Thirsty recently touched base with one of our favorite artistic venues, Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet, to learn about its new directions. This is our fourth interview with Ashley C. Wheater, Artistic Director of the Joffrey, and we were intrigued to explore what the company describes as a season that goes “From Icons to the Iconoclastic…A Season of Unprecedented Star Power.”
THIRSTY: The Joffrey’s Winter and Spring 2011 programs feature four premiere performances from The Merry Widow to dances choreographed by Rising Stars. How did you decide on this theme of presenting premieres for the balance of your 2010-2011 season?
Ashley Wheater: Like founder Robert Joffrey, I have always believed in the importance of new work. Despite the tight economy, the 2010- 2011 season provides an opportunity to bring Joffrey premieres to Chicago. The dancers and the audience are stimulated and challenged by new choreography. And we have an opportunity to serve as a laboratory for creativity in our art form.
THIRSTY: Is presenting the glitz and glamour of The Merry Widow at this time in our economy akin to the glamorous movies of the 1930’s created to entertain while the country suffered through the Great Depression?
Ashley Wheater: When a country goes through hard times, people look to the theater, including dance, as a way of taking their minds off the harsh reality. But there are lessons to be learned in a story ballet as well - the value of celebration, of friendship, of joy in the face of hardship. A ballet such as The Merry Widow, with its light-hearted story line, beautiful music, gorgeous sets and costumes, and marvelous, but difficult, dancing can transport us to a “different place”.
Ashley C. Wheater - Artistic Director
(credit: Jim Luning)
THIRSTY: In the Spring, you will be presenting works by Edwaard Liang, Yuri Possokhov, and Julia Adam. Why did you pick these three young choreographers to showcase?
Ashley Wheater: I am really excited about the Spring program! We present three brilliantly-talented choreographers with fresh, but finely-tuned artistic voices and individual styles. I worked with Julia Adam and Yuri Possokhov at San Francisco Ballet, and brought Edwaard Liang to the Joffrey for the first time in 2008. This will be a program of great dance, with appeal to our young audience as well as to seasoned ballet veterans.
THIRSTY: In the Fall of 2010, the Joffrey presented a program of All Stars that included dances by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and Christopher Wheeldon. And then, for the Holidays, the Joffrey will present Robert Joffrey’s Nutcracker. During your 2010-2011 season, you will have gone from the known to the new. What has the reaction in the dance world been to such a wide range of offerings?
Ashley Wheater: George Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Jerome Robbins’ The Concert, and Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain represent some of the best works created in the last half century. The autumn program was a fantastic success for the Company, that grew so much as dancers, and for the enthusiastic audience. Dance is incredibly broad in its scope. The entire ballet repertoire is rich and diverse, and we have just begun to introduce the range of possibilities to the Chicago audience.
THIRSTY: How has the dance company handled such variety?
Ashley Wheater: Dancers love to dance and they love to expand their skills and repertory. Life is most interesting and rewarding when we take on new challenges and the Joffrey thrives on expanding its horizons.
THIRSTY: You have been at the Joffrey since 2007. What are your proudest moments as its Artistic Director so far?
Ashley Wheater: There is no single moment. I am proud of the Company every day. The Joffrey has grown and continues to grow. The dancers and the audience understand the value of the work we are doing and participate in our development. The positive trajectory is very gratifying.