"I personally invited Ashley Wheater to join the Joffrey in 1984," said Arpino, now the company's Artistic Director Emeritus, in a statement released today. "His work has been known to me for years and he brings a very dedicated commitment to the art of ballet."
"It is a huge honor to be asked to take over the Joffrey Ballet from Mr. Arpino," said Wheater. "This company is dear to my heart and is responsible for bringing me to America 24 years ago."
According to a statement, Wheater was the unanimous choice of the Joffrey's board of directors.
A native of Great Britain, Wheater studied at the Royal Ballet School in London and began his professional career at the Royal Ballet. He subsequently moved (on the recommendation of Rudolf Nureyev) to London Festival Ballet, where he became a principal dancer. He joined the Australian Ballet in 1982; in 1984, Arpino saw Wheater dance in Australia and invited the 25-year-old to join the Joffrey.
Wheater danced in many classic and modern ballets during his four years with the Joffrey, including works by Mark Morris, William Forsythe, Eugene Loring and Laura Dean as well as by Joffrey and Arpino themselves.
In 1989 Wheater joined San Francisco Ballet, where he performed lead roles in nearly all of the company's classical repertoire as well as in new works by choreographers such as Morris, James Kudelka and company artistic director Helgi Tomasson. In 1996 Wheater suffered a neck injury that ended his performing career (except for occasional character roles); he became the company's ballet master that same year and was named assistant to the artistic director in 2002.
The Joffrey Ballet opens its 2007-08 season in its hometown of Chicago with its first production ever of the classic Giselle, running October 17-28 at the Auditorium Theater. Before that, the company tours to the San Francisco Bay area for four performances at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley October 4-6. For more information, visit www.joffrey.com.