Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance 

Dance, dance, dance - The Joffrey's corps de ballet, revealed.

Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance

B-

My ignorance about ballet is so boundless, I'd have bought just about anything I was told in Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance, a film that's not shy about heaping buckets of praise on its subject. This bone-dry documentary works fiercely to exalt and explain the profound, groundbreaking influence of the venerable troupe, founded more than a half-century ago by Robert Joffery and Gerald Arpino. We are told, over and over, that the Joffrey invigorated the stuffy classical dance scene, with a mixture of professional rigor and playful inventiveness that fearlessly mingled the very distinct worlds of uptown and downtown culture. 

"Mr. Joffrey," as his dancers respectfully remember him, had the vision and willpower to force his company to the forefront of the New York arts community, and therefore the world stage, though he didn't have the best business sense. Former members recount in horror how the company's founders failed to prepare for the loss of a sizable NEA grant in the late '70s, a major blow they weren't agile enough to sidestep. Triumphs and calamities seemed to go hand in hand for the company, which was always on the edge, both critically and financially. They were never farther out than in 1973 with "Deuce Coupe," their celebrated collaboration with avant-choreographer Twyla Tharp, scored to the music of the Beach Boys, which smudged the line between ballet and modern dance forever. Less critically successful was a later show set to the tunes of Prince, which caused purists to turn up their noses but drew huge crowds and kept the lights on. Such commercial moves helped the talented Arpino hold things together after his former lover and lifelong business partner Joffrey died too soon of AIDS, a disease he still had to pretend not to suffer from in the late '80s. 

As innovative as the Joffrey Company was and remains, this doc is shockingly pedestrian. We are told more of the company's greatness than we are shown; the statically shot archival footage is too often narrated over or edited into shreds, seldom pausing long enough to let the dance speak for itself. Recently, the brilliantly stirring doc Pina showed how powerfully dance can be utilized on film, but here it's subordinate to the narrative. Director Bob Hercules doesn't show lots of muscle, preferring information to emotion, a curious choice in a movie about passionate people in an expressive art form, forever laboring for love.


Showing at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 12, and at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at the Detroit Film Theatre, inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at letters@metrotimes.com.

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

Read the Digital Print Issue

March 3, 2021

View more issues

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit

© 2021 Detroit Metro Times - Contact Us

Website powered by Foundation