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Dancing the Night Away for the Joffrey Ballet

June 30, 1997|MARK EHRMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Hundreds of L.A.'s ballet lovers went down to the Ahmanson Theatre on Thursday for the opening night gala celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. The evening also kicked off the Joffrey's 1997 Los Angeles engagement and was dedicated to the late James A. Doolittle. And while organizers were loath to mention the B-word--"benefit," that is--the object was to raise money for the Joffrey as well.

"We're celebrating the 40th anniversary of the vision that was held by Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey," said event co-chairwoman Sandra Wisot, president of the Los Angeles Friends of the Joffrey. "We're really happy that the Joffrey is returning to Los Angeles with a repertory program. Our audience has been waiting for this for a long time."

This black-tie affair began with a cocktail reception outside the Ahmanson. Guests were treated to such ambient visuals as high-school ballerinas pirouetting on tables, silent string players in death-white makeup as well as an audible jazz fusion band. There was free wine and champagne but, oddly, for an event where the buy-in started at $275, a cash bar. Guests included the Joffrey's artistic director, Arpino, and many of L.A.'s cultural benefactors as well as Jane Seymour and golden age of movies musical star Ann Miller.

After the performance, which included the Los Angeles premiere of "Legends II," a work set to recordings by divas Edith Piaf, Lena Horne, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland and Bette Midler, there was a dinner followed by dancing on the plaza by the Music Center fountain. After courses of duck confit and grilled Chilean sea bass, an awards ceremony took place. Brad Brian, former chairman of the Joffrey Ballet Board, was presented with a pair of commemorative ballet shoes signed by members of the company.

But the real focus of the night was Arpino, who began the company with a 1956 Chevy station wagon and six dancers and who shepherded the Joffrey through 40 years of creative and financial struggle.

"The fact that two young men with nothing could start something like this shows the promise of the American dream," said the choreographer. The evening collected $200,000 to continue that dream.

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