Into the Pressure Cooker

I love a challenge” was the way Robert Alpaugh put it last week after accepting the job of executive director at the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. If we’re to take him at his word, the Joffrey should make him plenty happy. Since relocating to Chicago in late 1995, the company has yet to develop a loyal following.

Alpaugh’s skills as an arts administrator should come in handy. For six years he was managing director of the Arizona Theatre Co., where he helped retire a $680,000 deficit and set up a $1 million reserve fund. Most recently Alpaugh served a short stint as associate director of the arts education group Urban Gateways. Though his predecessor at the Joffrey, Arnold Breman, is officially stepping down to complete a book of show business anecdotes, it appears the company’s board has been searching for a director with some experience running a troubled arts organization. “What Robert Alpaugh does well is strategic planning and fund-raising,” says Joffrey board president David Kipper.

With an annual operating budget of $5.6 million (about half of which is earned while the rest comes from grants and contributions), the Joffrey is planning to undertake the risky business of “self-producing” its next two series of performances in Chicago: one at the 2,000-seat Shubert Theatre next week and the second at the 3,600-seat Civic Opera House in June as part of the annual Spring Festival of Dance. The decision to produce itself means the Joffrey alone will be responsible for any financial shortfalls if it can’t sell enough tickets or raise enough money to cover expenses. Joffrey board member Bruce Sagan says the com-pany had no choice. “There is no one out there that was pre-pared to do this, and if we can’t make this work, it may mean there is no room for the Joffrey in Chicago.” Board president Kipper says the company needs to build a local audience. “We are a Chicago company now, and we have to do a lot of dancing in Chicago to build a steady con-stituency,” he explains. The company has no tours planned until next fall.

The first of this season’s shows will include such familiar Joffrey works as Light Rain and Suite Saint-Saens. But the center-piece of the run is the world premiere of a new work, Kali Ma, choreographed by Joffrey associate director Ann Marie DeAngelo. Descriptions of the new piece have been hard to come by. A Joffrey spokeswoman would only say that the work features “singers, artists, and street performers” and has an original score by Mitch Hennes and Lauren Weinger that will be performed by the Oriana Singers. A preview planned earlier this week for members of the Joffrey’s governing board and other invited guests was abruptly canceled when the response fell below expectations.

If the Joffrey’s to have a chance in Chicago, it must produce new works that appeal to a broad and demanding audience. Last spring the company unveiled a major new work at the Shubert called Legends, which attracted little interest from critics and audiences. If Kali Ma fails to generate some excitement, it would be another setback at a time when the Joffrey needs to create some sparks. A lackluster season in the dead of winter won’t make Alpaugh’s job any easier.

Blue Food

Restaurateur Joe Carlucci is bullish on hotel eateries. He’s planning to shut down his flagship Halsted Street restaurant at the end of the month and reopen next fall in the planned House of Blues Hotel at Marina City. While snobs usually steer clear of restaurants in hotels, Carlucci argues that they make economic sense. “You get automatic business for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” he says, “as well as all the lucrative banquets and weddings and parties.”

Carlucci says he decided to make the change for several reasons. Much of his north-side restaurant’s clientele came from downtown, so the move will bring him closer to his customers. In Lincoln Park restaurants don’t start attracting crowds until 7 PM; the new Carlucci’s in River North will be open all day. Carlucci was also fed up with the congestion of Lincoln Park–permit parking made it difficult to conduct business there.

Carlucci’s move into the House of Blues Hotel won’t be the restaurateur’s first hotel experience. Early next month, he and partner Mike Ditka will open Iron Mike’s, a new restaurant at the Tremont Hotel that they describe as cross between a saloon and a steakhouse.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Robert Alpaugh photo by Eugene Zakusilo.