Just like elite athletes, ballet dancers face a physical time limit with their professional careers. Many dancers end up transitioning to teaching to share the wealth of their ballet knowledge with future generations.
These are the exact plans of retiring Joffrey Ballet of Chicago dancers Miguel Angel Blanco and April Daly. The husband-and-wife team are among nine Joffrey dancers who are leaving the company at the end of the current season.
"One thing that is a definite in all of our careers, at this level anyway, is we can't do it forever," Daly said.
Rockford native Daly joined the Joffrey in 2003 after dancing two seasons with Washington Ballet. Havana native Blanco joined the Joffrey in 2009 following his time as a principal dancer with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. The couple married three years ago, and have a son named William.
But dance will still figure into the couple's future. Blanco has been named the assistant director of the North Shore School of Dance, while Daly will be teaching classes at the Highland Park studio as she also plots a new career as a licensed Realtor.
"I've loved Chicago since I came here, so that factored into why we wanted to stay," Blanco said. "When we went to the North Shore School, I fell in love with the people there in the way they treated me and were excited to work with me."
North Shore School of Dance owner and director Lisa Gold got to know Blanco and Daly through former Joffrey managing director Harriet Ross. Gold, who has been in charge of the school since 1989, is elated that Blanco and Daly are coming aboard to build on the 51-year history of the dance studio, which was previously named after founder Carol Walker and her successor, Rory Foster.
"These are world-class artists, and that they've chosen to be a part of the school -- it's just an amazing opportunity," Gold said. "(Blanco and Daly) both have so much to bring to the table to share with students, and bring the most elite of training to the school."
During their time with the Joffrey, Blanco and Daly got to help create many world-premiere dances with internationally renowned choreographers. Highlights include Christopher Wheeldon's 2016 Chicago-centric take on "The Nutcracker," John Neumeier's 2018 Joffrey collaboration with the Lyric Opera of Chicago on "Orphée & Eurydice" (later broadcast on PBS and commercially released on DVD) and Yuri Possokhov's 2011 production of the classic 1869 ballet "Don Quixote."
Yet, Daly almost didn't get to dance "Don Quixote" again. A revival was originally scheduled for spring of 2020.
"We were actually in the process of just beginning rehearsals for 'Don Quixote' when we found out that we were pregnant," said Daly, thinking that her condition would prevent her from dancing in it. "And then COVID shut everything down."
COVID-19 conditions forced the Joffrey Ballet to reschedule "Don Quixote" twice. So now the couple's final Joffrey performance together is the 2 p.m. matinee of "Don Quixote" on Saturday, June 11.
Back in 2011, Blanco and Daly both danced prominent roles in "Don Quixote," including the high-spirited lovers Basilio and Kitri. That earlier run also marked Daly's first time dancing a leading role in a classical story ballet, so she's enjoying the symmetry involved with the same work being her Joffrey swan song.
"Getting to dance this challenging ballet with my husband has been a special treat," Daly said. "And now we're excited to take this next step."
Location: Joffrey Ballet at Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, (312) 386-8905, joffrey.org
Remaining showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; through June 12
Casting with Miguel Angel Blanco: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 9, and 2 p.m. Saturday, June 11
Casting with Blanco and April Daly: 2 p.m. Saturday, June 11
Running time: About 2 hours and 15 minutes, including intermission
Parking: Limited metered street parking, paid lots nearby, valet service available
Rating: For all ages
COVID-19 precautions: Proof of vaccination and masking required
North Shore School of Dance
Location: 505 Laurel Ave., Highland Park, (847) 432-2060
Summer Workshop with Blanco & Daly: July 11-15 and July 18-29, with enrollment at northshoredance.com