"Billboards," coming to the Orange County Performing Arts Center next week, isn't the Joffrey Ballet's first rock-music ballet. Far from it, in fact.
In 1967, Robert Joffrey himself created the company's first work set to rock: the multimedia "Astarte" to music by Crome Syrcus.
Gerald Arpino, co-founder of the company with Joffrey in 1956 and its sole artistic director since Joffrey's death in 1988, followed with "Trinity" to music by Alan Raph and Lee Holdridge in 1969.
Twyla Tharp created "Deuce Coupe" to the music of the Beach Boys for the Joffrey in 1973.
Arpino is also responsible for "Billboards," which is, however, the first ballet to music by Prince, as well as the first full-length American ballet set to rock music.
The rock star (who recently changed his name to the symbol XX) reportedly saw his first ballet--a performance by the Joffrey--in Los Angeles in 1991. Prevailed upon by Arpino, Prince offered him the use of 12 of his songs for a new work. Those songs include "Sometimes It Snows in April," "The Question of U" and "Purple Rain." An extended version of "Thunder" was written expressly for the ballet.
Although Prince didn't attend the premiere of "Billboards" in Joffrey stronghold Hancher Auditorium, Iowa City, in January, he sent flowers--lots of flowers, including a single rose to each of the 37 dancers.
Generally press-shy, Prince is not likely to show up in Costa Mesa for performances at the center, either. Reports are that he has not seen the ballet, which subsequently played in Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and, this week, in Los Angeles.
As conceived by Arpino, "Billboards" lasts nearly two hours, with choreography parceled out to four people who have previously created works for the company--Laura Dean, Charles Moulton, Peter Pucci and Margo Sappington.
Although each of the choreographers is known for a distinct style, a critic has called the results of their individual efforts combined here "amazingly cohesive in style."
"The mood is in-your-face, the temperature hot and the overall tone one of youthful aggression," wrote Chicago Sun-Times dance critic Lynn Voedisch after seeing the Iowa City premiere.
Covering the premiere for the New York Post, Clive Barnes wrote of the ballet's "ecstatic and heartfelt first night reception."
On that basis, Barnes predicted the ballet "will be a smash hit. It strikes the nerve of the moment."