PBS to air WMU alum's documentary on Joffrey Ballet

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Photo of dancers in the Joffrey Ballet.

Joffrey dancers performing "Trinity"

KALAMAZOO—A Western Michigan University alum's "deeply archived" documentary that tells the origin story of the revolutionary dance company the Joffrey Ballet, and covers the ballet's 56-year history to present day, will have its national PBS premiere Friday, Dec. 28, on the network's "American Masters" program (check local listings).

Bob Hercules' film, "Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance," chronicles the company's modest start with a handful of touring dancers to its rise as one of the world's preeminent ballet companies. Led by visionaries Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, the company helped transform the world of American dance. The company became known for ballet that was classical at its core but also influenced by modern movement and unorthodox artistic choices.

"They were very liberated because they weren't beholden to those older European and Russian traditions in dance," Hercules, a 1979 graduate of WMU, veteran filmmaker and co-owner of Chicago-based Media Process Group, told the WMU Magazine for a recent article about his documentary. To read the entire story online, visit wmich.edu/magazine and click the Winter 2012 issue.

About the documentary

Narrated by actor Mandy Patinkin, Hercules' film was first shown to a sold-out audience in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City earlier this year. The Village Voice characterized the documentary as "deeply archived," while Film Journal International heralded it as a "bountiful feast for dance lovers, as well as a thrilling story of artistic endeavor for everyone to savor."

The film includes interviews with Joffrey dancers talking about the art form, the ballet company's late founders, Joffrey and Arpino, and just what made the company so special. The film also discusses and features excerpts from some of the Joffrey's most famous works over time, including "Astarte," "Trinity" and "Billboards." The film's website, joffreymovie.com, previews the documentary and offers biographical sketches of dancers.

"It was a tremendous experience to make this film," Hercules says. "It's one of those things where you pinch yourself and say, 'Did that really happen?'"

In January and February, audiences at the University will be treated to performances of the Joffrey Ballet piece, "Viva Vivaldi," performed by WMU dance students under the direction of guest artist Willy Shives. Shives, a Joffrey ballet master, happens to be one of the many dancers featured in Hercules' documentary.

Performances of "Viva Vivaldi" are set for 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 31-Feb. 2, and 2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 3, in the Shaw Theatre at the Gilmore Theatre Complex on WMU's main campus.

To learn more about WMU alumnus and filmmaker Bob Hercules, visit Media Process Group at mediaprocess.com.

For more information about "Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance," visit the documentary's website, joffreymovie.com, or the Facebook page associated with the flim.