COVID-19 stripped 18 months of live performances from the Joffrey Ballet. It was a devastating blow to the dancers, stunting their already short careers. They leaned on family and each other and found creative ways to keep their bodies and their craft in shape. At the start of the pandemic, many company members stayed in Chicago, continuing their classes by laying scraps of dance flooring near a kitchen counter or using dining chairs as a barre. Joffrey’s Crisis Stabilization Fund raised nearly $12 million to keep the doors open and pay salaries. Last fall, the dancers returned to the studios in small pods to prepare three digital premieres. Getting ready for a return to the stage has been slow but rewarding, they say.

Dancer Alberto Velazquez’s first live performance was for about 25 people at a press conference in May. “When I stepped back onstage,” he says, “that feeling came back and I realized how much I missed it.”

The audiences will be much bigger next month, when the Joffrey returns to a new home at the Lyric Opera House — freshly renovated with new seats, enhanced sightlines, and improved accessibility.

“We’re not out of this pandemic yet, but we are so happy to be back,” says artistic director Ashley Wheater. Home: A Celebration, running October 13 to 24, kicks off the season with live premieres of three works — by Chanel DaSilva, Nicolas Blanc, and Yoshihisa Araioriginally choreographed for digital viewing. Former Joffrey artistic director Gerald Arpino’s Birthday Variations completes the program. It’s a fitting revival: The 1986 escapade was commissioned as a birthday present for Dino D’Angelo, who was then the owner of the Civic Opera House (now the Lyric).

Two full-length ballets — Christopher Wheeldon’s Nutcracker (December 4 to 26) and Yuri Possokhov’s Don Quixote (February 16 to 27) — anchor the season. And choreographer Cathy Marston sets her first ballet created exclusively for the Joffrey: a one-act based on John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. It runs April 27 to May 8, 2022, with Serenade by George Balanchine. For more information, visit

Dara Holmes and Jose Pablo Castro Cuevas of the Joffrey Ballet


Above, on Dara: Alexander McQueen poly faille midi coatdress, $3,840, leather double belt, $920, antique silver stacked engraved ring, $360, antique silver stone ring, $490, and antique silver and stone drop earrings, $450, On Jose Pablo: Prada knit turtleneck, $1,390, Prada, 30 E. Oak St.

How the Joffrey Company Spent the Pandemic

Dara Holmes is entering her 11th season with the Joffrey. She kept in touch with her church community through Bible studies on Zoom and stayed active by exploring the city on foot. “I walked everywhere,” she says.

When the shutdown started, Jose Pablo Castro Cuevas hadn’t even finished his first season in the main company. He spent nearly six months with his family in Mexico. “I was taking ballet class from the second floor of my house, holding on to the stairwell,” he says.


Olivia Duryea of the Joffrey Ballet


On Olivia: Hyke ribbed wool sweater and pants and Maud seashell and gold earrings, prices on request, Ikram, 15 E. Huron St.

How the Joffrey Company Spent the Pandemic

To keep her mind off not being able to dance as much as she wanted, Olivia Duryea took courses through the Joffrey’s partnership with Harold Washington College. “Coming back, I have more appreciation for performing,” she says. “Every show, I want to be aware that this is a fleeting thing we do.”


Dara Holmes of the Joffrey Ballet


On Dara: Earrings, dancer’s own. Sacai wool knit dress with cupro slipdress, price on request, Ikram. Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello leather high-heeled boots, $1,595, Saint Laurent, 11 E. Walton St.


Yumi Kanazawa of the Joffrey Ballet


On Yumi: Dolce & Gabbana nylon puffer coat, $4,995, Dolce & Gabbana, 68 E. Oak St. All Saints cotton tee, $69, Nordstrom, 55 E. Grand Ave. Sacai wool tuxedo skirt, price on request, Ikram. The Office of Angela Scott stamped Italian leather and suede boots, $695,

How the Joffrey Company Spent the Pandemic

Yumi Kanazawa and her boyfriend, Joffrey dancer Valentino Moneglia Zamora, kept each other motivated at home. “It was nice to have someone who understands what we were going through,” she says.


Yumi Kanazawa of the Joffrey Ballet


On Yumi: Akris Napa leather cropped jacket, $3,990, and Techno neoprene skirt, $1,390, Saks Fifth Avenue, 700 Michigan Ave. Ribbed wool-blend mock turtleneck, $995, Bottega Veneta calfskin handbag with wood and chain details, $5,000, Stuart Weitzman quilted Napa and smooth calf leather boot, $595, Stuart Weitzman, Northbrook.


Olivia Duryea of the Joffrey Ballet


On Olivia: Gabriela Hearst cashmere sweater, $1,850, Neiman Marcus, 737 N. Michigan Ave. Jil Sander wool and mohair fringed scarf, $490, Blake. Michael Kors Collection double-faced wool-cashmere flannel slit skirt, $790, Stuart Weitzman quilted Napa and smooth calf leather boots, $595, Stuart Weitzman.


Jose Pablo Castro Cuevas of the Joffrey Ballet


On Jose Pablo: Prada bouclé wool topcoat, $5,100, and Shetland wool V-neck sweater, $2,750, Prada. Esenshel rabbit hair hat, $425,


Olivia Duryea of the Joffrey Ballet


On Olivia: Marni double-faced wool cocoon coat, $2,490, Blake, 212 W. Chicago Ave. Maje cotton romper with broderie anglaise collar, $340, and polyester-blend vest with jeweled detailing, $295, Maje, 100 E. Oak St.


Dara Holmes of the Joffrey Ballet


On Dara: Louis Vuitton broderie anglaise babydoll blouse, $4,800, Louis Vuitton, 919 N. Michigan Ave. Esenshel rabbit hair hat, $395.


Princess Reid and Alberto Velazquez of the Joffrey Ballet


On Princess: Jewelry, dancer’s own. Snow Xue Gao silk dress and Noir Kei Ninomiya faux fur collar, prices on request, Ikram. Maje leather lace-up boots, $445, Maje, 100 E. Oak St. On Alberto: Topman polyester bomber jacket, $65, and Zanerobe cotton joggers, $99, Nordstrom, 55 E. Grand Ave. Dolce & Gabbana leather lace-up oxfords, $1,045, Dolce & Gabbana, w68 E. Oak St.

How the Joffrey Company Spent the Pandemic

Princess Reid, who joined the Joffrey in 2018, spent quarantine on the West Coast, returning to Chicago last August. She worked on building her confidence. “We got a big chunk of our careers taken away from us, but I found new ways to express myself,” she says.

Joffrey veteran Alberto Velazquez quarantined in Mexico with his family. “We haven’t been together for that long since I was 14 years old,” he said. Joffrey dancer Amanda Assucena joined him for part of the time; they took classes and rehearsed together in his mother’s dance studio.

Hair and Makeup: Leanna Ernest/Distinct Artists and Mia Valenti/Ford Artists
Stylist Assistants: Hayley Koutsis, Natalie Standiferd
Photo Assistant: Kipp Howe