The Joffrey Ballet -- one of the nation's leading classical troupes -- announced yesterday that it will relocate from New York City to Chicago, and rename itself Joffrey Ballet of Chicago.

The company -- founded in 1957 by the late Robert Joffrey and current Artistic Director Gerald Arpino -- will establish Chicago headquarters on North Wabash Avenue, where three studios are being constructed. Engagements will included two visits to the Kennedy Center ("The Nutcracker," Dec. 6-16, and repertory programs, May 15-19), three performance series in the Chicago area and tour stops in Omaha, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

Earlier this year the company considered a merger with the Chicago City Ballet, but the idea proved impracticable.

Arpino noted that Chicago has played a signal role in the company's development. "My ties to Chicago are strong and deep," he said. "It was on the strength of the {Chicago critics'} glowing reviews that the fledgling troupe was able . . . to continue as a company."

The company projects an operating budget of $5 million, of which 60 percent will be earned income. Nine hundred thousand dollars in contributions have already been pledged toward the goal of $2 million in additional support. The Joffrey Ballet School, a separate but allied institution, will retain its location in New York City.