Documentary: Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance

19 Mar

Seeing this documentary March 18, the closing night of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, in the intimate setting the San Francisco Film Festival Theater on Post Street resurrected the intensity and immediacy seeing the Joffrey always evoked in me.  It’s a fine documentary, even when showing early ballets as later ones for thematic argument.

I saw the Joffrey when it first appeared in San Francisco at the old Veterans’ Auditorium and at the Commerce High School Auditorium, through their Stanford and U.C., Berkeley residencies and during its affiliation with the San Francisco Symphony.  Sitting next to Joanna Harris exchanging identities as the individuals appeared on the screen was like a special reunion.

Director Bob Hercules included  interviews of the original dancers in the station wagon for six touring the United States in a series of one-night stands: Francoise Martinet; Brunhilde Ruiz, then others who came shortly after: Paul Sutherland; Diane Consoer plus those from the in-between years and the brief affiliation with Rebekah Harness, principally Helgi Tomasson.  Two of the crop arriving during the rejuvenation of the company, Trinette Singleton and Charthel Arthur, speak with candor as do Christian Holder, Gary Cryst and Dermot Burke, all augmented by Sacha Anawalt whose history of the company is unsurpassed. The dancers especially are wonderfully animated.

Among the close associates speaking are Alex Ewing, an early executive director and son of American Ballet Theatre legend Lucia Chase, and Herbert Migdoll, for years the company’s official photographer. Now American Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin McKenzie, a four-year company member, also provided salient observations.

Hercules has included not only early Joffrey pictures and an image of Mary Ann Wells, but photos of Jerry Arpino, and footage parallel to American history influencing choices of ballet subject matter, plus Joffrey’s famous revivals of Kurt Jooss’s  Green Table and Leonide Massine’s Parade.  These sections include footage of the choreographers themselves, and, with Leonide Massine, a glimpse of his directorial style.  Jerry Arpino provided wonderful commentary, his style peppering the memories of many interviewed.  A good perspective is provided by Anna Kisselgoff, former chief critic for the New York Times and Heidi Weiss, critic from Chicago.

There is an inaccuracy which I picked up on, an entirely understandable one.  I wish I  remembered the source, but it eludes me.  However,it comes from the late Jeannot Cerrone, who toured the Joffrey for Rebekah Harkness, then managed the Harkness Ballet for two years and ended his life managing Harid Conserevatory in Boca Raton, Florida.  He was credited as saying the following: the Internal Revenue Service was responsible for telling Mrs. Harkness that to continue to use ballet as a tax deduction she had to have a company bearing her name, instead of one with the Joffrey title.  Whether this statement is accurate can only be determined via written records, if such still exist.  It’s unlikely any dance historian wants to spend time on such minutiae.

The hour and twenty-seven minutes sped by, followed by a question and answer period featuring Helgi Tomasson, artistic director, San Francisco Ballet; Ashley Wheater, artistic director, The Joffrey Ballet; Tina le Blanc, former principal, San Francisco Ballet, now a member of the San Francisco Ballet School faculty; and Henry Berg, not only teaching but also working with San Francisco Ballet’s dancers getting back into shape after injury.

There is a DVD available for sale,  Buy it – it’s a history to cherish.

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One Response to “Documentary: Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance”

  1. Sheri Candler March 20, 2012 at 2:37 am #

    Thanks for the great review and for attending the screening. Glad you enjoyed it.

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