“The Arpino Chicago Centennial Celebration” honors the legacy of Joffrey Ballet Co-Founder Gerald Arpino (1923-2008) with a three-day festival of events, featuring his innovative choreographic contribution to 20th-century dance.
Two performances at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre comprise the centerpiece of the festival with seven ballet companies performing some of Arpino’s best known works on Saturday, September 23 at 7:30 PM, and Sunday, September 24 at 1 PM. (Go to seechicagodance.com for program details)
The 100th birthday anniversary of Joffrey Ballet co-founder Gerald Arpino offered the Gerald Arpino Foundation a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to celebrate and raise public awareness of the significance of Arpino’s innovative contribution to ballet in America and world-wide. The festival makes the choreographer’s work accessible to audiences of all ages and backgrounds through workshops, lectures, master classes and performances.
During his 50-year career, Arpino created nearly 50 ballets. The Gerald Arpino Foundation was established after his death in 2008. Its purpose is to oversee, preserve, and protect the leasing and execution of his works. Almost everyone on the Board of Directors of the Foundation has danced with the Joffrey company.
Many of the dancers who were in the company when The Joffrey Ballet relocated to Chicago in 1996 have remained here in retirement. Former Joffrey dancer Kim Sagami is one of them. Kim danced with The Joffrey in New York, beginning in 1983, and moved with the company to Chicago, where she still resides. She serves as a répétiteur with the Foundation, setting Arpino works on dance companies and university dance programs throughout the country. “One of our goals is to remind people who he was and how his legacy lives on,” she said in a recent telephone interview with SeeChicagoDance.
When asked what it was like to dance Arpino’s choreography, Sagami said, “It was challenging, physically extremely demanding. He had a kind of radar, (where he could see) honesty in your movement. He had an intensity for believing what he believed that spread to the whole company.” She recalls how Arpino expressed that intensity in rehearsal with excited shouts like “Move!”
Being in the company, Sagami says, “the dancers really relied on each other.” Arpino nurtured that spirit of camaraderie and community after a fractious period in New York when the company faced near dissolution. That culture of inclusion and mutual respect persists to this day and is apparent in the connections through generations of Joffrey dancers here in Chicago.
Joffrey Ballet alum Michael Anderson, who danced with The Joffrey Ballet in New York and here in Chicago from 1992-2005, is still dancing character roles as a guest artist with several different companies. He also serves on the Board of the Arpino Foundation.
“I owe my career to Mr. Arpino,” Anderson recounts. He was in Joffrey II in New York and was told he was too old to be in the main company. He was openly discouraged from pursuing a career when Arpino happened to be on site at the filming of Billboards. He recalls Arpino coming up to him and asking, “What are you doing?” The choreographer had his eye on Anderson and told him, “Come see me. I have a contract for you!”
“His pace was very fast,” Anderson said. “His ballets were very tricky.” One of the most remarkable things Anderson observes about Arpino’s choreography is “the range of his repertory and the diversity of musical styles he used, from music by Prince for “Billboards,” to Igor Stravinsky’s “Les Noces,” Eric Satie’s “Parade,” and Johann Strauss Sr.’s “Kettentantz.”
Gerald Arpino took over sole leadership of the Joffrey Ballet in 1988 after the death of Robert Joffrey. He held that position until 2007, when declining health limited his ability to sustain the demands of full-time artistic direction. Arpino’s determination and indomitable spirit literally saved the Joffrey Ballet by making the bold move to Chicago, where the company became The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. His leadership and the positive nature of his leadership helped to knit the company into the artistic powerhouse it is today. “We hope to show everyone what wonderful things he did,” Anderson said. The Centennial Festival is yet another gift Gerald Arpino bestows on our fair city.
The Gerald Arpino Foundation presents The Gerald Arpino Centennial Celebration at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E Ida B Wells Dr. Showtimes are Saturday, Sept. 23 at 7:30pm and Sunday, Sept. 24 at 1pm. Tickets are $45-$400 and are available by clicking the event link below.