For the first time in more than 25 years, the Joffrey Ballet, one of America's great ballet companies, will perform in Gainesville.
And, ladies and gentlemen, this is a very big deal.
The 7:30 p.m. Tuesday performance at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts will feature three 21st century works on the program: “Night,” “After the Rain” and “Pretty BALLET.”
Based in Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet was formed in 1965 in New York City by Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino. In 2007, current Artistic Director Ashley Wheater took the reins as only the third person to direct the company in its entire history.
Wheater, who was a member of the company from 1985 to 1989, was born in Scotland and trained at the Royal Ballet School.
The Joffrey is famous for its golden age of new works in the '60s and '70s, in which it embraced rock 'n' roll and pop culture. Today, it retains a level of prestige among audiences around the world.
“I think when audiences watch the company, they see a quality of movement of the total body,” Wheater says. “Coming from the Royal Ballet School training, and being coached by [Rudolph] Nureyev, I believe the art of port de bras [arm movement] is so important. I really emphasize this in the company and it shows in our productions.
“To me a good dancer is someone who can move their entire body correctly while with a sense of full freedom. I think in our company, you see that freedom of movement, of not being afraid to reach the fullest extent of the movement,” Wheater says.
“That knowledge of how to move freely with expression is what we aim for, and I think it comes from how we structure our day, how we teach company class.”
The Joffrey presents itself as “America's Company of Firsts,” and for good reason. It was the first American ballet company to appear on television, the first to perform at the White House (at the invitation of Jackie Kennedy), the first (and only) ballet company to take the cover of Time Magazine, the first to perform on Soviet soil, the first to use both rock music and, later, multi-media.
The Joffrey is also unique in its structure of performers — no dancer holds a title of principal or soloist; there is no “official” hierarchy. Dancers hail from Paris, Madrid, Sicily, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janiero, London and Havana as well as from across the U.S., of course.
Wheater remembers performing with the Joffrey Ballet in Gainesville 1985 or '86, and dancer Victoria Jaini, a Republic of Georgia native who joined Joffrey in 2003, performed in Gainesville that same year as a guest star with Gainesville Ballet Theatre.
Tuesday's program will begin with Julia Adam's “Night.” Inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall and with a commissioned score by Matthew Pierce, “Night” was premiered by the San Francisco Ballet in 2000.
Next on the program will be Christopher Wheeldon's “After the Rain,” a 2005 New York City Ballet world premiere for three couples. “After the Rain” has garnered much international public and critical acclaim.
The final piece, “Pretty BALLET,” is a Joffrey Ballet commission by choreographer James Kudelka that the Joffrey premiered two years ago. The work is an exploration of romantic ideals and industrial ideas as they relate to art.
“‘Pretty BALLET' was created for the company, and it's a large body of work,” Wheater says. “When you look at ‘Night,' it has a wonderful, naive sensibility about it. And then of course you have ‘After the Rain,' which is really something that people everywhere need to see; I really am convinced it is a work that needs to be seen.
“It's very intimate, so placing it between the two other pieces of work, your eye is able to rest a bit before ‘Pretty BALLET,' a tour de force for the entire company. We end with a huge body of work so that the program builds. It builds in size, it builds musically, it builds technically.”
Tickets for Tuesday's performance range from $30 to $45 and are available by calling 392-2787 or at www.performingarts.ufl.edu.
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