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Joffrey names new Artistic Director

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This is the text of an email I received this afternoon:

June 24, 2007

Dear Subscriber,

I am proud to announce that following a five-month international search, Ashley Wheater has been named Artistic Director of The Joffrey Ballet, effective immediately. Wheater was the long-time ballet master and assistant to The Artistic Director of the San Francisco Ballet and former member of The Joffrey Ballet, The Royal Ballet, and The London Festival Ballet (The English National Ballet) companies. Of historical significance, Wheater becomes the Company’s first Artistic Director after Gerald Arpino and the late Robert Joffrey, who co-founded The Joffrey in 1956. Mr. Arpino became Artistic Director Emeritus in July 2007.

“It is a huge honor to be asked to take over The Joffrey Ballet from Mr. Arpino. This company is dear to my heart and is responsible for bringing me to America 24 years ago,” said Wheater.

The announcement has been under wraps until our Board of Directors voted on it this afternoon. I apologize that we could not share this information with you sooner due to negotiations and confidential reasons with Ashley leaving The San Francisco Ballet Company.

Please go to our Web site to read the complete press release at www.joffrey.com

Thank you,

Jon H. Teeuwissen

Executive Director

The Joffrey Ballet

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We'll see, we'll see. This could be another "take two steps back, three forward", familiar to all old Joffreyites. Or it could be something else. Anyway, congratulations to Mr. Wheater, and may he and the company prosper.

(Mr. Joffrey might have a hard time "rolling over". A third of his ashes were scattered at sea, A third are in the columbarium at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, right next to Bobby Blankshine's, and a third are on the mantelpiece at Gerald Arpino's. I suppose they might rotate, but it would get rather damp when Puget Sound came pouring into the cathedral, or a solemn procession {with incense} came trudging through Arpino's house!)

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Ashley Wheater has made MANY fans in his time here in San Francisco -- as a star dancer, as the best partner of his day, as ballet master, as a scintillating Drosselmeyer in Tomasson's new production of The Nutcracker, where he's a very cool, totally hip uncle, as ballet master, as teacher of the open classes the public gets to see, onstage at the opera house, where his combinations, and his panache in showing them, are extremely stageworthy....

He'll be really missed around here. But he's likely to be a very good thing for the Joffrey. All the best to him -- and to them all -- in Chicago.

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Re Giselle. I can't say whether or not Joffrey should be dancing it, but are making a good start by bringing Frederick Franklin in to coach them. Here's what Arpino says about the choice of ballet:

“I have always loved the ballet Giselle as a complete piece of Theater. The story is transcendent in its simplicity and takes audiences to a different dimension of themselves. Presenting Giselle, a standard of the classical repertoire is a radical move for The Joffrey but as the premiere ballet company of Chicago, our audiences deserve to see this great work performed by our brilliant company of dancer/actors.â€
Sounds like the Jeffrey,now that it's something llike the municipal ballet of Chicago,feels the pressure to broaden its repertory by including full-length classics as well as their more typical programs. A new leader from San Francisco Ballet -- with its canny balance of different kinds of choreography -- would seem a smart choice if that's the goal.
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Well, well . .looks like Joffrey will continue to abandon their contemporary roots . .such a shame. I have been heart sick since the company moved to Chicago. A mere shadow of the the glory years under Bob's leadership. Starting wtih Giselle?? . . Joffrey is rolling over in his grave!

Welcome to the board, Stage Left. Even if Mr. Joffrey could roll over in his grave, I doubt he'd be at all upset about "Giselle." The Joffrey always had an eclectic repertory and was probably most admired for its stagings of Ballets Russes ballets. He also staged "La Vivandiere," "Konservatoriet," some Balanchine, and lots of Ashton.

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Well, well . .looks like Joffrey will continue to abandon their contemporary roots . .such a shame.

I never saw the company in its former glory, but I think it has been forced to change and keep up with the times. Frankly, a lot of the old "new" stuff doesn't play so well these days. What was refreshing and startling then, isn't so much now.

Personally ... I will be happy to see less Joffrey and Arpino choreography. Heresy, I know, but there it is.

What I hope is that they don't lose all historical pieces that they have kept alive. However, to some extent they have to perform what the public wants and is willing to pay for. Remember, this company was on the verge of collapse and has literally been brought back from the brink. In the process, they lost most of their "folksiness" (the "we're wrapping the season with a party; come join us at XXXX restaurant after the show" announcements in the program have been replaced with "we're holding a $350/ticket gala at the Lamborghini dealer; bring your checkbooks"). I think it will be extremely interesting to see how the company continues to balance its legacy with its need for support. Knowing nothing about Mr. Wheater, I wish him well and look forward to his direction.

As for Giselle: I suspect it is the sort of smaller, shorter full-length ballet that the company puts on with such charm. (Along the same lines, I wish they'd revive La Fille Mal Gardée, but given that it is not well known and is not likely to draw an audience here in the provinces, I suspect it is a vain hope.) I say good for them for trying something new! The orginal plan was to have ex-Ballet Master Mark Goldweber stage it. I am thrilled that Frederick Franklin was brought in to coach (along with ... Virginia Johnson? ex-DTH). Sir Frederick, by the way, was totally charming at a subscriber event a couple of weeks ago. I want to be able to hop off daises at age 93!

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I'm not sure that bringing in Ashley Wheater means bad things for contemporary choreography at Joffrey. He's ballet master at SFB, which of the major ballet companies in the US probably has the strongest contemporary repertory - it's far more their signature now than their classical works. Wheater was an accomplished classical dancer himself so who knows, he may be able to offer Joffrey the mix it prefers.

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There was not much I liked about Arpino and his work, but I have/had the utmost respect for Robert Joffrey's restoration and maintenance of the Diaghilev legacy. His support of Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer's attempt to recreate The Rite Of Spring by Nijinsky was valient, whatever you think of the result, and a tribute to his mentor Marie Rambert. He is the one who found the notated manuscript in Ms. Rambert's attic, after she passed.

"Fille" was delightful (remember Edward Stierle?), and we were fortunate to see "Cottillion" and the other Diaghilev ballets. Maybe Wheater (and I'm not familiar with him at all) will bring some of those back.

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Amy Reusch here is a quote from the Wheater inview in the Chicago Sun regarding his choreography.

...I am not a choreographer. But I am a very good coach and teacher. I love doing that, and my time in the studio with the dancers will be of crucial importance to me.” ...

Mr. Wheater is indeed a very talented teacher and coach. He has seemingly endless energy and is a very kind and professional person.

As for Mr. Goldweber, Paul Parish, he in now with Ballet West.

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One of the purposes of going into a newly-built studio complex is to give the company a stable home in which to create, maintain, and restore repertory. After Joffrey opened his school at the corner of 6th and 10th in Manhattan, a great deal of staging happened, just as a consequence of not having to compete for hired studio space.

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