Joffrey Ballet’s Beginnings
In 1956, Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino formed an ensemble of six dancers to tour around the country to perform original ballets by Robert Joffrey himself. Money wasn’t as abundant for them at the time, as they toured around in a station wagon that pulled a U-Haul trailer filled with costumes, supplies and luggage. Most of the touring was done with Gerald Arpino, while Joffrey stayed in New York City to teach ballet classes and earn extra money to pay the dancers’ salaries.
It’s original name, as the company settled down in New York City, was the “Robert Joffrey Ballet Theatre.” Shortly after, in 1962, Alvin Ailey was invited to create a work for the company. Rebekah Harkness was an important benefactor to the company, even making an international tour to the Soviet Union in 1963 possible, but shortly after, she and Joffrey parted ways.
Shortly after, in 1965, Joffrey started building a new company, now called the Joffrey Ballet. They were soon invited to become the New York City Center’s resident ballet company, after a successful season performing there in 1966. Robert Joffrey was to be the artistic director while Gerald Arpino would be chief choreographer.
Joffrey Ballet’s Golden Era
The 1960s and 70s is considered a golden era for Joffrey Ballet, with much critical acclaim and successes across the board. During this time, Arpino had great success in 1970 with his rock-ballet “Trinity,” and many revivals by Joffrey, such as Fokine’s “Petrushka” (featuring Rudolf Nureyev), Massine’s “Le Tricorne” and Cranko’s “Pineapple Poll.” In 1973, Twyla Tharp created her first commissioned ballet, “Deuce Coupe,” for Joffrey Ballet upon invitation by Joffrey.
While performing at the City Center, the name actually evolved to “City Center Joffrey Ballet,” until 1977. They then soon established a second home in Los Angeles, which lasted about a decade (from 1982 – 1992). In 1995, the company left New York City and established a permanent residence in Chicago, Illinois. Unfortunately, the first several years proved to be financially difficult for the company, almost closing its doors on a few occasions.
A New Home for Joffrey Ballet
Luckily, the tough years did not last long, with the company celebrating its 10th year in Chicago in 2005, and in 2007 finished a two-season long 50th anniversary celebration where the company performed a tour of free, outdoor performances across Iowa.
Joffrey Ballet now does their day-to-day rehearsals in the new Joffrey Tower, located on East Randolph Street in downtown Chicago.