April 1, 2023

A new program at the Joffrey Ballet Academy of Dance aims to diversify job training for professional dancers on the rise. This fall, approximately 10 dancers will be the first cohort of contemporary ballet trainees with the Joffrey Ballet. The initiative is purported to be the first of its kind for a major U.S. ballet company and is part of a five-year strategic plan launched in 2020 to expand Joffrey’s education and community engagement programs.
The Contemporary Ballet Trainee Program is modeled after the Joffrey Ballet’s current Trainee Program in classical ballet, a postsecondary alternative that prepares dancers for professional performance careers. Students aged 17 and older may spend up to two years in the full-time training program and are selected by audition. Contemporary ballet trainees will function independently from their classical counterparts. They will rehearse and take classes at Joffrey’s new South Loop studios, opened in 2021 at 1920 S. Wabash Ave.
The main difference between the classical and contemporary programs is the curriculum. Ballet and pointe remain central to the contemporary program, with modern dance, improvisation and even hip-hop added to the class offerings. Unlike a classical ballet training program, which can have narrow views about body type and gender expression, the Contemporary Ballet Trainee Program will look to break stereotypes about who can dance at the professional level.
“Our vision is to provide students with a range of skills and technique that will help them in whichever direction they take their careers,” said academy director Raymond Rodriguez in a statement. “This is a great step forward in our commitment to training the best and most versatile dances in the world.”
Dancers Davide Oldano, Pilar Ortega and Joel Kioko. The Joffrey Ballet has announced the Joffrey Academy Contemporary Ballet Trainee Program, the first of its kind in the country. (Cheryl Mann )
The trainee cohorts will come together for Joffrey’s popular Winning Works, an annual competition and performance highlighting emerging choreographers of color. Additional performance opportunities are yet to be determined.
With the new program’s launch, the Joffrey Academy also reshuffles its staffing. Katlin Michael ­Bourgeois will lead the Contemporary Ballet Trainee Program and former Joffrey dancer Oğulcan Borova will head the Studio Company and Ballet Trainees. Borova replaces Christopher Marney after less than a year in that role, in what Joffrey calls a restructuring of the academy. Bourgeois and Borova start their new jobs on Aug. 22.
Bourgeois (who uses the pronouns they/them) joined Joffrey’s faculty three years ago. Prior to teaching, they performed with Hubbard Street 2 and DanceWorks Chicago following participation in the Alonzo King LINES Ballet Training Program in California. Their pickup company, Ensemble 180, performs in alternative venues across Chicago.
“Honestly, I love my job at Joffrey,” Bourgeois said. “I have wanted to grow within the Joffrey organization ever since I got my first opportunity to teach.”
Similar training programs exist within modern and contemporary companies across the country, providing dancers a shorter, less-expensive alternative to a four-year degree program in a university setting. In Chicago, Common Conservatory trains dancers in ballet and contemporary techniques, with an emphasis on improvisation and repertoire. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s HS-Pro, another preprofessional, tuition-based program, was suspended in 2020 during the pandemic and the loss of the company’s headquarters on W. Jackson Boulevard. DanceWorks Chicago contracts early-career dancers with the goal of launching them into larger companies.
Bourgeois sees value in helming such a program within a big ballet company, which typically has more money, more resources and larger audiences behind it. But it was the culture at Joffrey, more than the infrastructure, that most drew them to the job.
“I want to get away from this connection of ballet culture to snobbery. I don’t find that at Joffrey,” Bourgeois said. “Joffrey feels like a company that is forward-thinking, and I always want to be a part of the future of dance.”
Lauren Warnecke is a freelance critic.
Copyright © 2022, Chicago Tribune
Copyright © 2022, Chicago Tribune


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