Sixty-one years ago, Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino launched the Joffrey Ballet in New York City. Twenty-two years ago, the company made a sudden exit, making a surprise relocation to Chicago. This year, New York City gets a piece of the Joffrey back.
The Joffrey Ballet is donating its extensive archives, including photos, video, personal mementos, and more to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
Linda Murray, New York Public Library Jerome Robbins Dance Division Curator, recently visited Chicago to take stock of the collection and plan the movement of the approximately 575 linear feet of archives to New York.
“I first came in December,” she said. “[We did a] site visit to try to understand the scope.”
Standing out among the early findings includes co-founder Arpino’s traveling case, with drawers stocked full of photographs and other archival material. Another box revealed Robert Joffrey’s high school report cards and good luck telegrams from his mother. Also striking is a fill-in-the-blank school form, to which Joffrey gave his answer to Vocational Choice with one word: dancer.
Joffrey Ballet Executive Directors Greg Cameron said the decision to donate the archives was fairly easy. As to the amount and importance of the materials housed throughout the Joffrey’s expansive space in downtown Chicago, “none of us had any idea,” he said. “We have got to find a way to preserve the integrity of the materials.”
Bringing the complete archives to New York will be a homecoming of sorts. All of Robert Joffrey’s personal papers are already in the New York Public Library dance archives.
“He has basically used the library as a storage unit,” Murray said.
The Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library is the largest in the world, and the Joffrey Ballet’s archives will now sit alongside those of the American Ballet Theatre, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Ballets Russe, and the New York City Ballet, to name a few.
Joffrey himself would likely be pleased with the decision, given his affinity for closely documenting dance on his own. He kept copious notes and materials from his own choreography and performances, including the pieces of other choreographers and companies.
“We are particularly excited about bringing in his material because he so appreciated documenting and preserving dance,” Murray said. “It did feel like some sort of fate had pulled us together.”
She is excited by the possibilities having this collection–completely processed and organized and joined with Robert Joffrey’s personal papers–holds.
“The Joffrey story is the last big ballet story that hasn’t been told in a substantial way,” she said.
The materials will now be processed and preserved over the next year at the library’s Long Island City facility before made available to the public at the Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
The Dance Division is commonly used by artists, filmmakers, and dancers looking for inspiration.
“Who knows what might be a jumping off point,” said Cameron. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some young dancer training at Joffrey…in 10 to 15 years might be poring through this collection retelling their Joffrey story.”