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Turning Point

As he marks five years leading The Joffrey Ballet, Greg Cameron prepares for the next act.

Greg Cameron

From left to right, dancers from The Joffrey Ballet company Yoshihisa Arai, Rory Hohenstein, Fabrice Calmels and Temur Suluashvili join Greg Cameron (center) in the studio.

 

"By 11, I was a failed clarinetist,” says Greg Cameron, president and CEO of The Joffrey Ballet, “so I knew being an artist was not my pathway. But I’ve always been an enthusiastic audience member. I’m good at connecting the dots.”

Cameron certainly knows a thing or two about audiences. Since joining the organization five years ago, he has undertaken the challenge of overturning a crippling companywide deficit. Last year saw record audiences and ticket sales, making the 2017-18 season the highest-grossing ever (surpassing the previous record set in 2016).

The results have been plenty evident onstage. In 2016, the company premiered a brand-new Nutcracker from world-renowned choreographer Christopher Wheeldon (it was Cameron who met fundraising goals to bring the $4 million production to life). The Joffrey also launched a partnership with the Lyric Opera with the well-reviewed production of Orphée et Eurydice, brought works to L.A. and Paris, and established its first human resources department.

Cameron often uses the word “joyful.” It applies to everything from staff spirit to audience engagement. “It’s joy that connects a city together,” he says. He still remembers the phone number he used to call the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and ask for an internship. That internship led to decades of work for the Art Institute, WTTW and the Museum of Contemporary Art—experiences that help him understand Chicago and remain true to Robert Joffrey’s original mission of leading a quintessentially American ballet company.

Over the course of the next season, audiences can see Swan Lake and Anna Karenina, but they will also get the world premiere of a contemporary dance show from rising choreographer Andrea Walker. Cameron knows that the key to The Joffrey’s future lies in making the ballet accessible to Chicagoans.

“I was told by someone when I started this job that Chicago just doesn’t care about dance,” he says. “Little did they know, I love a challenge.” Swan Lake premieres Oct. 17, tickets from $35, Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway