Company's last visit was in 2013
In 1956, The Joffrey Ballet started as a six-dancer ensemble that toured the United States in a station wagon pulling a U-Haul.
Many miles, many cities and many years have passed since then. Next week, when the company brings their newest ballet, Anna Karenina, to the Northrop stage, a company of nearly 50 dancers will arrive, accompanied by four semi-trucks full of sets and costumes. What a difference the decades have made.
Truth is, while the Joffrey might have started out some 60-odd years ago as a scrappy, itinerant troupe, I was beginning to fear that their travelling days might be over. Since their last visit in 2013, I have been asking (OK, begging….) them to come back to Minneapolis.
The Joffrey boasts 12 previous tour appearances at Northrop, dating back to 1976. Through the ‘80s and 90s, they came here very consistently, appearing almost every other year. The Joffrey had distinguished themselves as a very hip ballet company—giving Twyla Tharp her first major commission for Deuce Coupe, set to Beach Boys songs. Their amazing, full-length Billboards, created by 4 different choreographers, came to Northrop in 1993, with music provided—royalty free—by Minneapolis’ own Prince. (He had seen the company perform in Los Angeles and fell in love with them.)
But there was a long hiatus between their 1996 and 2005 engagements here—coinciding with a period when the company left New York City to establish a new home in Chicago, and during a particularly perilous financial period. Another long wait ensued between 2005 and 2013, their most recent Minneapolis appearance at The Orpheum during the Northrop reconstruction period. The company’s acclaim continued to grow and their productions became larger and more elaborate—certainly no more tours in a U-Haul! The company was enjoying several long home seasons in Chicago, and visiting much larger venues in Los Angeles and New York where they could play multiple performances. It took a personal visit and a lunch with Joffrey artistic director Ashley Wheater to convince him that they really must come back and dance on the new Northrop stage.
The Joffrey finally agreed to bring us their brand new Anna Karenina, hot off the stage from its Chicago world premiere. When I spoke to Mr. Wheater just last week about how preparations were going, he was beyond ecstatic about the work that choreographer Yuri Possokhov was creating for them. He said that the ballet was “…absolutely everything that I had hoped it would be. It is a blend of dance and theater that is just stunning, and I know your audiences are going to love it!”
Critics in Chicago have certainly agreed, calling it a “show piece,” “an original ballet to call their own,” and “one for the ages.”
I am certainly happy they are coming back, and urge you to join us Sat, Mar 2 or Sun, Mar 3 for their triumphant return. Yes, there are two opportunities to see Anna Karenina—so don’t miss it! After all, who knows how long we’ll have to wait for the Joffrey to come back again?
Christine Tschida is artistic director for the Northrop Dance Series.