The Joffrey commissioned the young Twyla Tharp to choreograph Little Deuce Coupe (1974), inspired by the music of the Beach Boys and American popular iconography (including graffiti); it was another stunning success. Hercules shows archival footage of those pieces and another trend setter, the remounting of a great anti-war dance from the ‘30s, The Green Table, which acquired modern relevance due to the then-current opposition to the Vietnam War.
From classical ballet to rock extravaganzas, the Joffrey went from strength to strength. It was, in retrospect, too good to last. When over $600,000 in National Endowment of the Arts funding was cut in the late ‘70s, the company went into a vertiginous decline.
The latter part of Hercules’ documentary records the company’s attempts to achieve stability after the heady days of the Sixties and Seventies. Tragically, AIDS struck down Robert Joffrey; he died in 1988. Arpino soldiered on but it was only when a newly constituted Board decided to move to Chicago that a revival of the Joffrey slowly began to take place. Now, after more than 50 years of existence, the Joffrey has found a permanent home in Chicago and is rebuilding its reputation.
Bob Hercules’ documentary Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance is a skillful assembling of archival material combined with contemporary interviews with many of the dancers who performed with the company over the years. With Mandy Patinkin narrating, this is an old-fashioned doc in terms of its structure but it does succeed in telling a complicated story in a clear and entertaining fashion.
For anyone interested in contemporary dance and the vagaries of having an arts organization since the Seventies, Bob Hercules’ doc is a must see. Others will find it esoteric—but then, that’s the story of modern dance, isn’t it?