Robert Joffrey was born in Seattle, Washington in 1930 and died in New York City in 1988. He formed his first small company, the Robert Joffrey Ballet Concert, in 1954, and in 1956 he formed the Robert Joffrey Ballet with Arpino as chief choreographer. In 1966 the company became the City Center Joffrey Ballet and thereafter grew to international fame. Its name was later changed to simply the Joffrey Ballet. By the time of Joffrey's death his company was performing annually in Los Angeles as well as in New York City. In 1995 Arpino moved the company to Chicago and renamed it the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago.
American dancer, teacher, producer and choreographer, Joffrey was known for his highly imaginative modern ballets. Although he started dancing tap he soon turned to ballet under the tutelage of Mary Anne Wells in Seattle where he was to meet his long time colleague Gerald Arpino. After moving to New York City in 1948 and studying with Alexandra Fedorova and at the School of American Ballet, Joffrey joined Roland Petit's Ballets de Paris during the company's 1949 season in New York City.
In 1954 Joffrey formed his own company, which premiered Le bal masqué (The Masked Ball, 1954; music by French composer Francis Poulenc) and Pierrot Lunaire (1955; music by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg). Joffrey's other works include Gamelan (1962) and Astarte (1967), which was set to rock music with special lighting and motion-picture effects.
The Robert Joffrey Ballet took up residence at New York City Center in 1966, it is now housed in Chicago, Illinois and continues to be noted for its experimental repertoire. Joffrey died on March 25, 1988 of AIDS at the age of 57. Joffrey was inducted into the National Museum of Dance C.V. Whitney Hall of Fame in 2000.