Published Jul 26, 2012It's incredible to think that at age seven, Robert Joffrey came home from seeing his very first ballet performance and immediately sat down to make a list of the ballets he planned to program once he had a company of his own. But that is precisely the moment it all began.
He and his lover, Gerald Arpino, came together as youths and forged ahead to create the Joffrey Ballet School, transforming the art form from the previously elitist European podium to something palatable for all to enjoy.
Director Bob Hercules chronicles the history of the legendary company in Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance, blending interviews of former and current dancers with archival photos and film, packaged neatly with narration from the soothing voice of Mandy Patinkin.
There were years of hard work and dedication, followed by incredible success and inevitably a decline after Joffrey passes on from AIDS, leaving the school in limbo as it fought to find its foothold without its namesake. The school eventually moved to Chicago, where it resides to this day, forever known in the world of ballet as the institution that changed the scene forever.
Hercules addresses a multitude of issues in the documentary, touching on some of the risqué dances Arpino devised that went against the grain, such as men dancing with men. The credibility of the school faltered in the wake of Joffrey's death when they teamed up with Prince to use his music in a production entitled Billboards, focusing more on dazzling audiences with crude pop music dancing rather than the art itself.
Unfortunately, while this hagiographic film touches upon the lives of the school's founders, the director chose not to provide a complete portrait on the principles themselves. The talking heads provide a glimpse at the men behind the ballet company, but the information provided feels reserved and always returns to the school and the art as a whole.
The archival footage, while vivid and fascinating to watch, never goes deep enough to allow viewers a chance to witness what the school actually does. Sticking to a very traditional documentary style, Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance is destined for PBS, which will make many senior citizens happy on Sunday afternoons. (Kinosmith)