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!
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.