Ballet is art in its most human form, where emotions are expressed without a single word. Where stories are told through movement. Where there’s a dream in every gesture.
This spring, the merchants of Seaside will host America’s premier ballet company, The Joffrey Ballet Concert Group. The performance company of the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City, the concert group will have its debut performance in Seaside on May 2. The show will include 26 Joffrey company members performing a variety of dances ranging from modern and jazz, to classical ballet.
The namesake of the late Robert Joffrey, who co-founded both the ballet school in New York and the ballet company, which is now in Chicago, has a long list of firsts, including the first dance company to perform at the White House, the first to appear on television and the first and only dance company to appear on the cover of Time magazine. The Joffrey Ballet has dazzled audiences for more than a half century, and is still one of the most sought after companies in the world.
The Joffrey Concert Group and Joffrey Ballet School is under the direction of Davis Robertson, choreographer and artistic director. Robertson trained at the Joffrey Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining the Joffrey Ballet in 1991, where he danced for more than a decade. He has also danced for Miami City Ballet, David Parsons Company, Pennsylvania Ballet, Lar Lubovitch and Twyla Tharp.
During his tenure with the Joffrey, his principal roles included the Cavalier in Robert Joffrey’s “The Nutcracker,” the title role in George Balanchine’s “The Prodigal Son,” Petruchio in John Cranko’s “Taming of the Shrew,” Death in Kurt Joos’ “The Green Table” and David Parson’s signature solo “Caught.“ His portrayal of the Faun in the Joffrey’s reconstruction of Vaslav Nijinsky’s “L’Après-Midi D’un Faune” prompted the Chicago Sun-Times dance critic to write, “Robertson gives the finest performance I’ve seen, including that of Rudolf Nureyev for whom the Joffrey re-created this masterpiece in 1979.”
Robertson has appeared in film, television and on Broadway in “Save the Last Dance,” “The Company,” “Law and Order,” “Movin’ Out” and “Dirty Dancing.” He is also a member of the ballet company of the Metropolitan Opera, where he has worked with world-renowned directors and choreographers such as Anthony Minghella, Carolyn Choa, Julie Taymore, Christopher Wheeldon, and Alexei Ratmansky.
A versatile and prolific choreographer, he has created works for the Joffrey Ballet, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Milwaukee Ballet, Gus Giordano Jazz Dance, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra among many others. He is also the board president and Dance Director of Live Arts Collaboration. As a director of the Joffrey Ballet School in New York, he is committed to continuing the vision of Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino.
While holding auditions for an upcoming workshop in Seaside last October, Robertson indulged in the sights, sounds and tastes of Seaside. “I thought two things — beautiful and delicious,” he says of his impressions of the town. “The setting is absolutely Shangri-La. The food is extraordinary. Other than audition and doing classes, I relaxed and ate a lot; I’m a little concerned about going back.”
Robertson will conduct the four-day workshop in Seaside for 15 local dancers April 30-May 2. These dancers, selected and trained by Robertson, will perform Robertson’s work in Seaside at a later date. “Everyone who came was able to bring something to it and will do great in the workshop,” he says. Robertson is planning to bring his Joffrey Ballet Concert Group dancers as demonstrators and teaching aids for the workshop. Rehearsals will be conducted by Seleta Hayes Howard, Seaside’s “Nutcracker” ballet mistress and ballet teacher of the Dance Academy of Seaside Neighborhood School.
As for the highly anticipated performance by the Joffrey Ballet dancers: “We’ll feature the works of Gerald Arpino, Joffrey Ballet co-founder and a rather prolific choreographer,” he says. “And perhaps also work by George Balanchine, work by current director Robert Battle, and perhaps a work of mine.”
With his roots as break-dancer, Robertson appreciates the mix of classical sounds with modern music, particularly the works of the Vitamin String Quartet, a musical group based in Los Angeles. “They produce a string version of hip-hop songs, taking pop songs and rearranging them for string quartets,” Robertson explains. “It creates a very unique sound.” While the line-up is still being worked out, he hopes to incorporate the transformative style into the performance.
Robertson, born in Panama City, is looking forward to his return visit in May. “I’m thrilled to be coming back to my birthplace,” Robertson says. “I lived there for a whopping 13 days and had never had an opportunity to come back until visiting Seaside. I’ve always been excited to return for a visit, so it’s a wonderful opportunity for me personally.”