, July 1, 2007. Arpino, whose vast repertoire is the flagship of The Joffrey Ballet, was largely responsible for relocating the Company to Chicago in 1995. Arpino’s position as Artistic Director Emeritus is a lifetime appointment.

An international search for a new Artistic Director is being launched April 16th with the help of a consultant and a Succession Committee comprised of members of The Joffrey Board of Directors and Jon H. Teeuwissen, Executive Director, along with Arpino, the one constant over the first fifty years of The Joffrey who will have a significant voice in the succession planning.

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Wow.

That's a lot of transitions in a year. I wish them well.

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Thanks for that link, Holly. It's interesting that they are purchasing space in a new mixed-use tower rather than seeking a building of their own in a more outlying area.

The classical ballet company will reside on the third and fourth floors, to include administrative offices and seven state-of-the-art rehearsal studios, including a black-box theater. The first two floors of The Joffrey Tower will be retail; tenants are to be named by Smithfield Properties. Floors 9 through 32 will be condominiums.
I don't know how 45,000 sq feet compare with other companies of a similar size. Mixed-use seems to be the only way to go in the current down town real estate market in the biggest cities. I bet that having the Joffrey there -- and bringing its name: "Joffrey Tower" -- will add cache and glamour to the entire project. :)

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Now the Joffrey has settled in in Chicago, weaving ties of community loyalty and institutional support. I hope that they are able to keep their identity and links to their unique history and repertoire.
And with the new building, emphatically asserting its home turf.
Great companies need a school -- ideally in their home city. Is a move to Chicago desirable for the Joffrey School? Is it feasible?
It appears to be now!

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Indeed, having the school in Chicago would be preferable. The NY school hasn't been feeding the company in years. I can say that now without fearing of offending Edith D'Addario, who was an old and dear friend, but the school just isn't doing what a company school is supposed to do! Its raison d'etre is gone, too, as being the "neighborhood ballet school with the director living around the corner". I hate to say these things, but they've been bothering me for years.

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..... I hate to say these things, but they've been bothering me for years.

It's good to let it out. You speak for many. I think Edith D'Addario will continue to rest in peace.

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It's interesting that they are purchasing space in a new mixed-use tower rather than seeking a building of their own in a more outlying area. ... Mixed-use seems to be the only way to go in the current down town real estate market in the biggest cities. I bet that having the Joffrey there -- and bringing its name: "Joffrey Tower" -- will add cache and glamour to the entire project. :beg:

This location strikes me as just the right place to be -- especially if, as the architect's drawing shows, there will be a prominent marquee. It will put the company unescapably in the public eye at this hugely trafficked corner surrounded by stores (Marshall Fie .....er, Macy's) and theaters (the Chicago, Palace, Oriental, and Goodman are all within eyeshot), two blocks from Millenium Park and on the footpath between a commuter train station and downtown work areas. With those gorgeous looking windows, perhaps we can even glimpse the dancers at the barre.

My fantasy is that they will hold onto the current rehearsal space a couple of blocks down State St. and house the school there.

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My fantasy is that they will hold onto the current rehearsal space a couple of blocks down State St. and house the school there.

The plan seems to be for six studios plus one as a black box. It may just be me, but six was the number of studios at 434 6th Ave., but one was primarily storage, being a sort of vestibule for the freight elevator. The immediate propinquity of company and school made for a much more solid bond between the two institutions. It also made for higher visibility of the student body and subsequent advancement to second company, apprenticeship, and finally full membership in the main company.

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Arpino is stepping down in July and they're just starting their search now (mid-April)? That's an extremely accelerated schedule. When Pacific Northwest Ballet embarked on their search for a new AD I did some research about other companies who'd had similar experiences, and I don't really remember anyone trying to turn the whole thing around in 3-4 months...

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