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Joffrey Ballet


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US ballet company founded in New York but now based in Chicago. It grew out of the Robert Joffrey Ballet Concert, which first performed at the New York YM-YWHA in 1954. A chamber ensemble, it drew its dancers from the American Ballet Center, which was directed by Joffrey and Gerald Arpino. In 1956 the company started to tour, initially as Robert Joffrey Theatre Ballet. In 1960 it became the Robert Joffrey Ballet. At that time the repertoire featured ballets by Joffrey and Arpino; its mandate was to be specifically American. The commissioning policy was adventurous: when Alvin Ailey was invited to make a work, it was a pioneering example of a ballet company turning to the world of modern dance. Ten years later the Joffrey invited Twyla Tharp to make her first work for a ballet company and the resulting commission, Deuce Coupe, was one of the biggest hits in its history. Rebekah Harkness was an important early benefactor, and among the developments she made possible was extensive foreign touring, including the company's first trip to the Soviet Union in 1963. But in 1964 she and Joffrey fell out, and most of the repertoire and the dancers were taken into the newly founded Harkness Ballet. Joffrey started all over again, building up a new company which made its debut in 1965 as the Robert Joffrey Ballet. Following a successful season at the New York City Center in 1966 it was invited to become the theatre's resident ballet company with Joffrey as artistic director and Arpino as chief choreographer. The 1960s and 1970s were a golden era for the company with Arpino's successful rock ballet Trinity (1970), Joffrey's revival of Kurt Jooss's The Green Table (1967) and revivals of other early 20th-century classics like Ashton's Façade, Cranko's Pineapple Poll, Fokine's Petrushka, and Massine's Le Tricorne, Le Beau Danube, and Parade. In 1973 Tharp made her second work, As Time Goes By, for the Joffrey. 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. During the 1980s ballets by Forsythe, Kylián, Kudelka, Morris, and Dean entered the repertoire. In 1987 Joffrey's most important piece of dance archaeology took place when he directed a revival of Nijinsky's 1913 ballet Le Sacre du printemps, reconstructed by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer. Following Joffrey's death in 1988 Arpino took over and despite one temporary falling out with the company board he continued Joffrey's policies. As well as bringing new choreographers into the company, Arpino acquired a revival of Massine's Les Présages in 1992. Also in 1992, with his eye firmly on the box office, he commissioned four choreographers, Laura Dean, Charles Moulton, Margot Sappington, and Peter Pucci, to make a new populist work for the company. The resulting ballet, Billboards, set to music by the rock star Prince, earned the company millions but the shallowness of its choreography and designs also generated much damaging criticism. In 1995 the Joffrey was suffering a financial crisis and had to relocate from New York to Chicago. In 2007 Ashley Wheater was appointed Arpino's successor, re-focusing the company with revivals of its heritage repertory while bringing in works by Wheeldon, Helgi Tomasson, and others. In 2003 Robert Altman's film The Company used the Joffrey for its fictional portrait of the daily life of a ballet company.

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Subjects: Dance.


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