Magazine article Dance Magazine

Homecoming: The Joffrey Ballet Picks Ashley Wheater

Magazine article Dance Magazine

Homecoming: The Joffrey Ballet Picks Ashley Wheater

Article excerpt

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"I'm so thrilled," was Ashley Wheater's concise reaction to his appointment as artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet. It is the company in which he danced so handsomely between 1985-89 when it was still in New York. "This was an American jewel and I want to revitalize it," he says. "For Chicago, however, it's a very young company, so everything we do will be an adventure."

Wheater, who was named in September to succeed co-founder Gerald Arpino (who became artistic director emeritus last July), went to work immediately. He is much too busy to mince words telling you why he's come home.

"Look at the fabulous repertoire," says the 48-year-old Scots-born, Royal Ballet School-trained dancer as he begins his five-year contract. "It's Ashton, Cranko, and the Diaghilev ballets. Robert Joffrey had a vision to keep these ballets and to revive them. But, what's important is how they are danced. The Ballets Russes centenary is in 2009, and I realized that we are one of the few companies that can really celebrate it properly."

At the same time, Wheater hones in on where the Joffrey could be strengthened. "We need new repertoire, new blood," he says. "Mr. Joffrey loved offering opportunities to gifted young choreographers like Mark Morris, James Kudelka, and Laura Dean. I'll be looking around a lot." He mentions Shen Wei, Wayne McGregor, and his friend Christopher Wheeldon as dancemakers of interest and muses that Bill T. Jones has never made a piece for an American ballet company.

Wheater has no immediate plans to increase the size of the Joffrey beyond the current 46-50 dancers. …

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