Treefrog

Wilkins' contract not renewed by Joffrey

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This is stunning news. Sid Smith reports in this morning's Chicago Tribune that

Maia Wilkins, the Joffrey Ballet's lead ballerina for most of its dozen-plus years here, will leave the troupe at the end of this season. Her departure is dramatic evidence that new artistic director Ashley Wheater will not be timid in making his mark. Wheater, named to his post last fall, recently told Wilkins and her husband , fellow Joffrey dancer Michael Levine, that their contracts won't be renewed

Wilkins' reaction:

"It's a surprise, but one I'm at peace with," Wilkins said Friday. "Whenever there's a change in management, there will be shifts, and this is one of them. It's Ashley's company now."

In addition,

"Ashley has been gracious about letting us pick our farewell," she said. As a result, during the troupe's May engagement, Wilkins and Levine will dance Arpino's "Sea Shadow," and she and longtime partner Willy Shives will perform Arpino's "Ruth, Ricordi per Due."
Edited by Treefrog

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Now, I'm a little stunned by the lack of chatter about this.

We're not talking "3rd dancer on the left" here. Wilkins has for most of the company's time in Chicago been THE leading ballerina, the woman cast in the leading role on every opening night. She is also a great audience favorite.

I'm not surprised that Wheater is making changes, but .... getting rid of one of the most prominent dancers in the company? Is Calvin Kitten next?

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Now, I'm a little stunned by the lack of chatter about this.

We're not talking "3rd dancer on the left" here. Wilkins has for most of the company's time in Chicago been THE leading ballerina, the woman cast in the leading role on every opening night. She is also a great audience favorite.

I'm not surprised that Wheater is making changes, but .... getting rid of one of the most prominent dancers in the company? Is Calvin Kitten next?

I'd love to hear more about WHY wheater has made this decision. It seems very peculiar. Have there been any further news articles on it?

It is also interesting that he excised both husband and wife--if he'd just gotten rid of one, the other might have left--but clearly he was determined to have them both go...

How old are they? Are they likely to look for another home? Or retire?

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Wilkins is 38. The news just appeared in the Chicago Tribune today and there are no clues as to the motive behind it or whether she and/or Michael plan to retire.

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It's a good question though - thanks for asking it, Aurora. Definitely one we ought to discuss.

To make things clear from an administrative point of view (I have my moderator beanie on) so people don't feel inhibited in discussion, there are speculations it's ok to make - they'll never be in a newspaper.

"Maybe X wanted to change the look of the company."

"Maybe X didn't like Y as a dancer."

are all topics for discussion.

Just don't post speculations about a sensitive issue ("Well, X may drink too much" or "I heard Y wasn't let go, but was fired.")

unofficial news ("I heard from a friend of Ashley Wheater's mother that. . .")

or a personal attack.

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We're not talking "3rd dancer on the left" here. Wilkins has for most of the company's time in Chicago been THE leading ballerina, the woman cast in the leading role on every opening night. She is also a great audience favorite.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think she's been cast as the "star" on any of the opening nights this season -- which is unusual and noteworthy as it WAS almost a given in recent years.

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Maia Wilkins is one of my favorites. Over the years I've watched her dance in many roles. I'm shocked and disgruntled.

The Chicago Tribune article mentioned that Wilkins was a potent muse of Arpino. Pure speculation, but in the corporate world new CEOs often replace people who were close to the former CEO.

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Well, Wilkins has had a good run with the company, and I'm willing to take her statement that she is "at peace" with the decision at face value. That she and Michael will dance "Sea Shadow" as a farewell is a signal honor. It hearkens back to the days of the Robert Joffrey Ballet of the Harkness period, and is a very Joffreyan touch to the long history of the company brought down to the present day.

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She was a favorite of mine too, and of many people, judging from the applause she got. "Shocked and disgruntled" is a good way of putting it, Cliff.

Your analogy is apt, although being a biologist I would have likened it to how a male lion kills the existing cubs -- the offspring of his predecessor -- when he takes over a pride. It brings the females into heat sooner so he can sire his own cubs right away instead of waiting.

Mel, she HAS had a good long run with the company, and I wouldn't have been the least surprised to hear she was retiring.

Wheater, by the way, will be interviewed on our local NPR station's "Hello Beautiful" program this morning (10 am Central time) -- this is just a general heads up, I don't know or expect that he'll be talking about hiring/firing decisions.

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I spoke with Denise Jackson shortly after her retirement from Joffrey, and I observed that, "It was the right time to do it: When you say it's time, and nobody else."

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Watching the Joffrey the other night I was wondering, ironically, who Maia would be partnered with, with Willy Shives' retirement at the end of the season. Theirs were such a magical, beautiful partnership. I was also noticing what a strong, fine job Michael Levine was doing in this two roles....

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