Giordano Dance Chicago Review - Chicago Dance Legacy Surprises for 52nd Year

Buzz words that repeatedly describe Giordano Dance Chicago are “joyous”, “athletic”, and “aggressive”. On the birthday concert’s Saturday October 25th performance, the dancers of the company embodied those celebratory terms, and sought to redefine and expand the definition of jazz dance and the company’s identity. I marveled at the full bodied presence and gorgeousness of the dancers (and the Harris Theater itself) however the strength and innovation of the pieces was uneven.

One of the incredible lifts from "Entropy".

 

Gus Giordano began Dance Incorporated Chicago in 1963, and eventually changed its name 3 years later. It has since expanded in both international impact and prestige, marking dance history as the first jazz company to tour in the Soviet Union in 1974.The primary reason for the weekend concert series was to debut Ray Leeper’s “Feelin’ Good Sweet”, the final performance of the evening. Leeper, a choreographer for So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Got Talent, returned to Giordano in a long awaited desire to collaborate. A staff member affectionately relayed the story of Leeper’s developed relation to the company starting when the original Giordano invited the 12-year-old Leeper onstage during the GDC’s Jazz Dance World Congress. To revel in the company’s legacy, Leeper choreographed the three part, musical theatre/jazz finale that was representative of the whole evening: about two-thirds effective.

 

“A Ritual Dynamic”, the first of five pieces, appropriately clued me in to the Giordano aesthetic of explosive yet controlled movement, their connected ensemble unity, and infusing the joy of performance in their bodies. Set to the pounding rhythms of drums, this rush of an opener played with movement inherent in jazz and break dance. Pairs and quartets cut, kicked, and wove amidst other pairs in perfectly timed physical symphony. Choreographer Jon Lehrer made lovely ensemble shapes, utilizing the extensions and limbs of all company members to create a ritualistic series of common physical phrases and daring partner lifts. “Entropy”, choreographed by Davis Robertson, similarly displayed the splintering and reconnecting flow of “A Ritual Dynamic”. Both featured shared physical phrases to the point where I thought they were both made by the same person. They technically sound, effectively lit, athletically challenging pieces, but I ultimately found them simply good. The joy of performance did not extend past the stage: I enjoyed these pieces, but I did not feel them. The similarity of the movement qualities and flows plus the stunner lifts made them too similar, but still effective.

Ensemble of "Entropy" in final shape.

 

The variety of styles and concepts I was looking for ranged from mildly to not effective in Leeper’s “Feelin’ Good Sweet” and Lindsey Leduc’s “Gravity”. “Feelin’ Good Sweet” almost succeeded in playing with the sexual tension and fun of big, Broadway set to Michael Buble and Aretha Franklin. Admittedly, there was some striking innovation: I was pleasantly surprised by the male-to-male lifts throughout the evening, and Leeper explored how to move those incredibly strong men through the air. But the expected choreography, the heavy handed homages to Fosse, and lack of levels in the third and final phase of “Feelin’ Good Sweet” made it feel like an anti-ending.

Hot, purple costumes of "Feelin' Good Sweet" designed by Emily Nelson.

 

“Gravity” was the most disappointing piece of the evening due to its unfortunate predictability: sappy, overused Sara Bareilles, the typical flow of dissonance and concurrence with too many lifts, and the forced emotion that did not earn the kiss put in the middle of the piece. Unfortunately, dancer Meghan McHale’s injury displaced Autumn Eckman’s “Alloy” with Leduc’s contemporary substitution. The narrative structure of “Gravity” did not have dynamics and is a dance-story I see all too frequently at college dance concerts. The excess of the athletic lifts and layered on emotional quality did not offer a new take on the trope, but seemed to distract from the lack of innovation.

Dancers Maeghan McHale & Sean Rozanski in "EXit 4"

 

Roni Koresh’s “EXit 4” was the arresting piece that hooked me into the concert. Koresh featured many of the elements of the evening, but his work toyed with and developed those elements. The established repetition to DJ Nadar’s whining score added a sensual masculine tension, then broken with the remaining phases of the piece. After the opening group phase, featuring wide, predatory stances, tense and expressive krumping, and guttural cries from the dancers, Koresh split the ensemble into gender binary groups. These alternating groups explored - to me - masculine and feminine expressions of power and strength. Kevin Dreyer’s gorgeous lighting design played with shadow and stark light, and the backlight shining into the audience faces challenged us while the dancers roared out into the house. This passing and trading aggression culminated into the ensemble’s soft synthesis, finding the power in quiet movement. This piece was the most effective because it took us on a journey, it had levels, it gripped me. The rest of the pieces could take something from this piece, colouring the arc of the dance with poignant stillness to earn the explosions.

Dancer Devin Buchanan showcases his athletic talent in "EXit 4"

 

Real Talk: Giordano Dance Chicago offers some of the most dazzling athleticism I’ve seen in the city, but it is the seductive dynamics and quiet moments of Roni Koresh’s work that really succeeded. Be on the lookout for Giordano’s return for their Winter Home Season on January 31, (Giordano Website)  and be sure to visit the Harris Theater website for a variety of events.

 

Phots: Courtesy of Giordano Dance Chicago

 

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