San Antonio Leaps for Joy Over Joffrey Ballet
San Antonio, with its historic Alamo and old Spanish missions, is the premiere tourist destination in Texas. But in 1992, city visionaries wanted to ensure that residents, especially school-aged children, had access to world renowned solo artists and arts groups.
To that end, ARTS San Antonio was formed more than 20 years ago. Since then, the nonprofit has presented famous performing artists and arts groups. With support from the city, businesses and foundations, ARTS San Antonio raised the artistic performance bar and attracted famous soloists and ensemble arts groups from around the globe.
A few of those who have graced the stage in the Alamo city include the world renowned Vienna Boys Choir, Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Medalists, Ballet Folkloric de Mexico Amalia Hernandez, The Romero’s, Spain’s “Royal Classic Guitar Family,” Julio Iglesias, and many others.
Now, ARTS San Antonio is kicking off “The Joffrey Experience,” as a prelude to a performance by the legendary Joffrey Ballet on March 8. Consisting of six major social events, the Joffrey Experience began with a “Champagne and Cinema” event. The elegant fete culminated with a PBS documentary that first aired Dec. 28, 2012. The film, “Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance,” chronicles its history.
“Champagne and Cinema, fabulous designer fashions, an elegant gala honoring the senior leadership and principal dancers of the Joffrey, the powerful centennial performance of the provocative “Rite of Spring” ballet and a Dance for Your Life Cast Party with the whole Joffrey troupe, we’ve got something for everyone,” said Margaret Kanyusik, co-chair of the events.
The upcoming performance is the talk of the town, since it’s been more than 20 years since the Chicago-based ballet company performed in Texas. The Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and Neiman Marcus are just two of the venues organizers have selected to “psyche up” ballet lovers and theater-goers to attend.
Founded by visionary teacher Robert Joffrey and legendary choreographer Gerald Arpino in 1956, the Joffrey Ballet will perform “Le Sacre du Printemps.” Igor Stravinsky's controversial ballet, which in English means "Rite of Spring," marks its 100th anniversary this year.
The original ballet premiered in 1913 in Paris and focused on an ancient pagan Russian ritual involving a young virgin. Parisians were poised to see tutus and hear the standard classical music from the 19th century.
Instead, the audience saw dancers donned in Russian peasant costumes. Dancers didn’t tip toe as much as stamp and gyrate to the music. In fact, the virgin protagonist swirls herself into a dying frenzy. Predictably, the non-conventional ballet caused a riot in the Paris auditorium where it made its debut.
Famed Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky originally choreographed “The Rite of Spring” for Ballets Russes. According to historical accounts, Stravinsky never intended his music to become a standard symphonic orchestra piece. Nevertheless, performances based on Nijinsky’s choreography ceased after 1920.
Then in 1987, the Joffrey Ballet revived the riveting ballet, complete with primitive sounds and pulsating music. It earned rave reviews wherever it was performed. Joffrey Ballet reached another milestone in the summer of 1987. For the first time in its history, Joffrey performed the Christmas classic The Nutcracker.
Unfortunately, Joffrey was visibly wasting away and deathly ill by that time. In March 1988, Robert Joffrey died from an immune deficiency-related illness. Gerald Arpino took the reins and guided the company until his death in 2007.
From the very beginning, Joffrey and Arpino blazed a trail away from the classical European ballet. So the revival of Rite was no accident or stroke of luck. George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet and New York City Ballet predated Joffrey. But his modern, innovative company broke ground in uncharted venues.
Joffrey Ballet was the first ballet company to grace the cover of Time magazine. It was the first ballet company to perform at the White House. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy invited the troupe to perform in the 1960s. It was also the first ballet to appear on television, and the first to visit Russia.
Joffrey’s humble beginnings began with six dancers, a borrowed station wagon, and a rented U Haul trailer used to crisscross the country. In keeping with its on-the-road tradition, Joffrey leaped into its 2013 season with a nationwide tour. Robert Altman’s “The Company” highlights its touring tradition.
The Joffrey Ballet was originally headquartered in New York City. It toured the country for several years before relocating to Los Angeles in 1982. By 1992, Arpino decided to return to New York. In 1995, he chose Chicago as its permanent home.
Today, with artistic director Ashley C. Wheater at the helm, the company continues performing avant-garde works and the traditional ballet classics, while remaining innovative and accessible.
“The Joffrey Ballet has celebrated the broad diversity of our art form, embracing the classical and modern, abstract and narrative, traditional and avant-garde. Underlying this eclecticism is a love of excellence and always, a deep regard for the human spirit,” writes Wheater.
This philosophy is in line with ARTS San Antonio’s desire to present globally significant solo artists and performing arts groups in the city and south Texas in hopes of improving the caliber of cultural experiences in San Antonio.
In January, the Joffrey Ballet performed in Dallas for the first time in two decades. March 5 and 6 it will perform in Austin. But no city in Texas has celebrated Joffrey’s return more than the Alamo city. All Joffrey Experience events, including a Feb. 6 Neiman Marcus fashion show, a March 7 McNay Art Museum soiree, Joffrey Cast Party, and Master Classes, are open to tourists and locals alike.
Proceeds from the events leading up to the ballet’s March 8 performance at San Antonio’s Lila Cockrell Theater benefit ARtsTEach. The nonprofit serves thousands of San Antonio’s elementary and senior high school students through its innovative arts education workshops.
Tickets and information on all the Joffrey Experience events may be obtained by calling (210) 226-2891. ARTS San Antonio website is artssa.org. For more information on the Joffrey Ballet, visit www.joffrey.org.
Rosie Carbo is the Lifestyles Editor for Wandering Educators, and is a former newspaper reporter whose work has appeared in newspapers and magazines nationwide. Some of those publications include People magazine, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio
Express-News. Some of her features were redistributed by The Associated Press early in her career as an award-winning Texas journalist.
Some information in the story was obtained from websites and press releases.
All photos courtesy and copyright Herbert Middoll, Joffrey Ballet