In what promises to be a momentous artistic and audience-building partnership, Lyric Opera of Chicago has named the Joffrey Ballet as the resident dance company at the Lyric Opera House beginning at the start of the 2020-2021 season. The alliance will mark the end of the Joffrey’s long-time relationship with the Auditorium Theatre, which has served as its home for most of the years since it relocated to Chicago from New York in 1995.
According to both Ashley Wheater, artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet, and Anthony Freud, general director of the Lyric, it is wholly coincidental that this announcement comes just one day before the opening of John Neumeier’s new production of Gluck’s “Orphée et Eurydice” on Saturday evening — a production that marks the first collaboration between the two companies.
Such a collaboration between a ballet company and an opera house is common in Europe, but only the San Francisco Ballet and Houston Ballet share facilities with opera houses in this country. The annual schedule for the Joffrey Ballet will remain essentially the same, with a fall, winter and spring season, plus the month of December devoted to performances of Christopher Wheeldon’s “The Nutcracker,” which debuted last year. The Joffrey will rent the theater during those times, with a contract that runs for seven years. The dance company will continue to make its home at The Joffrey Tower at 10 E. Randolph where it has its rehearsal studios, classrooms and administrative offices.
“I am truly thrilled by this plan,” said Freud. “Ashley was one of first people I met when I moved to Chicago in 2011, and we had a good relationship from the start. But this plan really developed and intensified more recently as we began brainstorming about ‘Orphee et Eurydice,’ the rare work in which opera and ballet have equal status.”
“From the point of view of building our audience — attracting tens of thousands of ballet lovers into our building for what in some cases might be the first time — is very appealing,” Freud said. “And I think it will result in a much better use of the building with these combined art forms on our stage.”
Freud added: “Happily we have three years in which to work out the evolution of this partnership and all its details. I think this alliance will be a win-win for both companies, and also for the city as a whole, and I’m very confident we can each present our seasons without compromise.”
For Wheater, one of the great attractions of working at the Lyric is that “it is now a state-of-the-art theater that can meet all of the demands of contemporary productions with their use of projections, complex lighting and the rest. That is a huge plus for us — an amazing opportunity. And working at the Lyric on ‘Orphee et Eurydice’ we discovered what an exceptional team it has. The Lyric also has been incredibly respectful in terms of understanding what we need for our season, particularly that long block of time for ‘The Nutcracker’.”
Wheater also noted: “The opera house [which has 3,500 seats compared to the Auditorium’s 3,900] also will provide an exceptional experience for our patrons, who will now have access to valet parking, three restaurants located inside the opera house, and others in close proximity to it, as well as easy access to mass transit. We will operate as two separate entities dedicated to our respective art forms. But the Lyric will provide front-of-house support for Joffrey performances.”
The news of the change did not come as a total surprise to Tania Castroverde Moskalenko, CEO of the Auditorium Theatre, who said, “While the loss of the Joffrey’s 12 or more weeks annually on the Auditorium stage (plus some ticketing service fees) is significant, it also opens up opportunities for us to reimagine the future, bringing more international, national and local dance companies to our stage, along with a wide variety of concerts, speakers and even Broadway shows.”
Lyric’s seven performances of “Orphée et Eurydice” will run Sept. 23 – Oct. 15 at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker. For tickets, visit lyricopera.org.