Whatever you're into, it probably has a trinity.
Cars?: Detroit's Big Three are General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.
Basketball?: The NBA's most hyped trio consists of the Miami Heat's LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
And in U.S. ballet circles, the Big Three (arguably) are the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Joffrey Ballet.
Next week, the dance company equivalent of GM (it's an appropriate
comparison; dance troupes are notorious for bouncing back despite
financial setbacks) will pirouette into the area when the Joffrey Ballet
makes its Santa Barbara and Thousand Oaks debuts. The ensemble will
take the stage Monday at The Granada in Santa Barbara, then perform
March 13 at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.
Tom Mitze, director of the Cultural Affairs Department at the Civic
Arts Plaza, said he has been "working on getting the Joffrey Ballet for
The Joffrey Ballet has been around a lot longer than the Civic Arts Plaza, SUVs or LeBron James' ego: 55 years.
Founded in 1956, the Joffrey, based at first in New York City and now
the pride of Chicago, has been through a tortuous artistic arc:
scrappiness, experimentation, popular success, critical praise and
scorn, battles with a benefactor, geographic transplantations, and
heartbreaking (and hidden) deaths from AIDS in the 1980s.
In that turbulent 55-year history, however, the Joffrey has been led
by only three artistic directors. The trinity began with founder Robert
Joffrey, who held the job until he died of AIDS in 1988, followed by
choreographer and company co-founder Gerald Arpino. Current A.D. Ashley
C. Wheater, a former Joffrey dancer and ballet master at the San
Francisco Ballet, has been in charge since 2007.
The New York Times' Jennifer Dunning, in a 2005 article marking the
Joffrey's 50th birthday, wrote that during the Big Three ballet
companies' heyday, American Ballet Theatre "was grand classical ballet
in the European mode" and the New York City Ballet, founded by George
Balanchine, "captured the speed and style of New York City," while the
Joffrey "was the most American of the city's three major classical
companies in its embrace of pop culture and its youthfulness." The
Joffrey featured not only "rock ballets and Mr. Arpino's fleet-footed,
vivid crowd-pleasers but also dances by European choreographers whose
work was rarely seen in America."
Wheater is following founder Joffrey's philosophy of respecting
tradition while also being not-too-traditional. The company is solid,
but edgy — contemporary, classical and experimental all find room in the
Wheater, in an interview this week from Chicago, said that when he
became artistic director four years ago, he was aware of the company's
"extraordinary history. It had its very triumphant and bleak times, and
the move to Chicago (in 1995) was the saving of the company. People here
were determined to make it live and survive, but because they were in
survival mode, there were not a lot of new works."
During his tenure, Wheater said, the company has premiered seven or
eight pieces, from story-length narratives to shorter, more abstract
"I think I parallel Robert Joffrey in that I believe that to be an
eclectic company is to be really exciting — to be able to sit on the
edge of many styles and techniques, and to tour and show people what
we're doing," he said.
Modern, classical language
The touring group features 32 dancers.
Don't expect a lineup of all-willowy women.
"Robert Joffrey recognized that a true dancer was about many
things, not just a certain physical type," Wheater said. "I feel that
way too. I want dancers who really, really hear the music, have a
personality, and understand the many layers that make a great artist,
opposed to someone beautiful who can stand and pose. In this company
there's a place for many different types of dancers. We've got a
6-foot-6 male dancer; it's really beautiful to see someone like that
The Joffrey's program for the Thousand Oaks and Santa Barbara shows
embraces the company's repertoire of yesterday and today, with a few
kisses planted for California.
The program will feature four works: "Reflections" and "Sea Shadow"
by Arpino; " smile with my heart" by Lar Lubovitch; and "Age of
Innocence" by Edwaard Liang.
Wheater said the program "doesn't necessarily have a theme, but lots
of people in California have a real love affair with the Joffrey,"
especially SoCal: The company became bicoastal when it was the resident
dance company at the Los Angeles Music Center from 1982-1992.
"Reflections" and "Sea Shadow," Wheater said, pay tribute to the
past, and Arpino, who died in 2008. The other two pieces on the bill
"are where the company is today."
The program opens with Arpino's "Reflections," which "a lot of people
would say is his most beautiful neoclassical work," Wheater said. "Sea
Shadow," a pas de deux set to music by Ravel, follows a man who falls in
love with a sea nymph.
Lubovitch's " smile with my heart," created in 2002 to celebrate
the 100th anniversary of the birth of Richard Rodgers (Oscar
Hammerstein's other composing half), features composer Marvin Laird's
"Fantasie on Themes by Richard Rodgers." The ballet is named after a
lyric from the refrain of Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's "My Funny Valentine:
"you make me smile with your heart."
Liang's "Age of Innocence," with music by Philip Glass and Thomas
Newman, was the first piece Wheater commissioned for the Joffrey. "It
definitely shows what the Joffrey is today: a versatile, energetic,
individualistic company," Wheater said. Choreographer Liang "had read a
lot of Jane Austen novels, where if someone wanted to introduce you to
someone, it all happened through social dancing. Ed has taken that idea
and used the language of classical ballet in a contemporary way."
Wheater refers often to the "language" of dance.
"I don't think the Joffrey is going to roll into town and do
'Sleeping Beauty,' " Wheater said. "We'll leave that to American Ballet
Theatre, which can do it to its full glory, and has the right number of
dancers. I would like us to be a company always doing new work, but
using the language of classical ballet."
Many new works, he explained, contain "a lot of angst, but sometimes
it becomes fragmented pieces, not a whole, getting caught between being
pseudo-classical and pseudo-contemporary. I don't want to be that. And
sometimes contemporary work becomes very thematic, but the themes end up
permutating within themselves."
Lure of the west
Wheater said he doesn't know if the Joffrey will ever return to do a
California residency, in L.A. or elsewhere, but when the company brought
"Cinderella" to Los Angeles last year, shows were sold-out, so "I think
the love affair with the Joffrey on the West Coast is still strong."
Recalling his days in San Francisco and dancing with the Joffrey in
L.A., Wheater said he has a personal attachment to the Golden State. "I
love California," he said. "My partner and I have a farm north of Paso
Robles. So our heart is still in California. Hopefully in the next 15-20
years we'll retire there."
Always looking forward but with an eye to the best of the past.
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