Historic partnership brings together Joffrey Ballet and Neolea Hellenic Dancers for a unique performance.
An idea from Joffrey’s Women’s Board becomes a groundbreaking event that transcends culture and heritage through the universal language of dance.
Called one the country’s premier ballet companies, the Joffrey was established in 1956. This world-class company, based in Chicago, is known for its commitment to artistic excellence and innovation. The Joffrey prides itself on its unique repertoire, that features both masterpieces, and new, exciting works. They are committed to arts education and dance training; Joffrey Academy of Dance makes classical dance education accessible, and the Community Engagement programs brings unique works to the community.
The Joffrey’s Community Engagement program’s 20 for 20! was created to celebrate the Joffrey’s 20th year as Chicago’s premier ballet company. 20 for 20! was designed to give back to the city and introduce dance to the masses. Twenty performances, in collaboration with various community organizations, plus dance workshops, were held throughout the year. The Joffrey has partnered with local organizations like the Field Museum. Garfield Park Conservatory, and others, to present these performances.
In a meeting of Joffrey’s Women’s Board, an idea was floated to partner with a Greek dance troupe. The event could celebrate the Greek culture, and expose the greater community to the world of Greek dance, as well as expose Joffrey students to a different type of dance.
“Kathy Kalesperis Smith, our Women’s Board liaison, put this idea in motion,” said Erica Edwards, the Joffrey’s Director of Community Engagement.
Kathy is of Greek descent, and her son Austin has performed in the Joffrey’s production of the “Nutcracker” for several years. She’s since become very active with the organization.
“I thought it would be different to take Community Engagement to another level, to partner with a different culture. Neolea’s director Patty Jouras, and Erica thought this was a great idea. Astra Gamsjaeger co-chair of the Community Engagement committee spoke to a Women’s Board member at the Field Museum who mentioned the opening of the exhibit, ‘The Greeks’. We met with the Education team at the Field and they loved the idea,” Kathy explained.
Founded in 2007 to promote, encourage and preserve the traditional Greek dances and history, Neolea was formed by a group of moms that wanted their high school- and college-aged children to have the opportunity to learn Greek dances, and to further instill a love for their heritage. The group is comprised of 28 dancers from all over Chicagoland, and performs at area festivals and events.
The partnership comes together
Kathy contacted the Neolea Hellenic Dancers, and shared the concept. They immediately thought it was an unprecedented opportunity to showcase their love of Greek dance, though they initially weren’t sure just how these two distinct types of dance could come together.
“Honestly, we weren’t quite sure about what to expect. Initially, we were worried that our music would not lend itself to the type of dance that Joffrey is known for. We decided to do it however, since we believed in the talent and dedication that both troupes possess. Dance is a universal language. Dancing to the same music, we knew this would be an amazing collaboration,” said Patty Jouras, Neolea’s director.
The concept is for the Neolea Hellenic Dancers to perform traditional Greek dances wearing traditional costumes, at the Field Museum, during “The Greeks” exhibit, (the historic exhibit opened November 25), followed by the Joffrey dancers, who would integrate the spirit of these dances into an original modern performance.
Patty described her experience with Joffrey.
“It’s a huge honor and a pleasure to be collaborating with this group affiliated with the Joffrey Ballet. The level of talent and professionalism was evident when we got together for a joint practice session at the Joffrey Tower. To hear and see Greek music brought to life in a new and different way was refreshing. The dancers embraced each other and had an immediate feeling of comradery.”
Traditional meets Modern
On the face it may seem a most unusual pairing, but Patty explained that it’s really not as big a stretch as it seems.
“It is an unusual pairing, yes. However, what a better way to bring two very diverse groups of young adults from Chicago and its suburbs together. The language of dance is universal, so for Neolea to watch our music that we have performed over and over be interpreted in such a way was exhilarating. The instructors of the Community Engagement Group, along with myself and dance instructor Katerina Alexopoulos, accepted the challenge to make this pairing a successful showcase of traditional meets modern under the umbrella of Hellenic music and dance.”
Students from Joffrey’s Community Engagement department’s Exelon Strobel Step-Up Program will perform in this collaboration. This is a rigorous scholarship program offered to promising high school students, to help them develop their dance skills, and provide opportunities to showcase their talents. It founded in 2006 and named in honor of Joffrey’s former Board Chair Pamela B. Strobel, plus longtime Joffrey supporter, Exelon Corporation.
“It was obvious in rehearsals that our students enjoyed learning traditional Greek dances. When they watched Neolea perform, they were intrigued because they haven’t been exposed to this type of dance,” added Erica.
The Neolea Dancers and the Joffrey group will present an extraordinarily unique Greek dance experience. There will be two performances, a short “teaser” performance at 11:00am in front of the entrance to the exhibit near “Sue” the famous skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, followed by a second performance at 1:00 pm in the James Simpson Theater.
In the “teaser” performance Neolea will perform a traditional dance followed by the Joffrey dancers performing an original dance choreography. At 1:00 pm, the combined group will perform a 40 minute program, to include several traditional Greek dances. In the final dance, Joffrey students will join the Neolea dancers for a traditional Greek dance.
“We would love to bring this collaboration to other places. The students have worked hard together to make this event successful and it would be great to share this experience with other people,” Erica stated.
Exciting time for Greek culture in Chicago
With the “Dionysos Unmasked” exhibit at the Art Institute, and “The Greeks” at the Field Museum, Greek art, heritage, and culture have been elevated from within our community to the mainstream spotlight. This is truly an exciting time in Chicago, as Greek culture takes center stage. This Joffrey collaboration brings it all together with dance, which just like music, is something that can be enjoyed by all and transcends any barriers.
“This collaboration was very appealing. To our knowledge, this has not been done before, which makes it very exciting. We believe that this collaboration is what is right with Chicago. Seeing the headlines in other newspapers on a daily basis of the youth being separated by their differences, we thought this would be a beacon of light for a new day. Coming together in this way, with a common love of dance, is what we need more of. Since Hellenic dance and music is usually an unfrequented stop in many circles, this brings our heritage to the forefront to share with a different audience to enjoy. We are proud of our heritage and it shows in every one of our performances.”
Don’t miss this historic collaboration, at Field Museum, this Saturday, December 19, beginning with the teaser at 11:00 am.
The Field Museum is located at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.