Photo courtesy of Mario Villanueva
While most colleges are relatively quiet this time of year, St. Mary’s University campus is currently buzzing with a cadre of student dancers who have taken over this month as a part of the annual Joffrey Texas workshop. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Joffrey Texas, which was founded by Robert Joffrey in 1978. The program hosts students for up to a month of rigorous training in multiple styles of dance and has produced a number of professionals.
Joffrey is notable as one of the pioneers of the hybrid style of classical dance and modern movement common in dance performance today. His sizable oeuvre is marked by a style that combines balletic precision and footwork with floorwork and evocation of raw emotion drawn from the modern school.
In 1954, Joffrey created his eponymous company, which resided in New York and then Los Angeles before settling in Chicago in 1995. The company departed from the traditional rankings of ballet, opting instead to organize as an ensemble with dancers rotating in and out of leading roles, which created a cooperative — rather than competitive — atmosphere that fostered creativity and unity among the dancers.
After his death, Joffrey’s romantic partner and collaborator Gerald Arpino took over the Joffrey Ballet until 2007, and the company continues to perform, tour, and teach from its base in Chicago to this day.
But how did Joffrey end up hosting this workshop in San Antonio? According to Joffrey Texas Director Mauro Villanueva, who grew up in San Antonio and studied dance at University of the Incarnate Word (UIW), the Joffrey Ballet Company regularly visited San Antonio on tour, and Joffrey took a shine to our fair city. He wanted to take advantage of the calmer atmosphere of the South Texas burg (in contrast to New York), and conceived the idea of a summer educational program that would be based here. At its inception, there were few, if any, programs of this kind, so it was particularly notable to be invited by Joffrey to take part in the workshop, which he personally directed. Villanueva notes that “there weren’t that many places to go that had such a direct connection to a professional company,” and many dancers who participated in the summer program would eventually be accepted into either the main or second companies of the Joffrey Ballet.
Originally based at UIW, Joffrey Texas moved to St. Mary’s around a decade ago. The main program is comprised of two tiers of study — a two-week program for intermediate students and a four-week program for top-level students — both of which feature intensive classes in ballet, modern and contemporary dance taught by professional faculty that include Joffrey Ballet alums Diane Orio and Trinette Singleton.
For its 40th anniversary, Joffrey Texas has expanded in two major ways. In a shift to focus more on the foundational education of younger dancers, this year marks the inception of a week-long day-program, “the FUNdamentals,” in which young students firm up basic dance techniques so that they can continue to grow through the next year with the goal of eventually joining the higher level programs at Joffrey Texas.
This year’s other new program is a Pre-Professional Experience, in which university and trainee-level dancers gain experience in leadership roles by working closely with the artistic directors and chaperoning the younger dancers. Most of the participants in this new program are returning Joffrey Texas students, who have now taken the lead in helping execute choreography and even conducting sessions of their own.
The workshop culminates in a showcase performance on July 21, in which students will present new works conceived specifically for Joffrey Texas alongside excerpts from the ballets of Joffrey and Arpino. Of particular note is a collaborative piece co-created by guest artistic director Joshua Peugh and the participants in this year’s workshop, in which they devised the choreography from the ground up “based on a vocabulary that they created together,” Villanueva says. Additionally, artistic director Katie Cooper, L.A.-based composer Nick Norton and Villanueva collaborated on a brand-new piece of music and dance that will premiere at the showcase. Other performances include excerpts from Joffrey’s Gamelan, a ballet inspired by haiku, and Arpino’s Kettentanz, which evokes the atmosphere of old Vienna balls, as well as pieces choreographed by Orio, Singleton and Villanueva.
Joffrey Texas Showcase
$25, 2pm Sat, July 21, John Paul Stevens High School, 600 N. Ellison Drive, (210) 418-1421, joffreytexas.com
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