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A phoenix called Joffrey.

If we have learned anything from mythology, one thing seems certain--you can't keep a good phoenix down. You can reduce it to ashes if you like, but before you know it, the old bird will be up and flying. So it has been and, hopefully, ever will be with the Joffrey Ballet. Although perhaps this time we could at least call a moratorium on the ashes thing.

Not for the first time the Joffrey has relocated. At one time it was going to become bicoastal, with one leg pirouetting in Los Angeles and the other offering a rond de jambe in New York City. The Angelenos eventually proved less hospitable than it was hoped, and after a period of limbo verging on chaos, the Joffrey has now come to roost in Chicago, that toddling town, most American of cities, home of America's finest architecture and a theater center of no little moment. Congratulations are in order. As are prayers.

Chicago has been trying to acquire a ballet company of national dimensions for many years, many, many years. Ruth Page and Maria Tallchief are merely two of the names inscribed on Chicago's roll of honor commemorating choreographic institutions that have come and gone, or at least floundered. But there are those who might say that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, although founded as long ago as 1891, and enjoying the services of conductors such as Frederick Stock and Rafael Kubelik, did not really find true international status until Sir Georg Solti assumed its command in 1969. And while today Chicago theater enjoys a national reputation, perhaps second only to New York, that reputation took a time in building. There are occasions when Chicago appears to toddle quite slowly--but it gets there.

So the Joffrey Ballet has become the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. It is clear what there is in the move for Chicago. But what is there in it for the Joffrey, and, indeed, the American dance world in general? After all, the company's circumstances have radically changed. A company that was once rooted in New York City while touring nationally, and was grouped together with New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and all the major modern dance companies, is now aligned--perhaps more sensibly--with such resident ballet companies as San Francisco Ballet, Houston Ballet, and Boston Ballet. The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago is a valuable addition to that list, but it has possibly lost something, for the time being, in stature.

Changes obviously are occurring--consider simply the emerging status of San Francisco Ballet--but so far, in ballet, as in opera, the only U.S. city to be able to maintain troupes on a consistently international level is New York City. This, fascinatingly, is not true in orchestral music. I have already mentioned the Chicago Symphony, but that, like the New York Philharmonic, is merely one of a number--five? six? seven? I'm not qualified to say--of world-class orchestras across the United States. But all these orchestras have extended seasons in their own cities and can draw their soloists from the music world at large and their repertoire from history.

The dance world is rather different. Although Boston, Houston, and, particularly, San Francisco nowadays make a substantial number of appearances in their hometowns, none of them appears as much as NYCB does in New York City, and few do as well as American Ballet Theatre. In its brief heyday, the Joffrey danced two six-week seasons at City Center each year. These appearances, added to rehearsal periods, made New York City a home in a way that, for the present time, Chicago can quantitatively hardly match. In recent years, mind you, the Joffrey has appeared in New York City only briefly and sporadically, so this is not a present consideration.

A home had to be found, and New York City was not really a practicability. However, the particular quality that made the Joffrey a company of national importance--that mixture of museum repertoire (it had the only important eclectic repertoire of twentieth-century ballet classics in the country, and one of the finest in the world) and laboratory experiment (it was often on dance's cutting edge)--can perhaps only exist in the special milieu of New York City, with its enormous catchment potential for a sophisticated audience, and its particular possibilities for specialist teaching.

For all that, it will be a pleasure to see Chicago prove New York City wrong--and, yes, Chicago does have special links with the Joffrey. My friend and colleague Ann Barzel, who has done as much as anyone for the cause of Chicago dance, writes effectively and affectionately of those links elsewhere in these pages. I remember well that first Chicago season of the reconstituted, post-Harkness Joffrey of 1965. It was a year later, just thirty years ago, after the Joffrey had appeared at City Center, that Morton Baum invited the company to replace NYCB as a City Center constituent. Indeed for a time the company was known as the City Center Joffrey Ballet.

Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino had a dream--to combine the old with the new. Joffrey, in particular, was a connoisseur of the classic ballet repertoire, and the company at its best was a combination of his taste and Arpino's creativity. Arpino has always been an oddly underrated choreographer; he has suffered more than most from that odd syndrome of American dance criticism that classic American choreographers fall into two categories--Balanchine (a few grudgingly include Robbins) or dog's meat--but much of the Joffrey character came from Joffrey's cultivated journeys into ballet history. Frederick Ashton, Leonide Massine, Kurt Jooss, Diaghileviana--all these were essential strands in the Joffrey fabric.

The Chicago plans sound vigorous--even if they do include another season of that double-edged, life-saving threat to the company's survival, Billboards, to music by a singer once known as Prince danced by a company once known as Joffrey. But while the Joffrey intends to continue its international touring (with thirty--five dancers it is now one of the smaller regional troupes), it remains to be seen whether the repertoire will maintain the unique quality that this company once so magically possessed. But Chicago is giving it a new start, a new lease on life, and the chance to build perhaps another--even more fascinating--character.
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Title Annotation:Joffrey Ballet Company
Author:Barnes, Clive
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Column
Date:May 1, 1996
Previous Article:Miami City Ballet.
Next Article:Awards.

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