One of the most prestigious dance companies in the world, The Joffrey Ballet has a reputation for boundary-breaking performances with a mix of all-time classics, modern masterpieces, and original works. That stellar reputation has been shaped by Greg Cameron, who has been leading The Joffrey Ballet as president and CEO since 2013, and Ashley Wheater MBE, The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director.
“Over the last several years, the Joffrey has striven to curate performances that speak to our ambitions, provide a voice to rising choreographic talent, and reach audiences everywhere,” says Wheater.
This season, the Joffrey will add nine new dancers to the company—Davide Oldano, Coco Alvarez-Mena, Wictor Hugo Pedroso, Natali Taht, Zach Manske, Nae Kojima, Basia Rhoden, Sergei Osminkin, and Annabelle de la Nuez— who hail from across the globe. Think everywhere from Miami, Florida and St. Paul, Minnesota to Tallinn, Estonia and Turin, Italy.
“I select artists who possess both strong technique as well as a depth of artistry,” says Wheater. “They also demonstrate a versatility that is key to taking on our unique and diverse repertoire and to evolving as an artist.”
Cameron elaborates, “These individuals bring many different backgrounds and experiences, talents, and personalities. Ashley is exceptional at recognizing talented and emerging dancers who embody the exceptional level of creativity that makes the Joffrey unique. Our Board chair, Anne Kaplan, is also deeply committed to their growth onstage and off; part of our overall vision to give every Joffrey artist the tools to be exceptional artistic and cultural ambassadors.”
The dancers will help The Joffrey Ballet kick off its second season at the Lyric Opera House with live music performed by the Lyric Opera Orchestra, conducted by Joffrey Music Director Scott Speck. “Our partnership with Lyric Opera has created a perfect situation as far as presenting transformative and powerful dance,” says Cameron.
The 2022-23 season—the Joffrey’s 67th—features inspiring new commissions from artists like Chanel DaSilva, Cathy Marston, and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa as well as classics like Suite Saint- Saëns from the Joffrey’s own Gerald Arpino, paired with back-to-back grand story ballets—Anna Karenina and The Little Mermaid—by two giants of the art form in Yuri Possokhov and John Neumeier.
Neumeier’s haunting interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairytale The Little Mermaid—with an original score by Lera Auerbach—is soon to be the largest production ever mounted by the Joffrey and will premiere in April 2023. It’ll follow the tormented mermaid heroine on a journey between the divergent worlds of land and sea—one utterly complex, the other magnificently serene.
“This isn’t the Disney animated film version of The Little Mermaid but instead a sophisticated take on the fable,” says Wheater. “The sets and costumes are of the grandest scale. It demands the highest level of artistry from the dancers and is technically demanding. The company is more ready than ever to take on this exciting challenge.”
Since the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020, the Joffrey has persevered through countless obstacles, learning to embrace ambiguity and uncertainty with a renewed focus on what the Joffrey does best: presenting worldclass dance to the city it calls home and providing dance education to students everywhere.
In the next five years, Cameron says the Joffrey will continue to focus on its strategic initiative and a rebrand of its educational programming “Joffrey for All,” envisioning a three-tiered approach for a holistic Joffrey education, including exposure to dance through Joffrey Community Engagement, scholarships, and training at the Joffrey Academy of Dance. The Joffrey has every intention of leading from the front, bringing new ideas about what dance and dance education can be to a growing generation of artists looking to make an impact. New dancers Oldano and Kojima were promoted from the Joffrey Studio Company, a professional training program within the Joffrey Academy that is described as the “penultimate step to becoming a professional dancer.”
“I truly believe community makes us stronger,” says Cameron. “A foundational principle of our founder Robert Joffrey was that dance was for everyone. Our ‘Joffrey for All’ programming is a reflection of that principle and also the core of the Joffrey’s mission to make dance accessible and relatable. It’s about collaboration, partnership with the community, honoring and supporting artists, and telling stories that truly move people.”
When Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino founded The Joffrey Ballet in 1956, they must have known that spotlighting rising choreographers and emerging talent would be vital to the longevity of ballet. As Robert Joffrey once said, “Classical ballet is our core, but it is not our circumference.” That’s something Wheater inherently understands, too.
Wheater, in partnership with Raymond Rodriguez, Abbott Academy Director of the Joffrey Academy of Dance, helped bring the Joffrey’s ballet for young audiences Rita Finds Home to fruition this summer with an all-woman creative team made up of choreographer Amy Hall Garner, author Karla Estela Rivera, and illustrator Elisa Chavarri.
The collaborative project between the Joffrey and Miami City Ballet made its debut at the Navy Pier Lake Stage in July and will be remounted again next summer with performances around the city.
“Our art form must constantly evolve to remain relevant and have a place in this everchanging world,” says Wheater. “Performing the classics and simultaneously bringing in rising choreographers to set work on our company is what shapes the type of artists that have always made up the Joffrey—those who can perform a technically demanding ballet like Don Quixote and then turn around and perform a much more contemporary work. Nurturing and embracing this breadth of repertoire is so important. I am always exploring the limitless language of dance.”
And there’s no better place for exploration than Chicago.
“This city has an incredible capacity to embrace art at every level, from ballet and opera to classical music and contemporary art and theater,” says Wheater. “I find that incredibly inspiring.”
For more information, visit joffrey.org.