As of July 1, the 83-year-old choreographer becomes the Joffrey's Artistic Director Emeritus. This is a lifetime appointment, according to a statement released today by company management.
A succession committee which includes Arpino has been established by the Joffrey's board of directors and begins an international search for a new artistic director next week. Pam Strobel, the chair of that committee, told The Chicago Tribune, "We're fortunate to have this incredible man still with us, to address the issue of who's next while he's here to help."
Asked about his new title, Arpino told the paper, "I feel emeritus."
Robert Joffrey and Arpino established the troupe, initially called the Robert Joffrey Ballet, in 1956; in the company's early years Arpino was one of six dancers touring the U.S. in a borrowed station wagon with a U-Haul.
Arpino created his first dance for the Joffrey, Ropes, in 1961, and became resident choreographer soon afterward. By 1965 he was co-director of the company, and he became its sole artistic director upon Robert Joffrey's death in 1988. He was the driving force behind the decision to move the company from New York to Chicago in 1995.
Works choreographed by Arpino now form more than one-third of the company's repertoire. And the company will get to keep those works: in response to the tumultuous battle over Martha Graham's heir and her company over the right to her dances, Arpino declared in 2004 that the Joffrey Ballet would keep in perpetuity the right to perform his works and those of Robert Joffrey. "I've seen to it that my works are incorporated into the company forever," Arpino told The Chicago Tribune.
The Joffrey Ballet's next series of performances — a program headed by Arpino's Light Rain and Valentine — runs from April 25 through May 6 at the Auditorium Theatre on the campus of Roosevelt University in Chicago. More information is available at www.joffrey.com.