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AMERICAN MASTERS: Joffrey: Mavericks Of American Dance

Airs Friday, Dec. 28, 2012 at 9 p.m. & Sunday, Dec. 30 at 12 p.m. on KPBS TV

Joffrey Ballet's

Credit: Courtesy of Herbert Migdoll

Above: Joffrey Ballet's "Light Rain" choreographed by Gerald Arpino.

AMERICAN MASTERS "Joffrey: Mavericks Of American Dance," premiering nationally December 2012, tells the story of the first quintessentially American dance company, the Joffrey Ballet. Founders Robert Joffrey (12/24/1930 – 3/25/1988) and Gerald Arpino (1/14/1923 – 10/29/2008) revolutionized American dance by combining modern with traditional ballet to create a new and daring art form. Narrated by Tony® and Emmy® Award-winner Mandy Patinkin ("Homeland"), the documentary is the first to chronicle the Joffrey Ballet’s pioneering dance philosophy.

Award-winning filmmaker Bob Hercules traces the company’s struggles and triumphs: from its humble beginnings in 1956, touring the United States in a borrowed station wagon, to becoming one of the world’s most exciting and prominent ballet companies.

Using rare archival footage and behind-the-scenes photos, "Joffrey: Mavericks Of American Dance" features excerpts from signature company works, including "Astarte," "Trinity" and "Billboards" (the latter with music by Prince) as well as its breakthrough collaborations with legendary choreographers Kurt Jooss ("The Green Table") and Leonide Massine ("Parade").

The Joffrey Ballet also commissioned early works by Twyla Tharp ("Deuce Coupe," "As Time Goes By"), Laura Dean ("Night," "Creative Force") and Margo Sappington ("Weewis," "Face Dances"), introducing these innovative choreographers to larger audiences.

"Joffrey: Mavericks Of American Dance" illustrates the dynamic trajectory of the groundbreaking company through archival interviews with Joffrey and Arpino and original interviews with former and current Joffrey star dancers and ballet notables, including Gary Chryst, Trinette Singleton, Helgi Tomasson, Kevin McKenzie, Ashley Wheater, Christian Holder, Francoise Martinet, Davis Robertson, and Adam Sklute.

These insiders describe what it was like to be a part of the company, Joffrey’s and Arpino’s different teaching styles, and how the Joffrey Ballet broke barriers by: accepting and cultivating a diverse group of talented dancers regardless of race and body type, integrating pop and rock music scores and art with social commentary, and resurrecting nearly lost early 20th Century masterpieces.

They also explain how the company repeatedly resurrected itself after devastating financial and artistic setbacks such as the Rebekah Harkness funding power struggle, National Endowment for the Arts cutbacks, Joffrey’s death, and the move from New York City to Chicago in 1995.

“The Joffrey’s history is exciting, accessible and a great lesson to us all about the power of creative risk-taking and artistic collaboration,” says Susan Lacy, series creator and executive producer of AMERICAN MASTERS.

AMERICAN MASTERS is on Facebook. The Joffrey Ballet is on Facebook, and you can follow @joffreyballet on Twitter.

Preview: American Masters: Joffrey: Mavericks Of American Dance

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Watch Trailer: Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance on PBS. See more from American Masters.

Uncover the story of the first quintessentially American dance company, the Joffrey Ballet. Founders Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino pioneered a new dance philosophy by daringly combining modern and traditional techniques and art with social statement, and integrating pop and rock music scores. Tracing the struggles and triumphs of the company from 1956 to the present, the film features interviews with former and current Joffrey dancers, the breakthroughs of choreographers Twyla Tharp, Laura Dean and Margo Sappington, and rare archival performance footage, including excerpts from signature works "Astarte," "Trinity" and "Billboards." Mandy Patinkin narrates.

Joffrey: Video Archive: The Green Table Rehearsal (1967)

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Watch Joffrey: The Green Table Rehearsal (1967) on PBS. See more from American Masters.

“The Green Table” is an anti-war statement that has transcended times of war: lending itself to each new conflict and each new generation. Created by Kurt Jooss in 1932 for the International Competition of Choreography in Paris, the performance ranges from the closed door meetings of politicians to the battlefield of waring soldiers. It’s both the corruption and the inhumanity of wartime. In 1967, The Joffrey Ballet was the first American company to revive this pacifist work — for a different war and a different people — and it quickly became a signature performance, giving a socially relevant voice to the company. See it for yourself in an archive Joffrey rehearsal from the 1960s.

Film Excerpt: The making of Joffrey’s 'Astarte'

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Watch Joffrey: Film Excerpt - Astarte on PBS. See more from American Masters.

Hippies, sex, art and politics. The Joffrey Ballet’s Astarte was the first multimedia production of it’s kind: it was a fusion of audience participation and rock ‘n’ roll music. After all it was the 1960s, but the performance went on to define the ballet company.

Joffrey: Film Excerpt: The 'Parade' Revival

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Watch Joffrey: Film Excerpt - Parade on PBS. See more from American Masters.

The scene represents a Sunday Fair in Paris. There is a traveling Theatre, and three Music Hall turns are employed as Parade. There are the Chinese Conjuror, an American girl, and a pair of Acrobats. Three Managers are occupied in advertising the show. They tell each other that the crowd in front is confusing the outside performance with the show which is about to take place within, and they try, in their crudest fashion, to induce the public to come and see the entertainment within, but the crowd remained unconvinced. After the last performance, the Managers make another effort, but the Theatre remains empty. The Chinaman, the Acrobats, and the American girl, seeing that the Managers have failed, make a last appeal on their own account. But it is too late. - Jean Cocteau, From the original Parade program, May 18, 1917, Théâtre de Châtelet, Paris, France.

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