Summer dance festivals are one of the highlights of the season, and we can’t get enough of them. Our correspondent Abbie Martin Greenbaum shares the highlights from the Joffrey Ballet’s June 2022 visit to New York City for a special Pride Month tribute, Bubble Gum Pop, and gives us a preview of the company’s 2022-23 ballet season in Chicago.
the timeless appeal of the Joffrey Ballet
In this turbulent world we live in, we are surprised over and over again by one beautiful thing: the power of art to carry us through even the most difficult times. And not only to carry us, but to transform. To take on new shapes, new ideas, and new mediums; to become whatever the world needs it to be, in order to do the most good.[white_box]
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This chameleonic superpower is perhaps easiest to observe in long–standing arts organizations. The groups that have existed for years or decades, and have had to evolve, shifting to suit any circumstances they may face.
One of these is The Joffrey Ballet. A decades-old dance company founded on a belief in the transformative power of art, Joffrey Ballet was first started in 1956 by Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino. The company began as a touring six-person ensemble, traveling the country with a station wagon and a U-Haul.[white_box]
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From those scrappy early days the company grew in stature and influence. In fact, the Joffrey ensemble earned the prestigious nickname “America’s Company of Firsts.”
They earned this moniker because of the many “firsts” they achieved as a dance company. Everything from the kind of music they used in their performances (they were the first to use rock) to moments spent in the spotlight (they were the first dance group to perform at the White House. Joffrey was the first company to make an appearance on American television. And the first to enjoy a cover on TIME magazine.
These firsts show the group’s commendable willingness to adapt – because the only way to blaze a brand-new path, as Joffrey Ballet did, is to be willing to become something brand-new yourself.
In 1995, the Joffrey finally found their permanent home in Chicago, where they have been performing ever since. Over the years, they have changed leadership, but their tenacious, transformative soul has remained the same. And lucky for the rest of us, they still find the time to share their inspiring work with the rest of the country.
Recently, members of The Joffrey Ballet visited New York City for a special project.
The Joffrey Ballet honors Pride Month in New York in June 2022
Every summer, Roosevelt Island’s Four Freedoms State Park transforms their central staircase into a rainbow flag installation in honor of Pride. This June, the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy commissioned Action Lines – a group that consists of Joffrey Ballet artists, Xavier Núñez and Dylan Gutierrez, as well writer and producer Eric Grant – to create a special video with the installation as its setting.
In the video “Bubble Gum Pop,” Fernando Duarte of Joffrey Ballet is featured dancing across the park, with a triumphant finale on the flag itself. Throughout the film, Duarte peels away layers of their old costumes, in a joyful celebration of the fluidity of sexuality and gender. “Bubble Gum Pop” is available for everyone to watch online.[white_box]
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Of this project, Action Lines said, “This commission is an unapologetic example of personal expression and reminds us of the power of art to further dialogue on human rights. With this work, we wanted to create an intimate portrait of gender and sexual identity by honing in on the journey of an individual dancer. The larger-than-life Pride Flag in the FDR Four Freedoms State Park represents a beacon of hope and freedom that the dancer expresses through movement and transformation. We hope that this triumphant narrative emboldens people of all gender and sexual identities to live their most authentic lives and know that their dreams and desires are celebrated.”
The connection between Action Lines and The Joffrey Ballet should come as no surprise. This statement and project both speak to the same principle upon which the company was founded – a belief that art has the power to change the world.
And in order to transform others, art must first be willing to transform itself – to stretch itself into the shapes that allow it to make the biggest difference. And with this video project, Action Lines has done just that. In mixing film and dance, they allow their message to reach a wider audience – making their performance accessible to those who may never have seen it otherwise. The film is a perfect example of the way their art has evolved an continues to keep evolving.
We see the same elastic values reflected in Joffrey Ballet’s 2022-2023 season, which features an exciting range of talents and styles. All performances will take place at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House, where the company is currently in residency.[white_box]
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Opening the season, “Beyond Borders.” This is a “mixed program that celebrates the magnetic, lyrical talent of friends past and present.” The night will include three dances:
“Suite Saint-Saëns” choregraphed by Joffrey cofounder Gerald Arpino; a world premiere choreographed by Chanel DaSilva; and the Baroque-inspired “Vespertine” by Liam Scarlett.
In December, Joffrey revives a beloved tradition with their annual performance of “The Nutcracker”. It is a holiday classic, set at Chicago’s 1983 World’s Fair.
And in early 2023, the company will begin the year with “Anna Karenina,” choreographed by Yuri Possokhov. It is followed by a version of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” choregraphed by John Neumeier.
Of course, art’s power to transform does not stop at its creative output. Art also has the ability to educate; to permeate entire communities. And Joffrey Ballet understands this.
As well as providing Chicago – and the entire region – with some of the country’s best performances, Joffrey Ballet is also committed to educating the next generation of dancers. And this they accomplish through both The Joffrey Academy of Dance, and also Joffrey Community Engagement.
These programs work in tandem to train young dancers. They provide access to the entire community, opening up the world of dance to people of all ages and all skill levels. After all, if art has the power to change the world, then shouldn’t everyone have access to that power? Joffrey Ballet lives up to this belief with their programs.
The legacy of Joffrey Ballet of Chicago is an inspiration. It also provides a road map to other arts organizations who are hoping to stand the test of time. If they can engage with the community around them, and find the willingness to adapt and change, then they too can blaze a path into the future.
The Joffrey Ballet makes magic for Pride Month 2022 in New York
Those are some of the highlights from the Joffrey Ballet’s June 2022 New York visit for Pride Month, their work Bubble Gum Pop, their origin story, and a preview of the 2022-23 ballet season. If you’ll be in Chicago this fall or winter, dear reader, make time to take in a performance (or two). We promise, it will be restorative – and perhaps even transformative.
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Abbie Martin Greenbaum grew up in New York City and currently lives in Brooklyn, where she drinks a lot of coffee and matches roommates together for a living. At Oberlin College, she studied English and Cinema, which are still two of her favorite things, along with dessert and musical theater. She believes in magic.