Gerald Arpino established The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago in 1995 to carry on the traditions and legacy of The Joffrey Ballet, which he co-founded with Robert Joffrey in 1956 and for which he served as associate director for many years. Upon Joffrey's death in 1988, Arpino succeeded him as artistic director.
A leading dancer with the company in its early years, Arpino choreographed his first works for The Joffrey, Ropes and Partita for Four, in 1961. Shortly thereafter, he became The Joffrey's resident choreographer and, to date, has created more than one-third of the company's original repertoire.
The late Walter Terry said, "He introduced a synthesis of torso-oriented modern movement with classical ballet that was a special quality he gave to ballet." Clive Barnes of the New York Post wrote, "Arpino and his choreography are central to The Joffrey company style. . . the ideal choreographer to maintain a consistent, creative core. . . He can send dancers over the stage like rockets and gives them duets like love songs." The Los Angeles Times' Martin Bernheimer has pointed out "the breathless fluidity of Arpino's invention. . . the bravura of his kinetic designs." New York Times' critic Anna Kisselgoff has described him as "a very important choreographer. . . I have often seen newcomers to the ballet seduced into loving the entire art form simply because Mr. Arpino's accessibility seizes their imagination."
Arpino's choreography can be seen in such Joffrey signature works as Sea Shadow, Incubus, Viva Vivaldi, Olympics, Nightwings, The Clowns, Trinity, Confetti, Kettentanz, Sacred Grove on Mount Tamalpais, Suite Saint-Saëns, Epode, Celebration, Round of Angels, Light Rain and Italian Suite.
Arpino is the first choreographer commissioned to create a ballet to honor the Office of the American Presidency: The Pantages and the Palace Present Two-A-Day. He was the first American commissioned by a city, San Antonio, to do a ballet, Jamboree. His 1986 Birthday Variations was commissioned by Becky D'Angelo of Chicago as a birthday gift to her husband, Dino D'Angelo. In 1993, Arpino produced America's first full-evening rock ballet, Billboards, set to the music of Prince. In 1996 he brought together an all-female roster of exciting, young choreographers to produce Legends, a ballet by women and about women. This work was followed by Legends II, another Gerald Arpino production. His output has been so varied that one critic has said, "He's not a single artist. He must be an alliance." As one of the recipients of the 1974 Dance Magazine Award, his inscription reads: "To Gerald Arpino — more than any other choreographer, he has recognized the spirit of the times. His work speaks clearly of the anguish and the joy of being young in America today."
Other tributes include honorary doctorates from The College of Staten Island–City University of New York (2001), and Wagner College (1992); the Bravo Award from the San Antonio Performing Arts Association; the American Express Ammy Award; the Distinguished Achievement Award from the National Organization of Italian-American Women; a 1989 Tiffany Award from the International Society for Performing Arts Administrators; an award for outstanding artistic achievement from the Staten Island Council on the Arts in 1990; an honorary lifetime membership in the Chicago Dance Coalition; the National Arts Club Citation of Merit; the 1994 Harkness Distinguished Artist in The Dance at Aldephi University; the University Medallion from Frostburg State University, Maryland, the site of The Joffrey's first performance on October 2, 1956 (in which Arpino danced); the Vaslav Nijinsky Medal in recognition of his reconstruction of the works of Nijinsky; and the Chicago Academy for the Arts 1996 Distinguished Service Award for the Arts. In both 1996 and 1997, Arpino was honored by the Chicago Tribune as one of the "Chicagoans of the Year" for his important contributors to the arts in Chicago. In addition, Arpino is the only choreographer to have had four of his ballets performed at the White House. Arpino ballets, sought after worldwide, are in repertoires of the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, the National Ballet of Canada, Ottawa Ballet, the Vienna State Opera Ballet, and the Australian, Aspen, Columbus, Dayton, Oakland, Ohio, Milwaukee and Princeton ballet companies.
A major spokesman on the arts to government, business and cultural communities, Arpino serves on the national advisory council of the ITI/USA International Ballet Competition and is on the boards of the Dance Notation Bureau and Dancers in Transition. He is a member of the Arts Advisory Committee of the New York International Festival of the Arts. He was honorary co-chairman for the Dance Library of Israel's 1989 Award Dinner honoring Agnes de Mille, and he presented the Library's 1991 Documents of Dance Award to Stephanie French. In 1991 he participated as a panel member in the National Italian-American Foundation's annual Columbus Conference. Arpino serves as an advisor to the Sports Medicine Education and Research Foundation in Los Angeles. He is a member of the National Arts Club, the Artists Committee for The Kennedy Center Honors and is an advisory board member of the Performing and Visual Arts Department of Wagner College on Staten Island. He also is a member of the Board of The Chicago Academy For The Arts. Arpino was born and raised in Staten Island, New York, and trained in Seattle by Mary Ann Wells.