SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Arts Foundation's "Salon Series"--informal, pre-concert lectures during the American Ballet Theater's recent San Diego stay--proved to be so popular that the foundation decided to try it again for the return of the Joffrey, the world-renowned ballet troupe San Diego has embraced as its own for the past few years.
The foundation arranged to have Gerald Arpino, the troupe's associate director and resident choreographer, herald the Joffrey's four concert series Wednesday through Saturday at the San Diego Civic Theatre. An articulate speaker and staunch San Diego booster from way back, Arpino welcomes this opportunity to meet local balletomanes and break down some of the barriers that separate the artist from the public.
Arpino will speak today during an 11:30 a.m. luncheon at The Inn in Rancho Santa Fe and at 6 p.m. during a reception at the U.S. Grant hotel.
"I always love coming here," Arpino said. "And I'm very excited about this opportunity for a two-way dialogue. It's amazing how interested audiences are (in meeting the artists) and how genuine the questions are. Everything from 'What is the cost of toe shoes?' to 'When should a child begin ballet lessons?' to 'My daughter saw "Round of Angels" (an Arpino ballet that was danced in San Diego during a previous visit) and it altered her life.' I find it fascinating."
Arpino defines his own presentation for the "Salon Series" as an introduction.
"It's a way to familiarize an audience with the company, with the background of the ballets and with the choreographic process," he said. "I will tell people a little about the history of the Joffrey and the making of a company in America by two Americans (Robert Joffrey and himself). You know, we're the only directors of a leading ballet company in this country who were born and raised here. We'll talk about how it can be done.
"Ballet seems so elitist, but these informal discussions give audiences a chance to talk to the artists. It's wonderful for us because we never really get their feedback, and this helps us understand what the audience is feeling."
When the Joffrey dances in San Diego again, it will present a diverse program of contemporary works by four well-known choreographers (including Arpino, who creates a lion's share of the Joffrey's repertoire). Five of the six pieces on the two-part program will be San Diego premieres, and three of those are fresh from the drawing board.
"You'll be seeing three works that we just created," Arpino said. " 'The Heart of the Matter' (choreographed by promising young Canadian James Kudelka), 'Force Field' (a minimalist ballet by postmodernist Laura Dean) and 'Birthday Variations' (one of three ballets by Arpino scheduled for this visit) have only been seen in two other cities. And they've all been set on the Joffrey dancers. They're not just restagings that were designed for another company.
"You know, we talked with Suzanne (Townsend of the San Diego Arts Foundation) about the programming, and she reflected what people would like to see in San Diego. We wanted to do our best here--and this is the best we have. You're getting the gold of our repertory."
The Joffrey dancers will perform two different programs during their stay at the Civic Theatre. Wednesday's and Saturday's program features "Birthday Variations," "Light Rain" and "Heart of the Matter." The program for Thursday and Friday will highlight three of Joffrey's San Diego premieres--Paul Taylor's masterwork, "Arden Court," Dean's "Force Field" and Arpino's "Kettentanz."
The Joffrey concerts will be danced to live accompaniment by the newly formed San Diego Opera Orchestra, under the baton of Joffrey conductor Jonathan McPhee.
"We have no superstars," said Arpino, summing up the Joffrey philosophy, "but we have a supercompany." And the diverse dances scheduled for San Diego were handpicked to show off the company's virtuosity, vitality and all-American charm.