Rumors of the New York-based Joffrey Ballet’s impending move to Chicago and its likely merger with Ballet Chicago continue to swirl without a resolution in sight. Ballet Chicago’s funding situation hasn’t been helped by talk of the possible Joffrey move, and sources say Ballet Chicago artistic director Dan Duell isn’t nearly so gung ho about the merger as he was several months ago. For the record Joffrey board president David Kipper would say only that talks are continuing on a number of fronts.
One of the major obstacles to the merger is the Joffrey’s surprisingly large debt. According to Kipper, much of the debt was owed to members of the Joffrey board of directors and has been resolved. However, according to Alex Dube, the American Guild of Musical Artists executive representing the Joffrey’s dancers, the company still owes its dancers approximately $900,000. Dube says $219,179 of that sum is a “nonnegotiable” payment for services rendered. As far as the remainder is concerned, he says, the dancers have offered to accept 25 cents on the dollar. The Joffrey board wants to settle the entire debt for a flat payment of $150,000–a deal Dube says is unacceptable. The Joffrey needs to settle this dispute before it can sign a collective bargaining agreement with dancers who might want to join a new Joffrey troupe here in Chicago.
Nonetheless, tentative plans for the Joffrey’s first season in Chicago are apparently being formulated. Late last month in New York, Breman presented some details about the season to a small band of dancers. According to a source present at the meeting, Breman said that the company’s sets and costumes were being shipped to Chicago and stored in a donated warehouse, but that the new company still needed to raise approximately $5 million to get started in Chicago. The source also said the Chicago-based Joffrey would employ 30 dancers, 10 fewer than the New York-based Joffrey, and that the dancers would be contracted for a 28-week season instead of a 37-week one.
Presuming a merger with Ballet Chicago takes place, the new organization would begin rehearsing in New York City in August, perform September 12 at a gala at the Skyline Stage on Navy Pier, and make three subsequent appearances at the same venue. After touring with its seasonal production of The Nutcracker, the company would return to Chicago to prepare for a European winter tour. Breman also reportedly indicated that the company plans to present two weeks of performances at the Shubert Theatre in late May and early June of 1996.
The source says although Breman talked about the Joffrey presenting annual fall, winter, and spring seasons in Chicago, he didn’t say for sure where those performances would occur. The theater opening this fall in Rosemont, along with the smaller Shubert and Merle Reskin theaters downtown, were mentioned as possible sites, but neither the Shubert nor the Merle Reskin has a stage large enough to showcase a company of Joffrey’s size, and scheduling of other attractions would make it complicated to present a season at any of those venues. Breman supposedly suggested the proposed theater at Cityfront Center as a long-term home for the Joffrey, but assuming the project stays on schedule that facility won’t open till late 1997.
Relocation may be the Joffrey’s only hope for survival. “They’ve closed up shop in New York,” says Dube, adding that Los Angeles, where the Joffrey once had a second home, is now rallying behind a new ballet company of its own. Major markets such as Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Boston, where there might be enough money and audience support for a company of Joffrey’s stature, already have well-established troupes in place.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Linda Rosier.