[Chicago, IL] – Joffrey Ballet Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and Executive Director Greg Cameron recently announced that Erica Lynette Edwards, a dancer with the Joffrey since 2000 who took on such roles as The Chosen One in Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring, fourth song soloist in Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies and the Fairy Godmother in Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, will retire following the engagement of Robert Joffrey’s The Nutcracker (set to run at the Auditorium Theatre, December 5-28) to become the company’s new Director of Community Engagement.
In her new role, Edwards will be responsible for continuing to expand the company’s successful Community Engagement program, which serves over 50 schools in Chicago and an average of 5,000 students annually. In addition to managing all educational programs through Chicago Public Schools, parochial and private schools, the Chicago Park District and across the community, Edwards will also work to increase dance awareness and dance appreciation, laying the foundation to build future dancers and audiences. Edwards replaces Pierre Lockett, who resigned from the position in June, but still works closely with the Community Engagement program on a consulting basis.
The Joffrey’s expansive Community Engagement program serves students of all ages, ranging from the Lemonis Bridge Program for first and second grades through the long-standing Middle School Dance Clubs and Residency programs for pre-K through grade 12. Advanced programs include the Exelon Strobel Step-Up Program, a rigorous scholarship program offered to promising high school students; the Advanced Art Program, a partnership with the Chicago Public Schools at Gallery 37 involving yearlong dance instruction for ambitious high school students; and After School Matters Summer Intensives. For more information on the full range of Community Engagement programs, visit www.joffrey.org/community.
“I am honored and excited to transition into my new role as the Director of Community Engagement,” said Edwards. “My major at Butler University was arts administration with a concentration in dance. I knew that if I didn’t make it as a professional dancer, I would find a career that would support the art of dance. My mentor, Pierre Lockett, has developed an inspiring Community Engagement department and I am ready to nurture it and watch it grow. I am blessed to have had a magical 15-year career as a ballerina with The Joffrey Ballet, and am so happy that I can continue to uphold the legacy of this incredible company.”
“I cannot think of anyone better suited to lead our Community Engagement program. Erica is a native of this region and is intimately familiar with its promise and its challenges. Community Engagement is a key component of The Joffrey Ballet’s mission,” said Wheater. “Our Community Engagement program provides arts education primarily to students from Chicago’s culturally underserved neighborhoods, with the majority of the program’s participants coming from low-income households and participating in the Chicago Public Schools’ free or reduced-price lunch program. Through these programs, the students receive dance instruction and performance opportunities to foster life-long learning in the arts. Erica has contributed greatly to The Joffrey Ballet as a dancer. Now her many talents will be channeled towards nurturing the young people of our community. ”
“As a dancer, Erica is fearless, focused and forward-thinking – qualities that she will now share with the children participating in the Joffrey Community Engagement programs,” added Cameron. “Her work on the stage has brought joy to Joffrey audiences – she will now transform the lives of Chicago’s youth. She will create opportunities for them to express artistic excellence, to develop life skills such as discipline and self-confidence, and she will ensure that they have fun and experience learning in a safe and nurturing environment. Using the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we are proud to support Erica as she ‘builds our youth for the future.'”
Edwards joined The Joffrey Ballet after being one of the first dancers in the Arpino Apprentice program in 2000. She trained at the Salt Creek Ballet School where she performed major roles in their pre-professional ballet company. Edwards attended summer intensives at the School of American Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Bryant Ballet on merit scholarships, American Ballet Theater, Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Ruth Page Foundation. She also trained two years at Butler University in Indianapolis on talent, academic and leadership scholarships. She is featured with The Joffrey Ballet in Robert Altman’s movie, The Company. Edwards’ complete bio and repertory are available at www.joffrey.org/people/erica-lynette-edwards-0.
In related news, former dancer Michael Smith (2001-2013) joins the team as a Community Engagement Coordinator, where he will maintain social media, teach and choreograph. Michael will oversee Joffrey’s After School Matters, Advanced Arts Placement and Exelon Strobel Step-Up programs and serve as Ballet Master for The Nutcracker Children’s Cast.
For more information on The Joffrey Ballet and its programs visit joffrey.org.