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Joffrey Ballet's Big 5-0

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 18, 2005 3:33PM

It's been ten years since the Joffrey Ballet, nearly broke and in an artistic rut, left their Manhattan home for Chicago’s broad shoulders—and deep pockets. Forty seasons into their existence, the troupe was still working to put down roots and cement their national identity. Ten years prior, founders Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino were stirring up the dance world with productions more athletic and overtly sexual than typical ballet. Ten years since, the company has overcome massive debt and the occasional harsh critic to become a firmament in the Chicago dance community and the stars of a major motion picture.

Joff50.jpgAs the Joffrey kicks off their Golden Season Thursday, it’s no surprise that a company persistently paying tribute to Joffrey and Arpino’s unique, and sometimes polarizing, vision will be honoring their own most celebrated moments. For some companies, such a retrospective might simply feel like a rehash. But the Joffrey’s inspiration is seemingly everywhere—classical ballet, storybooks, modern jazz, Broadway, psychedelic culture, even Purple Rain—and so much ground can be covered in just one year.

Long-time champions of Sir Frederick Ashton’s work, the company leads their opening triple-header with The Dream, Ashton’s engaging interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Putting a modern spin on classical ballet and drama, this show reminds audiences why they’ve built such a following. Joffrey was also the first American company to produce Jiri Kylian's Return to a Strange Land, a haunting meditation on his mentor’s sudden death that returns to the stage this week. No season would be complete without an Arpino show. This year’s selection is Celebration, which he created for the company’s Silver Season but hasn’t been produced since. Hopefully that’s not an omen.

JRJ.jpgReliable as lavish Christmas shop windows, The Nutcracker returns for two weeks this December. February brings more Shakespeare as John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet returns. Joffrey was the first to produce this work in America… are you sensing a theme here? Cool Vibrations closes the season. You can decide whether avant-ballet set to the Beach Boys is brilliant or something we should never speak of again.

Pictures via Joffrey Ballet