The Joffrey Shuffle

Robert Alpaugh has made his bed, but someone else will be sleeping in it. Last week Alpaugh resigned as executive director of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. Though he helped plan the upcoming season, he’ll depart in mid-September, just as the troupe is beginning what may be its riskiest year since relocating here from New York in 1995. This season, for the first time, it will be self-producing all of its downtown appearances, an enterprise that includes renting the venues, marketing the productions, selling the tickets–and eating any financial losses.

Alpaugh has spent the last 20 years in the nonprofit performing arts, but he lasted only 18 months as executive director of the Joffrey–about as long as his predecessor, Arnold Breman–and apparently he had trouble keeping people. “There has been a lot of turnover directly under him,” says one staffer. Sources inside and close to the company also report considerable tension between Alpaugh and Gerald Arpino, the troupe’s founder and artistic leader. The two men supposedly locked horns over Alpaugh’s decision to cut the number of dancers from 34 to 28. (Bruce Sagan, acting president of the Joffrey’s board, now says the company will add 4 dancers, bringing the total back up to 32.) But Alpaugh dismisses the stories. “There is a built-in tension between executive director and artistic director,” he says. “Gerry was extremely cooperative.”

Alpaugh says the Joffrey closed out its last season with “a small surplus,” but his replacement will have to watch the purse strings as the company begins producing its own performances: last year’s operating budget was $5.3 million, but for the fiscal year beginning September 1 it will be $7 million. The season’s engagements, all booked at the Auditorium Theatre, will include fall and spring series of mixed repertoire and holiday performances of The Nutcracker. The board is counting on Alpaugh’s plan for the Nutcracker engagement, made prior to his resignation, to turn a profit: there will be an umbrella sponsor for the entire run as well as corporate sponsors for most or all of the individual performances.

In addition to replacing Alpaugh, the Joffrey organization has other important issues to resolve, and it’s called in some big guns to help out: arts consultant Larry Ter Molen was a vice president in charge of development at the Art Institute, and Gene Brandt is a veteran of the Museum of Science and Industry. With their input the board will choose a headhunting firm to find a new executive director and will establish what Sagan calls “an effective fund-raising mechanism” that can win new grants from untapped sources and larger grants from existing benefactors. The Joffrey also needs to find a new board president to replace David Kipper, who stepped down in May (Sagan isn’t interested). Last of all, the composition of the board itself will be reevaluated. “A lot of people wanted to join the board when the company moved to Chicago,” says Sagan, “but now we’re looking at who should really be there.”

Titanic Skirts Auditorium

While Roosevelt University and the Auditorium Theatre Council are in Cook County Circuit Court, fighting for control of the Auditorium Theatre, neighboring venues continue to scoop up the business. Next spring the Civic Opera House will host a seven-week run of the national touring production of Titanic, which won a 1997 Tony Award for best musical. Like the Auditorium, the Lyric Opera’s newly renovated, 3,400-seat Opera House offers promoters a large number of pricey orchestra seats. Meanwhile the Shubert Theatre may be close to cutting a deal to host next year’s Spring Festival of Dance. Dance troupes began making plans to return to the Shubert after the Auditorium announced that it would rescind the rock-bottom rental rates that dance companies took advantage of during last spring’s festival.

Pump Room Primed

The famed Pump Room reopened in the Omni Ambassador East Hotel last week following a lengthy $2 million renovation. The restaurant closed last December when Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc., ended a 23-year stint managing the property. When Lettuce bowed out, a Dallas-based firm called Dallas Restaurant Management Company signed on to operate the restaurant. According to Scott Brooker, general manager of the Pump Room, DRMC was formed specifically to operate the restaurant. DRMC and the Omni hotel chain, also based in Dallas, have several board members in common but operate independently. If things go smoothly at the Pump Room, says Brooker, DRMC might become involved with restaurants at other Omni properties.

With no track record, DRMC left most details of the Pump Room reopening to Brooker and his staff, who have hired French chef Martial Noguier to run the kitchen. Noguier, most recently the head chef at Citronelle, in Washington, D.C., trained in France. The cuisine at the new Pump Room isn’t French, says Brooker, but “French-inspired American.”

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