New $3M Abbot Fund Grant Breathes Fresh Life into Joffrey Academy of Ballet After Year of Shutdowns
Queen Elizabeth dubbed 1992 “Annus Horribilis” (horrible year) because of the various tumultuous events that had wreaked havoc within her royal family that year. Annus horribilis might also be an accurate description of the year 2020, when a once-in-a-century global pandemic wrought havoc upon our nation’s economy and social distancing mandates forced the closure of most of the nation’s arts and cultural institutions.
Chicago’s cultural icons from Lyric Opera, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Joffrey Ballet and Goodman Theatre to the store front theaters that make Chicago the biggest off-Broadway market west of the Big Apple have all been forced to halt in-person performances. Initially, many institutions sought to temper the immediate effects of social distancing mandates upon their institutions and their audiences, quickly proffering online digital performances and programming. As never before, Annus Horribilis 2020 forced Chicago’s cultural institutions to completely reevaluate their traditional funding efforts and audience programming if they wanted to survive.
The Joffrey Ballet has met the challenges head-on in the hopes of emerging from the pandemic even stronger and more resilient. On December 17, 2020, the Joffrey Ballet announced that the current director for the Joffrey Academy of Dance, Raymond Rodriguez, would assume the new position of Abbott Academy Director at the Joffrey Academy of Dance. Created through a generous $3 million Abbot Fund foundational grant, the new Abbot Academy Director will work on expanding the current efforts of the Joffrey Academy to provide dance education to students and communities around the city of Chicago and beyond, including scholarship and performance opportunities.
Since its establishment in 2010, enrollment at the Joffrey Academy of Dance, Official School of the has grown from the 100 students to now over 1,000. The Academy offers three unique programs to meet the demand of students who range in age and experience. The Professional Training Program offers full-time study for those who seek a career in dance. Within the Professional Training Program, there is the Conservatory (for ages 14-18), the Trainee Program (for those 17 and older) and the Joffrey Studio Company (for those outstanding students selected by the Joffrey for enrollment). The second Academy program, Joffrey for All, is a broad-based training program presenting 5 separate classes that span both age and experience level – offering courses for those with no prior dance experience to those considering careers in dance. The Academy also offers a series classes under its Summer Programs, including its renowned Summer Intensive program. An audition-only program for students 7-21 years in age, the Summer Intensive class attracts thousands of applicants to the Joffrey’s State Street headquarters to train with world class coaches. Two remaining summer courses, the Dance Lab (for students between 7-16 years of age) and the Academy Summer Camps require no audition for admission. In addition to the annual summer pilgrimage, the Joffrey Academy’s Winning Works choreographic competition holds sway among the nation’s leading platforms for ALAANA artists (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, or Native American) highlighting newly created work.
The Joffrey’s unique focus on pre-professional programs such as these not only increases awareness of the institution among people of color but also serves as pathway for both nationwide and local talent to become members of the company itself. The Joffrey currently employs 13 Company Artists who themselves were proud graduates of the Joffrey Academy.
Corporate support for Chicago’s cultural institutions has taken on even greater import during Annus Horribilis. Joffrey Artistic Director Ashley Wheater MBE noted that the Abbott Academy Director “will have an immediate impact for the Joffrey Academy, its students, our amazing faculty, and our main Company. I send my sincere thanks to Abbot for believing in our strategic vision, and its continuing commitment to the Joffrey.”
Abbott recognizes that its investments in the Joffrey and other Chicago arts organizations also have immeasurable impact on the City of Chicago. Says Jenna Daugherty, Divisional Vice President, Global Citizenship and Sustainability and Vice President of the Abbott Fund, “supporting the sustainability of our vital cultural institutions like the Joffrey is important for all of us here in Chicago…Under Raymond’s leadership, we look forward to the exciting future of the Joffrey Academy and to see the many ways it helps to make dance accessible in all the years ahead.”
Continued local corporate support of the Joffrey and other Chicago-based cultural institutions, coupled with a uniquely large and devoted local populace that has come to expect nothing less than the best on its stages, are what will lead to the rebirth of Chicago’s arts and culture industry as both the city and the nation emerge from this long and onerous year.
To learn more about the Joffrey Academy of Dance, visit joffrey.org.