The Joffrey Goes Latin

Published in the Dec 2009/Jan 2010 issue.

The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago recently hired nine new dancers—and they’re a notably diverse group, hailing from Cuba, Venezuela and Brazil, as well as the U.S.

“I want the company to reflect Chicago’s diversity, and I was conscious of the Joffrey’s past, when dancers like Chilean Maximiliano Zomosa were part of the troupe,” says Artistic Director Ashley Wheater. “Also, because the Joffrey is a no-stars-yet-all-stars company, I was, as always, looking for talented, hardworking people.”

Of the three new international dancers, two approached Wheater on their own. Cuban-bred Miguel Blanco, who was also offered contracts by ABT and San Francisco Ballet, opted for the Joffrey because, as Wheater puts it, “he knew he would get a chance to really dance with us.” Yumelia Garcia, whom Wheater describes as “a real spitfire,” was born in Caracas but grew up in Rockford, IL, and went to see Wheater at the urging of her friend, Joffrey dancer April Daly. Ricardo Santos de Paula, from Rio de Janeiro, was a bronze medalist at the 10th New York International Ballet Competition, for which Wheater served as a judge. De Paula earned the NYIBC’s Arpino Award, which comes with a one- year Joffrey contract. —Hedy Weiss