Behind the Scenes: Across the Pond

25 April 2019

1000M is located in the heart of Chicago’s Cultural Mile, where a fabulous array of cultural events are just steps away, including the Joffrey Ballet. The Joffrey’s latest production, Across the Pond, a mixed-repertoire show running April 24-May 5, is a sampling of works from three contemporary, influential U.K.-based choreographers, all working with the company for the first time. Two of the three works are world premieres, and the other is a Chicago premiere.

Across the Pond

Caption: Dancers Rory Hohenstein and Victoria Jaiani rehearse Yonder Blue in the studio. Photo courtesy of The Joffrey Ballet.

The first of the two world premieres, Yonder Blue, is choreographed by Andrew McNicol, a freelance choreographer and winner of the Kenneth Macmillan Choreographic competition. With its minimalist costumes and inventive lighting, Yonder Blue has been described as creating “a sense of vastness,” inspired by the Siri Hustvedt book A Plea for Eros.


Caption: Dancers Rory Hohenstein and Anna Gerberich rehearse Vespertine in the studio. Photo courtesy of The Joffrey Ballet.

Strikingly beautiful custom chandeliers are a centerpiece of Vespertine, the Chicago premiere, which comes from Royal Ballet artist-in-residence choreographer Liam Scarlett. The work is an abstract ballet inspired by the Baroque period music of Arcangelo Corelli, and was originally created for the Norwegian National Ballet in 2013.


Caption: Choreographer Andrea Walker leading rehearsal for HOME. Photo courtesy of The Joffrey Ballet.

The second of the two world premieres, HOME, is choreographed by Andrea Walker, founder and director of London’s 201 Dance Company. As an Italian living in Britain when Brexit happened, Walker began to fear expulsion from the place that had become his home. Walker used that experience to create HOME, along with being inspired by young American DREAMers. The piece is a story of strength, resilience and the nature of belonging, while exploring the meaning of home.

We sat in on a full run-through rehearsal of HOME, and observed the integration of hip-hop into classical ballet moves, a central creative element for Walker. The squeak of gym shoes reverberated through the studio with State Street views as dancers warmed up, leaping and stretching against the backdrop of downtown skyscrapers.


The history of the Joffrey Ballet

Robert Joffrey, founder of the Joffrey Ballet, himself was limited as a dancer by his own body. He was asthmatic, shorter and bow-legged. This inspired him to have a company that welcomed diversity—of size, build and more in its dancers. This diversity, in dancers and in pushing the boundaries of traditional ballet, is what sets the Joffrey Ballet apart from other dance companies. The Joffrey Ballet was also the first U.S. company to do away with rank and alphabetize billing in their programs.

The Joffrey became an unusual company that bridged the gap between classical and modern styles, making a truly American art out of ballet, which had been almost exclusively European-ruled.

The Joffrey was initially founded in NYC, in the thick of the classical ballet world. In 1995, the company moved to Chicago. The windy city was the perfect place for the revolutionary company, where they quickly filled the role as an iconic performing arts institution in the city. Like Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence in architecture, the Joffrey revolutionized the dance world, leading by example. They broke barriers by reinventing classic story ballet and introducing new works with experimental techniques. The result is a ballet that is totally unexpected but rooted in classical technique.


What makes the Joffrey unique

Chief Marketing Officer Brian Smith described what sets the Joffrey apart: “The risk-taking that we do. The innovation, the totally unexpected. Just last year we launched the world premiere of Anna Karenina—the first time that the Joffrey had commissioned an original score for its ballet.” The Joffrey is invigorated by its innovation, breathing life into old works like their reimagination of The Nutcracker last season. Their take on the classic examined what was really important, family and connection, through the lens of an immigrant family experience.


Tickets to see Across the Pond are available for purchase at the Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office located in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street, as well as the Auditorium Theatre Box Office, by telephone at 312.386.8905, or online at