Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance Review (Kirk Haviland)

Photo Courtesy of VKPR

Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance

Written and Directed by Bob Hercules

Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino were the two visionaries behind the creation and innovation of the Joffrey Ballet. Narrated by Mandy Patinkin, Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance tells the history behind the Joffrey Ballet and the story of these two men. Through archival footage and interviews (both men have passed on) director Hercules attempts to lay out the history of the influential ballet company.

Co-founded in 1956, the then titled “The Robert Joffrey Ballet” was a touring company of six dancers traversing the US in a borrowed station wagon with Joffey choreographing and Arpino as lead male dancer. Eventually Arpino would move into the choreography role himself as the company grew in size and talent. The to men started a school of dance where they insisted on classical ballet proficiency but would then add many other contemporary styles into the routines of their dancers, making them adaptable and pushing the boundaries of traditional ballet. The Ballet took on a backer in Rebekah Harkness in the early 60’s who eventually tried to commandeer the entire group. Unwilling to re-title his company “The Harkness Ballet”, Joffrey and Harkness parted ways, with Harkness taking 90% of the dancers under contract to her foundation and leaving Joffrey and Arpino with two dancers and a school of students to restart. Convinced that he could do it again, Joffrey proved it as the ballet flourished and grew larger than ever before. Surviving yet another financial crisis and a move out of New York to Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet remains a vital and boundary pushing company of dancers and choreographers to this day.

Photo Courtesy of VKPR

Probably the most lasting fact to come from this documentary is the amount of former Joffrey dancers/proteges who are now major forces in the dance world, acting as company heads and/or head choreographers across the United States. Through tons of archival footage and interviews with these influential grads mixed with the aforementioned archival interviews we have the entire history laid out piece by piece. Even with the rare footage we are given the opportunity to see, the film comes off as flat. Director Hercules manages to fill our heads with stats and glorious imagery but fails to give a personality or a ground-breaking presence to his film. With the inspirational subject that is the backbone of this film, it’s sad to realize that we don’t get much inspiration out of this film.

Dance enthusiasts will probably revel in the archival footage, as they should, but as a complete film I cannot rate Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance anything more than a disappointment. Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance is a mild non-recommend.

Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance starts an exclusive run at the Bloor Cinema starting Friday July 27th.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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