An exciting new season is around the corner for Joffrey Ballet and it includes a double dose of the phenomenal Christopher Wheeldon. First up, Swan Lake returns to the Auditorium Theatre beginning October 17th. The Nutcracker, Wheeldon's reimagined holiday classic, set during the construction of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, opens December 1st and runs through December 30th, aligning with exhibits and other events capping a year-long celebration of the Exposition’s 125th anniversary.
The creative energy and talent at the Joffrey provides limitless possibilities which all require financial and administrative expertise from an ever-expanding network of trustees, donors and partners working with professional staff. Since his appointment as Executive Director in 2013, Greg Cameron has led the long-range planning for the organization and operations, forged a multi-year budget process, expanded donor support, and work strategically with Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and the Joffrey Board to realize institutional objectives.
Cameron brought considerable management and fundraising expertise to the Joffrey, having spent his professional career in Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Institute and WTTW. Five years later, the financial house is in order, plans are well underway to move the company from the Auditorium Theater to the Lyric Opera House in 2020, and it was announced earlier this year that a $5M gift had been received to establish the Mary Galvin Artistic Director Endowment in recognition of Ashley Wheater’s extraordinary contributions to the advancement of the company.
There is much more about developing professional partnerships, the importance of commitment to the mission at all levels of the organization and what's ahead in the 2018-2019 season and beyond in our wide-ranging conversation on October 5th with the newly-appointed President and CEO of The Joffrey Ballet, Greg Cameron. PODCAST
2018 – 2019 Season … “We will be bringing Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake back. Four years ago, we presented it and audiences loved it. The dancers loved to dance it. So, we are going to have a first half of the season of Mr. Wheeldon with Swan Lake, and then, The Nutcracker. … we are a week away from opening, and the box office is tracking way ahead of our year to date goals. So, we feel like we are going to have success at the box office and we know that we will have success artistically… Nutcracker gives us all of these partnership opportunities. This is 125th anniversary of the Colombian Exposition, so, there are exhibits at the Newberry Library, partnerships with Navy Pier – the big ferris wheel is there because of its connection to the Columbian Exposition – exciting opportunities. …In February, we will be presenting the world premiere of Anna Karenina. This is a co-commission between The Joffrey Ballet and The Australian Ballet, another wonderful opportunity to partner. … we present the piece here, then take it to Minneapolis and The Australian Ballet the following year … into the spring, the mixed repertory program “Across the Pond.”
Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director Endowment… “Chicago is such an incredibly unique and generous city. I've spent my entire professional career working in amazing cultural organizations in the city with people who believe in supporting the voices of artists and storytelling and how that makes a difference to their lives and the lives of others because of their generosity. We were thrilled about the recent gift from the Galvin family of $5M to name the Artistic Director position. It gives me goosebumps! Mary Galvin has been connected to the Joffrey prior to its arrival in Chicago. She knew Robert Joffrey. She knew Gerry Arpino. She knows and loves Ashley. To be able to put her name in perpetuity in front of the artistic director position is meaningful in so many ways. An emotional, an intellectual, a spiritual side and also a financial side to be able to have $5M in an endowment. Five years ago, the Joffrey had no endowment. So, this is an organization that was almost 60 years old with an operating budget of about $15M at the time with no endowment whatsoever. Barry Weinstein, from the Rudolph Nureyev Dance Foundation, gave us a challenge that said they will give half a million dollars if we raise a million to create an endowment for full-length story ballets. We did it. … and by the end of next year we will probably have close to $10M in our endowment, which is still small, especially considering our budget now is about $21M. We're moving slow and steady in the right direction.”
Ashley Wheater … “Ashley and I are so aligned and focused on mission. The leadership team here on the staff side is also in that space of alignment and our Board joins us in that space. … We share the same values, which really makes the work fun. We communicate constantly. … (In) these kinds of leadership jobs – I don't think of it as a job, I think of it as a lifestyle – we are running a small business and it's 24/7 at the end of the day between classes here, performances, tours, and team members that may need our support at any time of the day, and I think we deliver on that commitment to the people that make the work here possible. … It's all about people. It's about the artists, it's about the choreographers, it's about the musicians, the costume shop … people that just make everything work … the whole administrative side from marketing to finance to development, we depend on everybody to do their part and we don't take anybody for granted.”
New phase for The Joffrey Ballet… “At present, our plan and our commitment with the Lyric through our license agreement, is to continue the same subscription program. So, we currently do a fall program, The Nutcracker, winter and spring, and that is what we have booked and committed to performing at the Lyric Opera. What we are exploring is the opportunity to create other kinds of programs, probably not full-length story ballets, but mixed-repertory work where we can be much more nimble, perhaps partnering with Chicago Shakespeare and performing at The Yard, Millennium Park, the Harris Theater, or the Broadway Avenue Armory. We currently do our Winning Works performance at the Museum of Contemporary Arts stage. So, there is a lot of opportunity as we think about adding to the artistic offerings, programming that would be outside of the subscription season tickets that would be even more affordable than what we are already doing to ensure access. … this November we will be traveling to New York City’s City Center, which was the home of The Joffrey during their 40 years in New York, celebrating its 75th anniversary. … an all-Balanchine program, performing with other companies. We will be touring to Santa Barbara and San Diego …and we will be taking Anna Karenina to Minneapolis in March 2019. So, we want to find the right balance of who we are as The Joffrey Ballet at home in Chicago – we want to ensure that we bring dance to our Chicago audiences – but also we want to be able to tour and give the dancers an opportunity to share what they do with audiences beyond.”
Honoring Robert Joffrey’s legacy … “The Nutcracker is a perfect example … for the Joffrey to reimagine the Nutcracker after 29 years of Robert Joffreys’ Nutcracker being beloved and very successful at the box office. I don't think Ashley or myself or anybody on the team necessarily went into this thinking that it was a risk. I think we saw it as an opportunity in many respects. We looked at it as a way of honoring Robert Joffrey's legacy because Joffrey's commitment was to honor the classics, but always push forward and be out at the front. I think that Robert Joffrey would have been thrilled to know that Christopher Wheeldon was creating this new story that had social relevance that is connected to Chicago. …We continue to tweak set elements … create costumes … to better understand how The Nutcracker works. We are trying to create set elements that will enable us down the road to possibly tour The Nutcracker. ... constantly rethinking about how to make it better. We are incredibly fortunate. The Woman's Board raised $300,000 to create a wardrobe and set maintenance fund, so, we've got resources when we need to fix, repair or slightly reimagine elements that either Christopher, Basil Twist or any other member of the artistic team are not happy with.”
Limitless possibilities … “We are incredibly excited about the opportunity, in our 25th year in Chicago, to perform at the Lyric. The partnership with Orphée was a wonderful way for the artists to get to know the space and for us on the administrative side to get to know the team over there and begin the planning. We are, as you can imagine, deep into the planning … over the ensuing years, opportunities to create artistic collaborations, to look at the possibility of joint subscriptions, the possibilities are limitless ... So, we're really excited and optimistic about that. All of that said, we are completely committed to next two years at the Auditorium Theater where we want to be the best possible partner that we can be and ensure that the next two years of dance in the Auditorium are the best. We want to leave, just like we ended Robert Joffreys’ Nutcracker – on the highest note possible. We want to leave the Auditorium in the best place that we can be.”
Resourcing the artistry … “Christopher and Ashley talked about doing a new Nutcracker about the time Ashley joined the company 10 years ago. He was patient. We had to wait awhile. We had to get the house in order. But I think going back to our conversation about donors and funders, the city steps forward. Our goal for The Nutcracker was to raise $4M and we ultimately raised $5.2M. I think that when you have a good story and you tell it, donors are there. This past spring, the Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation gave us a $750,000 gift – $250,000 a year for three years – to enable us to extend and add new dancers to the company. So, this past year, with their support, we were able to add three new dancers to the company and take their contract from 38 weeks to 40 weeks. If we are going to do more performances, we need more dancers, more work-weeks and the plan next year is to add additional dancers and extend the contract week. So, I think it's resourcing the artistry. At the end of the day, I always say we are committed to the Academy, we are committed to the work that we do in the community, but what makes all of that possible is The Joffrey brand and the work that we do through the artists that work here.” PODCAST
Comments have been edited for length and clarity.
THE JOFFREY BALLET
October 17th - 28th
50 E Ida B Wells Dr