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The Joffrey Ballet opens the doors



The company’s innovative residency at Cal Performances

These days everything is delivered predesigned, pre-manufactured and prepackaged. We seldom understand what goes into the making of anything – whether a cup of coffee or the performance of an internationally renowned artist.

This is especially true in the complex world of performance. But recently, understanding process has become an imperative, both politically and emotionally. The magic that accompanies our child-like wonder at objects or performances presented dazzlingly complete is being replaced by curiosity, fueled by a need to understand why artists have their particular vision and how they turn creative impulse and imagination into reality.

Knowing how makes artistic practice more accessible to us. And there is nothing more benign, more generous, more fulfilling than the practice of art.

This November, Bay Area audiences will have a chance to see the inner workings of The Joffrey Ballet as the company begins its weeklong residency at Cal Performances. This is the first of a series of residencies with the company that will take place over the next five years.

The Joffrey Ballet is one of the gems of contemporary American ballet. A Chicago–based ballet company and dance education organization, The Joffrey Ballet was founded by Robert Joffrey in 1956 in New York City. After Joffrey’s death, the company was guided by its choreographer Gerald Arpino from 1988 to 2007. Its repertoire includes classical ballets like Giselle, modernist ballets by Fokine and Nijinsky and contemporary ballet by choreographers as diverse as Balanchine and Twyla Tharp. The company has always been eclectic and forward looking in its choreographic selection. Both Alvin Ailey and Rebecca Harkness were important to the development of the company, adding to its contemporary dance direction and its international reputation.

Since 2007 Ashley Wheater has been the company’s artistic director. Born in Scotland and trained at the Royal Ballet in London, the tall dancer with impeccable technique has had a long international career. Wheater danced with a number of companies including The Joffrey before moving to San Francisco Ballet in 1989. An injury forced him to retire from dancing in 1997, but he remained at San Francisco Ballet where he became Ballet Master and Assistant to the Artistic Director. He left San Francisco Ballet to take on the artistic directorship of The Joffrey Ballet, and 2017 marks his tenth anniversary as the company’s director. His directorship has been noted for its freshness, fostering a desire to move forward with new choreographers and increasingly diverse, talented and brilliantly trained dancers. Wheater has also been awarded for his community engagement.

And community engagement is what the residency at Cal Performances is all about. The company has a full schedule of public events that are meant to open the world of contemporary ballet to the curious and involved alike. Beginning on November 13 and 15, The Joffrey Ballet offers afternoon sessions in which the audience can witness the process of choreography. “Insight into New Work in Progress” comprises two three-hour workshops in which choreographer Nicolas Blanc and company dancers work on a new ballet. The workshops are free and open to the public. Blanc is the company’s Ballet Master and Principal Coach, and his ballet “Encounter,” set to part one of John Adams’ Saxophone Concerto, will have its West Coast premier in the company’s performances on November 17, 18 and 19.

For those who are eager to be more actively involved, the residency includes two classes – a ballet class on Friday, November 17, which requires participants to have some ballet training, and a community dance class on Saturday, November 18, which requires no dance training. Classes are $5 and on the UC campus. Both the “Insight into New Work in Progress” sessions and the dance classes require pre-registration and have limited capacity. To register, visit the CalPerformances website,, and navigate to the Related Events page on The Joffrey Ballet page. The residency is part of CalPerformances’ new RADICAL program, presenting innovative performers in connection and conversation with the community.

The final free and open-to-the-public event is a forum on Saturday, November 18, held at Zellerbach Hall. Artistic Director Ashley Wheater, choreographer Nicolas Blanc and Cal Performances Associate Director Rob Bailis will discuss a variety of topics, such as the commissioning of new ballets and the direction of contemporary ballet.

With all that insight into the backstage heart of ballet, don’t forget the performance, the soul of dance. There are three performances of a program featuring the work by rising choreographic stars of ballet. The program opens with Justin Peck’s “In Creases,” set to music by Philip Glass. West Coast premiers include Blanc’s “Encounter” and “Joy” by Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman. The program concludes with Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Mammatus,” a ballet depicting the flight of clouds and birds.

Magical, daring, poetic: The Joffrey Ballet.

– Jaime Robles


For information and tickets, visit


Photo: Dancers from The Joffrey Ballet perform Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Mammatus.” Photo by Cheryl Mann.

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