Joffrey: Mavericks Of American Dance

Poster art for Joffrey: Mavericks Of American DanceIn 1956, a young man from Seattle saw a dream realized: He founded his own dance company in New York City. The man was Robert Joffrey, and his company, the Joffrey Ballet, thrives today in its Chicago home, still adhering to Joffrey’s then-daring belief that classical ballet should be the center, but not the circumference, of his dancers’ movement.

In Joffrey: Mavericks Of American Dance, director Bob Hercules engagingly tells the story of the company, which began when Joffrey, then a teenage ballet student in Seattle, met 22-year-old Gerald Arpino. Arpino, then in the Coast Guard, had not only never danced before, he’d never even seen a ballet – but he promptly fell in love with the art form. The two began a lifelong partnership and soon headed east to found their company, with Joffrey as artistic director and lead teacher, and Arpino as chief choreographer.

The film combines interviews (with past and present Joffrey members and other dance-world figures) with its real treasure: archival footage of many Joffrey ballets, including a grainy peek at Twyla Tharp’s ‘Deuce Coupe’ (a pioneering 1973 work in ballet/modern fusion), Joffrey’s psychedelic 1967 ballet ‘Astarte’ (an early use of multimedia in dance) and the 1993 Arpino rock ballet ‘Billboards,’ set to the music of Prince. Not all of these have aged well, but all are intriguing peeks at a company that constantly pushed against the traditional boundaries of ballet and modern dance. ‘We didn’t realize we were living through a revolution in American dance,’ says a former Joffrey member of those early days.

Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance is an exhilarating piece of dance history. Now, as we’re shown in a graphic at the end of the film, Joffrey dancers have taken root at other dance companies the world over. Joffrey’s life was short (he died of AIDS at the age of 59), but his legacy lives on.

– Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times

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