Matthew Adamczyk: Joffrey's dancing painter

May 7, 2014
Windy City Times
Lauren Warnecke

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Matthew Adamczyk, 29, grew up in central Massachusetts doing competition dance—"jazz, tap, ballet, acrobatics … all of it!" he said in an interview with Windy City Times. As a high school student at the prestigious Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida, Adamczyk auditioned on a whim for a dance company he'd never really heard of and got the job. Now in his 11th year at the Joffrey Ballet, Adamczyk has danced in just about every ballet in the company's repertory.

The Joffrey Ballet that Adamczyk walked into more than 10 years ago is very different from the company of today. Gerald Arpino was still at the helm; the company had been in Chicago about nine years. After nearly 20 years as the sole artistic director following the death of Robert Joffrey, Arpino's death in 2007 created a serious shake-up.

Now, sitting Artistic Director Ashley Wheater is taking Joffrey to new heights and has, in many ways, revitalized a company in mourning. Many dancers hop from company to company because the culture, directors, and rep start to feel stale, but the changes that Joffrey has endured over the last decade have allowed Adamczyk to feel continually refreshed and revitalized without leaving the city he now calls home. This is a luxury not many dancers are afforded, and Adamczyk has found a supportive group of friends and colleagues in Chicago, particularly in the LGBT community. Upon moving to Chicago, "I just allowed myself to be me and explore and find the community," he said, "and I have to say the gay community here was so welcoming."

Adamczyk is dancing as Tybalt in the U.S. premiere of Krzysztof Pastor's Romeo & Juliet. The ballet maintains the conventional storyline and Prokofiev score, but expedites the ballet to two hours and places the characters in the twentieth century. Even as a veteran, leading dancer, Adamczyk gravitates toward seemingly "lesser" roles. He portrayed Iago in last season's Othello, and has loved character roles such as an evil Stepsister in Cinderella. "It's definitely the [role] I wanted," he said. "Tybalt, for me, is a really strong character. I like the second character/villain role. I'm really trying to give Tybalt more a youthful feel—I don't want to say bratty—but there needs to be a distinct difference between Tybalt and Lord Capulet. The best way to portray that is with age and maturity level. Tybalt is very sophisticated in my eyes, but he's still a boy. ... Too much aggression can come off as dry, and you've got to make the audience like Tybalt as well."

Adamczyk has had to embody Tybalt, in addition to learning an alternate role, in less than a month. He draws from experience in youth theater and years of training to take choreography and characterization in quickly, but admits that the fast pace of working for an elite ballet company can be challenging. "We're trained to do it … but it's very difficult. Being a dancer is, apparently according to The New York Times, the second most stressful job. We put our lives in other people's hands and we're open to being criticized and critiqued constantly. We don't really have a say; we're just told 'this is how it needs to be; this is how you have to do it.' When your job is telling you 'no, no, no, no,' it's been a saving grace to do my own thing."

His "own thing," is an independent business as a visual artist. Adamczyk's whimsical style channels the pop art movement, with a big nod to his dancerly knowledge of the human form. He's pushing to establish himself as a painter while he's still dancing, in part to scratch a creative itch he can't get from dancing, but also to have a solid foundation to fall back on when he can no longer perform. A dancer's career is sometimes tragically short, and Adamczyk has nurtured both talents to keep his professional options open, rather than waiting until retirement to start promoting his paintings. Apparently, it's working. His work has been shown at the Guggenheim Museum, and at a growing number of Joffrey events. Recently Adamczyk was selected as a featured LGBTQ artist at Center on Halsted, where his work is currently shown in the second-floor gallery through May 27.

Lead dancer in a world-class ballet company, accomplished painter and an actor, to boot—it seems that Mr. Arpino was on to something when he hired a young kid from Massachusetts who had never heard of the Joffrey Ballet.

The Joffrey Ballet's Romeo & Juliet runs through May 11 at the Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Tickets are $31-$152; visit joffrey.org .

The LGBTQ Artists Gallery at Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St., is featuring Matthew Adamczyk's artwork through May 27 in the second floor gallery. Admission is free. Learn more about Adamczyk's work atdancingpainter.com .