Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Gerald Arpino Memorial 11-17-08

A Tribute to Gerald Arpino

Sitting in the audience of the Auditorium Theater waiting for the memorial service to begin, I had a flash back - a rehearsal when the Joffrey first moved, 1995 – when Gerry yelled out at a dancer: “You think you’re doing it, but your not! You gotta get out of your own way, baby!” I had to dissociate from what he said next - a tirade of incoherent emotional mucky muck that often accompanied his insight. His correction was spot on about muscle memory - why dancers concentrate, focus-through-the-body, and move beyond the mind that says I can’t do that! Only with courage, the ego steps aside and we trust the movement. Gerry always expected more, and in my case what seemed impossible. In fact, in one of his ballets, “The Relativity of Icares”, a review in a Chicago paper by Ann Barzel said: “…the young DeAngelo jumped out of the wing and into a phenomenal solo that an older dancer knows is impossible….”

Gerald Arpino was one of the last of a generation who really cared. He cared about his dancers – saying anything he could, good or bad, to get us to move. “This is a holy place, throw your negativity into the burning flames of the Phoenix and move! Leave your garbage at the door”. When the Joffrey Ballet collapsed in New York and a small group of supporters decided to move the company to Chicago, I ended up by his side as Associate Director, reminding him that like the Phoenix, the company would rise again - because “The spirit of the Joffrey wants to live”. I spoke to him in wisdom-isms and metaphors then, getting him to do what I could to make him not afraid to move. I wasn’t afraid to jump on the Titanic.

Gerald Aprino cared about people, artists, and had a compassion for the underdog. During the transition period he’d often say, “I’m not doing this for me, but for Bob and you all”. I knew Bob was Robert Joffrey, but I didn’t exactly know who “you all” was (me and my two Yorkies?). No, now I could see it was/is for the city of Chicago, the dance world in having a place to work, and everyone who supported the company along the way.

And the Spirit of the Joffrey died (Monday, November 17, 2008):

The best part of the memorial tribute was a kind of documentary. Life-time board members talked of Chicago’s love for the Joffrey, of Arpino ballets with infectious energy that made everyone feel good; of him being a religious man with his -“bless your enemy” - belief (my mother’s too). There were clips of him talking about how he liked to discover the artist in each individual dancer, and what it meant to be a director, and how a company should provide a safe place for artists to be nurtured and to create.

Former Joffrey dancers spoke: only one mentioned his courage to start over at age 72; the current AD – read in a perfect “English” accent - a few words from another director (who had once dropped Gerry from a lift - ending his career). Someone else talked about his generosity, how he took on extra work to pay for company needs; how he always got dancers to rehearse for free; how Joffrey saw early on that he had a choreographer mind – and that there was no official training for ballet choreographers at that time, or now. Everyone mentioned his passion, and passion for passion – and that he expected it from his dancers, along with honesty. Shelly Zide gave the most insight into who he really was, a believer. No one mentioned his insanity.

Needless to say, the under-rehearsed company performed intermittingly - without passion or the “energy” characteristic of the Joffrey – of what people spoke about. The pas de deux from “Light Rain” lacked the over-extended sensuality and tingly tacky seductiveness that gives the piece its character; “Round of Angels” was mechanically staged and the dark lighting obscured the abstract romance of it (saved only by the music); and the last movement from “Trinity” was danced with neither the style nor spirit with which it was created - as if the spirit of the Joffrey died with Arpino. At the end, as in the ballet, dancers placed candles on the ground – in memory and appreciation. But as the last dancer left the stage he knocked several of the candles down, and all I could think of was the wax spilling on the Marley floor – and Gerry’s eyes rolling in his grave.

Gerald Arpino cared. He cared about making art, about the art in the performing art, about discovering potential - uncovering soul, about those magic moments in theater, that burn a hole in your memory. He was about that, the magic –something I find missing today.

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