Joffrey Ballet to salute early roots in 'All Stars'

October 13, 2010
The Beverly Review
Kathleen Tobin


An American icon, the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago is the Windy City’s own increasingly respected jewel in the world of contemporary dance since the company relocated from New York and L.A. to Chicago in 1995.

Excitement runs high as the company opens its 2010-2011 season at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway, from Oct. 13 to 24, with live orchestral accompaniment by the Chicago Sinfonietta.

Titled “All Stars,” the program is a daunting, challenging tribute to the genius of George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Christopher Wheeldon, three choreographers whose innovative artistry made the New York City Ballet (NYCB) one of the most highly respected contemporary dance companies in the world.

The Joffrey owes much to the internationally acclaimed NYCB, founded in 1948 by Balanchine, considered the world’s foremost contemporary choreographer.

It was back in 1956 that Robert Joffrey, with Gerald Arpino as artistic director, formed the Robert Joffrey Company and began touring the country. The first performance in a major city as the Robert Joffrey Theatre Ballet was in Chicago in 1957.

The company made its home in New York, but when it was forced to reinvent itself after losing its patron in 1965, it became the Joffrey Ballet Company. To help the fledgling company get on its feet, NYCB choreographers Balanchine and Robbins generously offered their talents.

Also contributing to the Joffrey’s artistic welfare was Wheeldon, a member of England’s Royal Ballet who came to New York in 1993 and served as resident choreographer at the NYCB from 2001-2008.

Ashley Wheater, a former Joffrey dancer who left his position as assistant director and ballet master of the San Francisco Ballet in 2007 to become only the third artistic director of the Joffrey, dedicates this series of performances “to the creative force of the New York City Ballet, in gratitude for the support we have received through the years from these choreographers.”

And what a star-studded repertoire this “All Stars” program promises to be with the capable dancers on the Joffrey roster presenting three Joffrey premieres: Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” Robbins’ “The Concert” (or “The Perils of Everybody”) and Wheeldon’s “After the Rain,” along with Balanchine’s “Tarantella,” which was premiered by the Joffrey last spring.

In the Stravinsky piece, revised in 1972 from a 1941 endeavor, Balanchine forms two contrasting pas de deux, one soft and lyrical, the other sharply angular, that are rooted in the folk dance traditions of Georgia, then a part of the Soviet Union.

Wheeldon’s “After the Rain,” an exquisite piece set to the minimalist classical music of Arvo Part, is the first time Wheeldon has awarded the rights to perform the entire piece to a company other than his own.

Again, there are striking contrasts. The first section is marked by three couples in steel-gray costumes, creating bold lines and intricate lifts; the second shifts to a tender relationship as dancers explore the space between them in an emotional push and pull. Set to the music of Frederick Chopin and played onstage by a pianist, Robbins’ “The Concert” is a light-hearted satire of dance in a series of vignettes. Balanchine’s “Tarantella” (1964) is an explosive pas de deux set to the “Grand Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 67,” by Louis Moreau Gottschalk.

Tickets are available at the Joffrey box office, 19 E. Randolph St., at (800) 982-2787 or online at