Robert Joffrey, Photo by Erika Davidson A 1958 photograph of Robert Joffrey, in the early years of the company he founded and directed. (Photograph © Erika Davidson.)

Founder and artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet and a producer of genius, Robert Joffrey (1930-1988) was born in Seattle. He began his training with Mary Ann Wells and continued it at the School of American Ballet and the Gertrude Shurr-May O'Donnell studio, dancing briefly with Roland Petit's Ballets de Paris and a few modern dance companies. He choreographed his first ballets in 1952; the following year, with dancers from his American Ballet Center, he formed the nucleus of his future company. Joffrey was an outstanding teacher, with a gift for developing dancers. He had a keen appreciation of the ballet past and developed a magnificent repertory of Frederick Ashton works and Diaghilev-era revivals that revealed his impeccable taste as a producer. He was receptive to a broad range of contemporary styles and was the first to commission ballets from postmodern choreographers such as Twyla Tharp. He supported Gerald Arpino's career from the start and against overwhelming odds and frequent encounters with bankruptcy, kept the Joffrey Ballet miraculously afloat.

Learn more in Robert Joffrey, an essay by Nicole Duffy Robertson.