Arpino Centennial Celebration

Over the weekend, the Gerald Arpino Foundation hosted an event-packed celebration in honor of Arpino’s 100th birthday year. The Arpino Centennial Celebration, years in the works, was a spectacular, loved-filled, three-day extravaganza with performances, a panel discussion, and classes. Congrats to Kim Sagami, Michael Anderson, and all at the Foundation for pulling it off!

Joffrey Company Artist Victoria Jaiani. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Note: this is NOT a review! I just wanted to get some thoughts out of my head. These are my takeaways from being at the Saturday night performance and my time working at the Joffrey/Arpino Foundation, and just being a big ‘ole ballet geek and fan.

First, I want to thank Kim and Michael for giving me a lifeline when my job at the Joffrey was eliminated during the pandemic. “Budget cuts.” They brought me onboard as a social media consultant and filled my need to be near dance and harbored my love for the Company. I have been a fan of the Joffrey since the 80s, when I would pore over my Dance Magazine when it came in the mail. I distinctly remember Tina LeBlanc being on the cover. I watched Billboards on PBS and memorized some of the choreography, eventually seeing it on tour when they came to Central Illinois. Later, after moving to Chicago, I worked as a receptionist for Joffrey during the 2001-2002 season (I think?), right when they started filming the movie The Company. It’s still one of my favorite dance films, likely because I knew everyone in it. I still gasp when Suzanna Lopez fake tears her achilles tendon, but then her real-life wedding was included in the movie so it all worked out. Ha.

I later worked in the marketing department at Joffrey for seven years. There was a giant framed poster of Arpino’s Reflections from the cover of Dance Magazine in the lunchroom. That was one of the works presented on Saturday. Oklahoma City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, Ballet West, and of course, Joffrey all performed some the Arpino’s greatest hits for the opening of the Centennial Celebration. Eugene Ballet and Complexions Contemporary Ballet with guest artist and former Joffrey dance Fabrice Calmels also joined in for the second performance on Sunday afternoon. The only thing I will say about the dancing is that it was electric, just as Mr. A intended. Zah, baby! For me, the shows were more about him as a person, artist, and director than it was about the dancers. His spirit filled the entirety of the Auditorium Theatre.

There were so many Joffrey Alumni attending that it was a little overwhelming…in a good way. Faces I haven’t seen in years were smiling and radiant. It had the feeling of Dance For Life, but for just Joffrey. Cool. For anyone I missed saying hello to or getting to give a long-awaited hug, I love you! The audience was THE perfect audience for the dancers, so generous with applause, yelling, standing ovations. They had been there and done that, the all-knowing and encouraging predecessors.

Mr. A’s box seats were left open and unseated, notable for everyone who knew him. While I never danced for him, I did work with him for a year. I first met him at a Nutcracker Children’s Luncheon on my first day. Cameron Basden introduced me to him (WHAT?) and he said I looked like a young Susan Jaffe. (Be still, my heart. I don’t think Cami agreed.) He would always say a friendly “Hi, Jackie!” when he passed the reception desk. Even though everyone reminded him my name was not Jackie, I didn’t care. Mr. A was acknowledging me.

At the end of the Saturday evening performance, Joffrey dancer Victoria Jaiani (who along with Christine Rocas are the only two current Joffrey dancers who were under his direction) carried one light/candle to the front of the stage and everyone turned and bowed at Mr. A’s empty seat, which was lit with a follow spotlight. Cheesy, maybe, but I teared up along with everyone else there who knew him. Calmels had the honor at the Sunday matinee. The candle was left center stage front – a nod to Arpino’s 1970 work Trinity – as the dancers left the stage, Jaiani trailing behind as the lights dimmed (pictured above). Tears.

I’m thankful for my years (8 total) with Joffrey and the Arpino Foundation (2+), as well as my decades of being a loyal fan. I even wrote a review for my journalism class in college! Even though I no longer work with them, I’m always part of the family, which was felt immensely in the ATRU lobby on Saturday.

Podcast Episode 20: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa – Doña Péron

Welcome to Episode 20 with my guest Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. This is the first repeat guest for the podcast. Why a repeat? Well, it’s Women’s History Month, she has a new full-length ballet based on the life historical political figure Eva Perón which is making its Chicago debut this weekend, she’s a badass female choreographer, and honestly, I just love talking with her. You can listen to her interview on Episode 9 here. Ticket for the performances of Ballet Hispánico in Doña Perón at the Auditorium Theatre (March 26 & 27) are available here.

Annabelle has been choreographing since 2003 following a 12-year career in various contemporary dance companies throughout Europe. She has created works for 60 dance companies worldwide. In 2012, her first full-length work, A Streetcar Named Desire, originally created for the Scottish Ballet, received the Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for “Best Classical Choreography” and was nominated for a prestigious Olivier Award for “Best New Dance Production” the following year. Annabelle was the recipient of the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award in 2019. You can read her full bio here.

Ballet Hispaníco. Photo by Christopher Ash.

Review: Alvin Ailey

“I’m trying to show the world we are all human beings, that color is not important, that what is important is the quality of our work, of a culture in which the young are not afraid to take chances and can hold onto their values and self-esteem, especially in the arts and in dance. That’s what it’s all about to me.” ~Alvin Ailey

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) returned to Chicago’s Landmark Stage at the Auditorium Theatre this week after the pandemic forced a two-year break from touring. Their March 2020 performances were the last big dance show here before everything shut down. In hindsight, it was a blessing to watch Ailey’s trademark Revelations as the last dance viewed and enlightening to see it again now that we are finally, hopefully at the end of Covid-related restrictions. Although everyone was still masked at Ash Wednesday’s opening night, the mood in the audience felt lighter than it has since the last time they were here.

It was also my first time back to the gorgeous Auditorium Theatre, a bittersweet experience since, like myself, many of my former work partners lost their jobs due to the pandemic. A few friendly faces were still there with hugs to say we all made it through in some form or another. Being in the audience to review and not behind the scenes scrambling was an interesting change, one not completely comfortable for me. But…on to the show!

AAADT are performing three programs over their six days in Chicago (through Sunday, March 6). Ailey and Ellington and Rennie Harris’ Lazarus join staple Revelations in the second and third programs respectively. On Wednesday night, they opened with a celebration of Robert Battle’s 10th anniversary as artistic director. Seven of his choreographic works (or excerpts) showed his range, attention to detail, and musicality. Made over a span of decades, Battle has the versatility to move smoothly from slow, ritualistic groups of bodies forming statuesque tableaus (Mass) to intricate, quick and quirky stylized jazz (Ella) to balls-out, fast and frantic (Takademe). The music was a delightful journey of jazz with notes of Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, and early Stevie Wonder. The Battle portion of the program served as an amuse bouche to the main course of Revelations.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s James Gilmer in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

This is what we came for and the AAADT dancers did not disappoint. I honestly can’t say how many times I’ve seen Revelations over the years (hint: it is a LOT), but I always find something different and refreshing whether it’s new faces in the familiar opening pose or a favorite, seasoned dancer further growing into the iconic choreography. Standout sections for me are always Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel; Fix Me, Jesus; Processional/Honor Honor (with that umbrella!); I Wanna Be Ready (Go Vernard!); and my favorite Sinner Man. Whether loose spacing, opening night nerves, or awkward height challenges in unison dancing, there were brief moments of uncharacteristic flaws that were just as quickly replaced by their beautiful artistry.

Missing on Wednesday was dancer Clifton Brown and the standard curtain call after bows when the company reprises the end of the final section Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham. That coda with the audience still standing and clapping along is the feel good moment that lingers with you long after the performance is over. I missed it.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

There are four performances left in the run. Tickets start at $40 and are available at or by calling 312.341.2300.