Erica Lynette Edwards, who has danced with the Joffrey ballet since 2000 — performing such roles as The Chosen One in Nijinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” the Fairy Godmother in Frederick Ashton’s “Cinderella,” and a solo in Antony Tudor’s “Dark Elegies”— will retire following the engagement of Robert Joffrey’s “The Nutcracker,” running Dec. 5-28 at the Auditorium Theatre. But the dancer won’t be leaving the Joffrey Tower; she has just been named the company’s new Director of Community Engagement.
In her new role, Edwards will be responsible for continuing to expand the company’s successful Community Engagement program, which serves more than 50 schools in Chicago, and an average of 5,000 students annually. In addition to managing all educational programs through the Chicago Public Schools, parochial and private schools, the Chicago Park District and across the community, Edwards will work to increase dance awareness and dance appreciation, laying the foundation to build future dancers and audiences. She replaces Pierre Lockett, another former Joffrey dancer who held the position for years, resigned in June, but still works closely with the Community Engagement program on a consulting basis.
The Joffrey’s expansive Community Engagement program serves students of all ages, ranging from the Lemonis Bridge Program for first and second grades, through the long-standing Middle School Dance Clubs and Residency programs for pre-K through grade 12. Advanced programs include the Exelon Strobel Step-Up Program, a rigorous scholarship program offered to promising high school students; the Advanced Art Program, a partnership with the Chicago Public Schools at Gallery 37 involving yearlong dance instruction for ambitious high school students; and After School Matters Summer Intensives. (For more information on the full range of Community Engagement programs, visit www.joffrey.org/community.)
In a prepared statement Edwards said: “I am honored and excited to transition into my new role. My major at Butler University was arts administration with a concentration in dance. I knew that if I didn’t make it as a professional dancer, I would find a career that would support the art of dance. My mentor, Pierre Lockett, has developed an inspiring community engagement department, and I am ready to nurture it and watch it grow. I am blessed to have had a magical 15-year career as a ballerina with The Joffrey Ballet, and am so happy that I can continue to uphold the legacy of this incredible company.”
Ashley Wheater, artistic director of the Joffrey, observed: “I cannot think of anyone better suited to lead our Community Engagement program. Erica is a native of this region and is intimately familiar with its promise and its challenges. Community Engagement is a key component of The Joffrey Ballet’s mission, providing arts education primarily to students from Chicago’s culturally underserved neighborhoods, with the majority of the program’s participants coming from low-income households and participating in the Chicago Public Schools’ free or reduced lunch program. Through these programs, the students receive dance instruction and performance opportunities to foster life-long learning in the arts. Erica has contributed greatly to The Joffrey Ballet as a dancer. Now her many talents will be channeled towards nurturing the young people of our community. ”
Greg Cameron, the Joffrey’s executive director added: “As a dancer, Erica is fearless, focused and forward-thinking – qualities that she will now share with the children participating in the Joffrey Community Engagement programs. Her work on the stage has brought joy to Joffrey audiences; she will now transform the lives of Chicago’s youth, creating opportunities for them to express artistic excellence, to develop life skills such as discipline and self-confidence, and to ensure they have fun and experience learning in a safe and nurturing environment. ”
Edwards joined The Joffrey Ballet after being one of the first dancers in the Arpino Apprentice program in 2000. She trained at the Salt Creek Ballet School where she performed major roles in their pre-professional ballet company and attended summer intensives at the School of American Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Bryant Ballet on merit scholarships, as well as American Ballet Theater, Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Ruth Page Foundation. She also trained two years at Butler University in Indianapolis on talent, academic and leadership scholarships. For a complete bio of Edwards (who was featured with The Joffrey Ballet in Robert Altman’s 2003 film “The Company”), visit www.joffrey.org/people/erica-lynette-edwards-0.
In related news, former dancer Michael Smith (who performed with the Joffrey from 2001-2013), is joining the team as a Community Engagement Coordinator, where he will maintain social media, teach and choreograph. Michael will oversee Joffrey’s After School Matters, Advanced Arts Placement and Exelon Strobel Step Up programs and serve as Ballet Master for “The Nutcracker” children’s cast.
The Joffrey Ballet continues its 20 anniversary as a Chicago company with its annual fall engagement, Oct. 15-26 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress. The company will present the Chicago premiere of a newly envisioned “Swan Lake” choreographed by the internationally acclaimed Christopher Wheeldon. It will be the first time the Joffrey Ballet has ever performed a “Swan Lake” in its almost 60-year history.
Single tickets to “Swan Lake” ($32 – $170), can be purchased in the box office in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph, as well as the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University box office. Call (800) 982-2787, or visit www.ticketmaster.com. For more information on The Joffrey Ballet and its programs visit joffrey.org.