A new beginning…again

By Sheri Candler

In order to get the company restarted, Robert Joffrey had to replace the dancers he had shed or who had chosen to leave. Largely this was accomplished by promoting from within, most dancers came from the Joffrey II company. They included Madelyn Berdes, James Canfield, Leslie Carothers, Glenn Edgerton, Tom Mossbrucker and Luis Perez. The new group did find it difficult living in the shadow of the previous group who had brought the Joffrey Ballet to prominence around the world. James Canfield remarked in Anawalt’s book, “For years after we started again, it seemed like every review was about ‘Where are Gary Chryst and Christian Holder?’”

For the 1980 season, Joffrey embarked on an ambitions plan of presenting 11 new works so not only were audiences and critics seeing an entirely new company, they were seeing entirely new repertoire. One such piece was Night from up and coming choreographer Laura Dean. In an interview for the film, the late Joffrey dancer Mark Goldweber remembers rehearsals on that piece. “I was in the first Laura Dean piece that came into Joffrey, and it’s really funny because as a little boy, I would spin. I’d do for hours around the house.  So I loved the spinning and I got a review that said [I was] spinning as twice as fast as all the other members of the cast.   The first day of rehearsals, Laura Dean said, ‘Okay you’ve all tried it, now if you’d like to leave, I won’t hold it against you.’  A lot of people left and I don’t even think it was because they didn’t want to do it, but I think the spinning made them sick and so they knew they wouldn’t be able to do it.  We all had our strengths back then and it was fun to work with the new people, the experimental people.” Other little known choreographers (to Americans anyway) highlighted in that season included Jirí Kylián, William Forsythe (a Joffrey II alum) and James Kudelka.

still from Laura Dean's Night

Inspired by the influx of new, young dancers, Gerald Arpino also produced new works in the early 1980s including Light Rain (1981), Round of Angels (1983) and Italian Suite (1983), while Robert Joffrey choreographed his final ballet Postcards (1980).

In October 1981, representatives from the Music Center of Los Angeles approached Joffrey to discuss the possibility of a move from New York. While other LA based appeals had preceded this talk, the company had not taken those invitations seriously. Some have speculated that former California governor, now President of the United States, Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy had put more force behind the invitation since their son Ron Reagan Jr. was a member of the company. From Anawalt’s book, “I think my mother’s agenda was a personal one of ‘When we move back to Los Angeles, my son will be in the same city as I am’ and there were plenty of people who were looking to suck up to those in power,’ said Reagan, Jr. Those people arranged for Mrs. Reagan’s wish of having her son in the same city to come true. Also, a year after young Reagan joined Joffrey II, large donation amounts from Nancy Reagan’s friends started rolling in to the company.

Ron Reagan, Jr, President and Mrs. Reagan with Mr. Joffrey

For his part, Gerald Arpino was optimistic for the move. He said at the time, “It’s very exciting because we came here with such trepidation that all the Los Angeles people would be laid back and not as supportive of the arts and so forth and it was a complete reverse.  They are taking The Joffrey to heart. If Los Angeles proves that it can add this new dimension to what the vision of Robert Joffrey and myself is, which is American Dance, then there will be no holding back.”



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