In the 20 years since the Joffrey Ballet last performed in Dallas, the so-called “company of firsts” moved from New York to Chicago, lost co-founder Gerald Arpino and became the subject of a PBS documentary tracing its rich, volatile history.
The group’s return Friday and Saturday as part of the TITAS series at Winspear Opera House comes at another landmark moment: the 100th anniversary of Igor Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky’s revolutionary collaboration, Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring).
The program includes historian Millicent Hodson’s 1987 reconstruction for the Joffrey of Nijinsky’s original choreography for the Ballet Russes, which was thought to have been permanently lost until Hodson dug up archival notebooks and interviewed some of the original dancers. The piece had been seen only a handful of times after the primal choreography and Stravinsky’s experimental score, now considered one of the greatest pieces of music of the 20th century, created a scandal at the 1913 premiere in Paris.
“It was such a pivotal point of change for how people thought about composition,” says artistic director Ashley C. Wheater, a former company dancer who took the reins of the Joffrey in 2008 after Arpino died.
“Stravinsky’s music is so raw and so tribal, and Nijinsky wanted to emulate the music with all the steps and formations. He was very much pushing against the classical ballet art form,” Wheater says. “It’s just barbaric and so completely unlike what the audience had seen before that it upset them.”
Le Sacre du Printemps shares the Winspear bill with two contemporary works, former New York City Ballet dancer and resident choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain from 2005, and Edward Liang’s Age of Innocence, a 2008 commission by the Joffrey.
This is how the Joffrey has operated since Arpino and Robert Joffrey started the company in 1956. As leaders of the first American ballet troupe unconnected to classical European traditions, they were out to experiment with new ways of moving.
In 1973, for example, they hosted the first “crossover” ballet, Twyla Tharp’s Deuce Coupe, which was danced by the Joffrey together with Tharp’s modern company to songs by the Beach Boys.
The Joffrey also was the first dance company to perform at the White House, the first and only to land on the cover of Time and the first to appear on American television. Over the years, Joffrey dancers have performed work by such contemporary choreographers as Mark Morris, William Forsythe, Laura Dean and Paul Taylor. Of After the Rain, which is set to Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa and Spiegel im Spiegel, Wheater says, “It’s a very bold piece of work in two movements. It explores the relationships and the space that surround us as individuals. In its very simplistic way, it’s so emotionally driven. It’s amazing how it affects an audience.”
Age of Innocence is inspired by the novels of Jane Austen and the Edith Wharton book of the same title and concerns “the rules and roles for women” during that period, Wheater says.
“Women were introduced to a suitable man through social interaction,” he says. “What Edward loves about Austen’s novels is the women are very strong. It’s a commentary on that time.”
Manuel Mendoza is a Dallas freelance writer. He blogs at dfwdance.wordpress.com.
Receive special offer alerts and updates right to your phone!Text joffrey to 366948 to opt into Joffrey Mobile Alerts
© Joffrey Ballet. All rights reserved.