July 17, 2020

Lyric welcomes The Joffrey to the Opera House

In 2017, Lyric Opera of Chicago announced that The Joffrey Ballet would become the resident ballet company at the Lyric Opera House at the start of the 2020/21 Season. And even though we’ll have to wait just a little bit longer to have them in the Opera House, we can’t wait to welcome The Joffrey to Lyric!

Joffrey's Brian Johnson; Lyric General Director, President & CEO Anthony Freud; dramaturg Colin Ure; and Joffrey's Mary B. Galvin artistic director Ashley Wheater at Lyric’s Opening Night Opera Ball in September 2019.

Lyric’s general director, president & CEO, Anthony Freud has spoken of this arrangement as terrific news for Chicago, to further solidify the company’s position as a cultural hub. “The Lyric Opera House will take its rightful place among the great opera houses of the world, which frequently are home to magnificent ballets, as well as thrilling opera productions,” said Freud. “It also marks a significant step in Lyric’s strategic plan as we identify new opportunities to grow our audience base through more regular interactions with dance patrons, who are already committed to the arts, and maximize the use of our magnificent opera house. It is sure to be a win-win for The Joffrey, for Lyric, and for our city.”

As Lyric and The Joffrey plan for 2021 performances, both companies look forward to strengthening the Lyric Opera House's positioning as a haven for the arts. 

The Joffrey dancers rehearsing for Lyric’s 2017/18 production of Orphée et Eurydice.

But what will this residency look like in practice for Lyric? While the 2021 Season will look slightly different, Lyric Opera of Chicago will continue to present a season of mainstage operas, off-site chamber opera, and mainstage musical performances in the 2021/22 Season and beyond. The Joffrey plans to present four ballet productions, including their ever popular Nutcracker in the winter season. From there, it becomes a scheduling jigsaw puzzle for Lyric’s backstage team, especially Michael Smallwood, Lyric’s vice president and technical director. 

“We have to approach The Joffrey’s contract with Lyric like we’re adding four shows to our regular season; not necessarily thinking about their productions in the same way as we do our regular opera repertoire, but we have to plan for them to be integrated into our planning cycle,” said Smallwood. “Some of our stagehands, wigs, and wardrobe members will be working with the Joffrey on their shows just like they would for one of our operas. Everything that’s hung in the air, everything that’s in the building—we have to make sure there’s room for them to work in the building.”

The Joffrey dancers in Lyric’s 2017/18 production of Orphée et Eurydice.

So what will The Joffrey’s presence at Lyric look like in practice? Michael Smallwood ran down the logistics: All Joffrey rehearsals will continue to take place in Joffrey Tower on State Street; dancers and staff will be backstage at Lyric just for final rehearsals and performances. The Joffrey Ballet technical crew will work hand in hand with Lyric’s “house crew” for their performances. While Joffrey personnel are in the Lyric building, they will have access to our stage, some dressing rooms, a production/artistic office, a mobile costume/makeup shop for their materials, and one of Lyric’s larger coaching rooms will be transformed into a physical therapy room for the dancers. With The Joffrey on Lyric’s stage for performances in the evenings, Lyric will continue to work daily in the scenery and handling area (the true “backstage” behind the curtains) to prepare for upcoming operas. 

“Our Season calendar will look different than the calendar I’ve known for the nearly 15 years I’ve been at Lyric,” said Smallwood. “Any time you get a major change, life adaptation comes with it. Everybody is eager to make it work and figure out solutions. The first year, we know, will be a learning process for everyone and we’ll work together to improve our processes together.”

Ultimately, 2020 is a year of change and adaptation, in every respect. Having another performance art form in the Lyric Opera House is a win-win-win for Lyric, for The Joffrey, and for Chicago. As Smallwood put it, “It can’t hurt to have more art in our building, especially now.”

Check out The Joffrey Ballet’s upcoming season here, as well as Lyric’s 2021 performances. We look forward to enjoying opera and ballet with you soon.

Photos: Lyric Opera of Chicago, Dan Rest, Todd Rosenberg