Joffrey Jumps Ship

Music and Dance Theater Chicago’s campaign to build a $30 million performance facility in Lakefront Millennium Park has suffered a substantial setback: the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago has pulled out as one of the core tenants and aligned itself with the Auditorium Theatre, for years its favorite venue. “I’ve always loved the way the company looks at the Auditorium,” says Harriet Ross, artistic administrator for the company. “It feels like home to us and always has.” According to a source on the Joffrey’s board of directors, the company wants to stage more full-length ballets, and artistic director Gerald Arpino thinks the Auditorium’s stage will better accommodate such a repertoire. With a proposed seating capacity of 1,500, the Music and Dance Theater would be inadequate for the Joffrey’s annual holiday production of The Nutcracker, which the Auditorium has hosted for the past two years. And though no one will confirm it, another factor may be Joffrey benefactor and board member Fred Eychaner, a longtime member of the Auditorium Theatre Council.

Joyce Moffatt, general manager of Music and Dance Theater Chicago, insists that the Joffrey’s defection will not prevent her from keeping the theater booked and in the black. (The Grant Park Music Festival plans to use the facility, or at least its backstage space, from June through August). “We can fill the hole left by the Joffrey with other things,” says Moffatt, who has mentioned River North Dance Company as another possible tenant. But the Joffrey’s decision comes at a crucial juncture in the ten-year quest to build the theater: The board of directors for MADTC is reportedly in the final stages of securing letters of credit from banking institutions, a must before it can ask the state for tax-exempt bonds to cover the immediate construction costs. MADTC has approximately $20 million in pledges, but in some instances that money will be paid out over several years. According to Moffatt, a lengthy delay in obtaining the bonds could push back the start of construction from fall 2000 to spring 2001, scuttling the projected opening date of fall 2002.

The Joffrey is the first principal tenant to abandon the facility, though other medium-size music and dance organizations have been raising questions about its affordability for some time. Susan Lipman, executive director of Performing Arts Chicago, has indicated on several occasions that she would use the theater only for certain productions. Chicago Opera Theater is standing by the project, but general director Brian Dickie has repeatedly expressed concerns about the cost of booking the new theater if it’s staffed by union stagehands. And Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the most financially sound of all the prospective tenants, is now being presented by the Nederlander Organization, which has two Loop theaters at its disposal, the Shubert and the Palace. In fact, one local philanthropist and benefactor of the Music and Dance Theater has already come up with a scenario for its demise: if the theater goes under, he speculates, it might be taken over by the Grant Park Music Festival, which could operate it year-round.

Photo Finish

Late last month Denise Miller resigned after 16 years as director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, citing personal reasons and giving two weeks’ notice. Asked about her future plans, Miller replied, “I’m in negotiations now and can’t discuss my opportunities.” She says she decided to leave suddenly so that she’d be forced to make a career change after two decades with the museum, first as a curator and then as director. John Mulvany, the former Columbia faculty member who established the museum as the Chicago Center for Contemporary Photography in 1976, has been called out of retirement in New Mexico to serve as acting director and will commute to Chicago every week while the college looks for a successor. Mulvany admits that Miller’s resignation caught him off guard, though he says that over the past two years he’s counseled her about what direction her career might take.

The museum made great strides under Miller. “When I took over there were fewer than 1,000 objects in the museum’s collection,” she says, “and when I left we had 6,177.” She also won the museum accreditation from the American Association of Museums in 1988, a critical step in establishing its reputation. “She did a fantastic job here, raising the level of the museum to national and international stature,” says Mulvany. Pressed on the matter of Miller’s abrupt exit, he replies, “Sometimes, a person has to put themselves in a place where there is very little room to wiggle.”

Executive Search

The board of directors for the Chicago Sinfonietta has dismissed William Griffin as executive director, ending a tenure of six years. Jim Paglia, CEO and chairman of the board, praises Griffin’s contribution to the orchestra but points out that the board is a hands-on governing body and cites several recent problems, including the absence of a marketing director at the start of the orchestra’s season this week, the recent walkout of the entire telemarketing team, and the posting of a Web site before the board was able to review its contents. “The parting was amicable, and Bill is staying on as a consultant to help with the transition to a new leader,” says Paglia. Margaret Burk, the orchestra’s former development director, will serve as acting general manager while the board conducts an executive search. Founded in 1986, the sinfonietta has a $1.4 million budget and has operated in the black since its third year. But according to Jim Casey, former marketing director of the organization, ticket sales account for only about a quarter of its income; the sinfonietta has survived mainly by targeting African-American philanthropists who want to support founder and music director Paul Freeman.

Royal George Sold–Sort Of

Late last week Los Angeles-based Reading Entertainment, Inc., sold the Royal George Theatre Center to its sister corporation, Citadel Holding Corporation, reportedly for $3 million. “The principal stockholders in both corporations are one and the same,” explains Reading president Robert Smerling, who says the curious transaction was part of a reorganization of the two companies’ holdings, allocating all domestic real estate assets to Citadel and all foreign assets to Reading, including movie-theater chains in Australia and New Zealand. According to Smerling, the $3 million figure corresponds to what Reading paid Robert Perkins and Jujamcyn Theatres in September 1998. He also indicated that Citadel would still be prepared to sell the Royal George to an outside party “if somebody came forward with the right number,” though he declined to name a price. As reported here last week, the board of directors for Victory Gardens Theater has considered buying the complex.