The cofounders of The Joffrey Ballet were thrust into the world of ballet by unlikely circumstances. Robert Joffrey began dancing as a boy in order to remedy his asthma, and Gerald Arpino became interested while serving in the Coast Guard. In 1942, Arpino had been stationed in Cold Bay, Alaska, where he happened to see Russian sailors folk-dancing aboard his military vessel. He was mesmerized, and shortly thereafter he became acquainted with Joffrey because of a friendship between their mothers. The unlikely partnership between the two proved to be one of the most important in American ballet and dance.
In the summer of 1956, with a cramped station wagon and a troupe of six eager dancers, The Joffrey Ballet as we know it today began to take shape. Joffrey and Arpino had been working and touring to spread interest in their new ballet and dance company. Arpino’s job at the time was to tour the country and perform the original ballets that Joffrey had created. To fund the troupe’s travels, Joffrey remained behind in New York City teaching ballet and using that money to pay Arpino and the dancers. Joffrey and Arpino were not interested in doing what other ballet and dance companies were doing. Over time, The Joffrey Ballet would succeed because of a willingness to dance around the time-tested traditions of ballet.
Bending the rules of ballet paid off for Arpino and Joffrey, as The Joffrey Ballet would go on to become the first dance company to perform at the White House, the first to perform on television, the first to perform using multimedia, the first (and only) company to appear on the cover of Time, and the first company to have a major motion picture based on it. Most notably, the company was the first to perform a rock-‘n’-roll-inspired ballet, among other equally groundbreaking performances. By continuously challenging the classical boundaries of ballet and dance, The Joffrey Ballet has found a seat amongst the best companies in the world.
JET LINX CHICAGO IS PROUD TO BE A PART OF SPREADING THAT JOY AROUND THE CITY.Katy Glynn
From the very beginning, The Joffrey Ballet set out to differentiate themselves from other dance companies. While many companies in the 1960s were performing shortened versions of classical ballets, Joffrey was composing his own original works that were bending the rules of ballet. In 1971, Joffrey set his ballet to rock music in Trinity, and before that his performances included evocative choreography that was uncommon at the time. Joffrey found even more success with Billboards, a 1993 production that featured commissioned works from acclaimed rock artist Prince.
The Joffrey has been unique in its embrace of pop culture and its youthful energy. Audiences of all ages come to see not only rock ballets, but dances by European choreographers whose works are rarely seen in America and were thought to be lost at one point in time. The Joffrey is most well known for a reinterpretation of The Nutcracker, and their use of multimedia during performances that add an extra layer for audiences.
“The kind of ballet they’re producing is so unique and so creative,” shared Katy Glynn, Director of Jet Card Sales for Jet Linx Chicago. “They layer live opera, beautiful costumes, amazing choreography and storyline, as well as cinematic effects. You don’t need to be a dance aficionado to appreciate it. It all enhances and elevates the experience, no matter what you expect from a ballet. It was incredibly engaging yet held to the traditional beauty of ballet and dance. I think people coming from outside of Chicago would find it worthwhile to come and enjoy a performance. You won’t see anything like it elsewhere.”
The Joffrey Ballet held its 17th annual gala event on April 12, called UnGala, with Jet Linx Chicago serving as a proud Legend Sponsor. UnGala was named as such because of the unconventional format, featuring a company performance followed by an experiential evening of gourmet food, artistic performances, and dancing from company artists throughout the heralded Lyric Opera House. Jet Linx was a sponsor inside of the Graham Room, a traditional dining room and lounge area with 25 tables for ten. For the evening of the gala, it was transformed into a live jazz lounge.
The evening kicked off with performances by the Joffrey’s Company dancers, including Lorelei, Bells pas de deux, Anna Karenina and an excerpt of Andrea Walker’s HOME, which is part of the Joffrey’s spring program Across the Pond. After the performance, guests explored the Lyric Opera’s many levels and were greeted by pop-up performances and experiences throughout the venue. From dancers in the stairwells, stilt-walkers on the main floor and underground drag superstar performances, there was an experience around every corner. Guests enjoyed playful cuisine such as bison sliders and seafood paella, as well as cake pops featuring the likeness of the Joffrey’s President and CEO, Ashley Wheater, imprinted in sugar.
“Ashley Wheater and the Joffrey have the courage to innovate and push boundaries, to move forward, but to be respectful of the past and not to get stuck in it. This has inspired us to do what we can to support his vision. I think this new event mirrors the Joffrey’s excellence, artistic mission and creativity,” said Joffrey Women’s Board member Laura Kofoid.
The UnGala raised $1.4 million in funds for the Joffrey’s operations and programming, including its community engagement programs. The proceeds from the event provide students of all ages the opportunity to foster creativity and confidence through the art of dance.
The event in 2019 was also a teaser for what will be possible when the Joffrey begins performances at the Lyric Opera. The move will not be complete until 2020, but the UnGala served as a preview for what might be possible in the future with both the Opera and The Joffrey Ballet living under the same roof.
“The Lyric Opera is an icon, and The Joffrey Ballet is an icon,” noted Glynn. “We are happy to support the transition to help these two cultural centers merge. Ballet is such a great art because it breaks through all sorts of barriers: language barriers, age, ethnicity, background, etc. It’s an art form that people can celebrate together and Jet Linx Chicago is proud to be part of spreading that joy around the city.”
“In many ways The Joffrey Ballet is a reflection of Jet Linx Chicago and the city itself, and we are proud to support it. It’s vibrant, evolving, a mix of formal and informal, traditional and avant garde, with people moving from one to the other with ease, appreciating the diversity along the way. This is a great way to become part of the bigger community.”
AN INTERVIEW WITH DYLAN GUTIERREZ
Many professional dancers begin as crossover athletes, so when and why did you choose ballet?
I started dancing at a really young age because my mother is/was a dance teacher. I was always around while she was teaching, so she just started having me join in. I basically grew up in it, but at the same time I was really interested in basketball. I was a huge fan of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Stephon Marbury. At around 10 years old I felt I may have been fantasizing about basketball, but I found myself more dedicated to ballet. I realized that in ballet I could make use of my emotions and my athleticism, so that really drew me in.
What is it about dancing that you love, compared to other physical activity or athletics?
I definitely feel a high when dancing, and I enjoy working to get my dancing seamless. It’s an amazing feeling to have a rehearsal or a show just flow, and that feeling only comes from putting in the work to get it there. When I’m on stage and I look out at the crowd, I feel I have control over everyone in the room. That’s a powerful feeling, it gives me a sense of responsibility like ‘These people are here, and they want a show, so let’s give them one!’
Do you have a history of injury? How do you stay healthy, or do you just get used to the pain?
I don’t have a history of injuries yet. I am really lucky in that way, but I have a history of pain. I’ve had knee pain since I was about 13. I do a lot of partnering and that can start to deteriorate your body because you’re constantly lifting, lunging, and holding someone else’s body, so your own priorities and safety can sometimes go out of the window. I try to stay healthy by listening to my body. I know when to push and I know when to take it easy and I have been doing it for so long that I feel I have a pretty good handle on it.
This season I got a bad back spasm mid-show and it was really frightening, but my partner didn’t know until the end of the show because it was my responsibility to keep her relaxed and feeling safe. I was sweating so much from the pain, but I made it through, and triumphs like that are great because sometimes it’s a mind-over-matter situation. That’s when I feel like ballet is a bit of a sport.
What is the most difficult part of being a ballet dancer? Is it the physical demands, the schedule, learning choreography, the work/ life balance…?
To me, the most difficult thing is remaining consistent and continuing to get better as you get older. A lot of people find their niche, and then just ride that out their whole career. I try my hardest not to do that and The Joffrey has given me the opportunity to perform roles and dance ballets that a lot of people my height don’t get to do. I’ve thrived in those situations because I take the challenge and say ‘Yes, I can do this, and I’ll increase my value by proving I can.’
What do you want people to know in order to truly appreciate ballet and dance?
I would like people to not be intimidated by not knowing anything about dance. For example, I didn’t used to know much about baseball. I thought it was silly and slow but being a sports fan, I started to learn about it and appreciate different aspects of the game. If you just come to see the ballet and you come with an open mind, I think you would be surprised about what you can take away from it. Ballet is viscerally impressive, but it also has added depth to it, like the way a painting can affect you intellectually and emotionally.
What do you love most about The Joffrey Ballet, and what makes it different compared to other ballet companies?
I love The Joffrey Ballet because it is a caring environment, and it’s a really fun environment. I think the bulk of our success and work can be attributed to the fact that we are having a great time (kind of like The Golden State Warriors). Sometimes the dancers (including me) get tired and grumpy, but we always manage to pull ourselves out and turn up again for whatever is next.
What does it mean for The Joffrey Ballet to be taking up residence at the Lyric Opera? Is this the beginning of a new era?
It’s definitely the beginning of a new era. Through our hard work, we are now on the world stage, which is right where we belong. We’ve turned into a world-class company that draws in dancers from all over the world. Moving to The Lyric and being connected to an Opera House is going to help facilitate our new status as one of the best companies in the world.