Exhilarating Ride for Giordano Dance Chicago’s 'MomentUM'

Giordano Dance Chicago’s Spring Season, continuing through Saturday at the Harris Theater, is titled “Live in the MomentUM.” The company, in a superbly balanced, magnificently danced program, fulfills the title’s dual promise of being both “in the moment” on stage and clearly swept up in the momentum of exciting growth and development. And they bring their audience along for an exhilarating ride.

Giordano Dance Chicago (GDC) is one of our city’s foremost cultural treasures. If you’ve never seen GDC, or if you have and you already know how wonderful they are, this mixed repertory program is a perfect opportunity to experience the versatility, virtuosity and vitality that fuel this company’s mission of expanding and elevating the art of jazz dance.

The sheer variety of mood, movement, music and spatial design is testimony to GDC’s cultivation of an eclectic repertoire. From Brock Clawson’s film-noire-esque “Sneaky Pete” (2016) to the get-down, go-for-broke dance party groove of Ray Leeper’s “Soul” (2018), Autumn Eckman’s feel-good “commonthread” (2009) and her lyrical love poem “Alloy” (2011), and the wild partnering and predatory intensity of Ron De Jesus’s “Prey” (2003), the concise program of six pieces is up to GDC’s high standards, which are unusually special.

And then there’s the centerpiece of the evening, opening the second half of the program with the stunningly dramatic world premiere of Marinda Davis’s “Flickers,” which is practically a genre unto itself.

Davis, at 35, has taken the commercial dance world by storm with credits that range from “Dancing With The Stars” and “World of Dance” to full-length works for her own company, “marinspired; the storytellers,” and numerous short commercial TV spots, all this in the face of staggering personal health issues.

Davis is no stranger to the Giordano brand, having worked as an assistant to the company’s founding director, Gus Giordano, but “Flickers” is her first concert work for the company. She recalls how meaningful Gus’s mentoring was for her. “He used to listen to all my wildest dreams when I was younger, many that are happening for the first time just now, and he’d say, ‘All things in the right time, my dear.’ And that is what ['Flickers'] is all about: the faith that our dreams will be honored and handed to us when we are most ready….I believe darkness exists only so that lightness can actually count.”

With “Flickers,” Davis continues to reach deeply into the all-consuming challenge of living with eight auto-immune diseases, some of which are life-threatening. An intense two-week rehearsal period began with her asking the dancers to delve into the dark places in which they had been. She had them write down words or phrases, then move as a group, calling out these words and letting them land on each other.

“It was very emotional,” recalled Jacob Frazier before a recent run-through. In his second year with GDC, Frazier plays the central character in the piece, a kind of Christ-like figure in an apocalyptic ballet. “The piece is ultimately about hope,” he said, but the journey from darkness to light is fraught with anguish, internal and external struggle, and desperation.

On Friday night, Frazier’s performance was both heartrending and magnificent, with dramatic depth and range, as well as impressive technical strength.

Davis complements a jazz-based aesthetic with the momentary frenzy of ballet beats and frantic percussive shifts of focus. The dancers periodically coalesce in stunning architectural constructs from which they lift and support each other, fall into each other’s arms, climb and reach for the beyond.

Julie Ballard’s inspired lighting was as much a part of the storytelling as Davis’s impulse-driven, gesture-specific movement, transforming the emotional landscape with light. Jordan Ross’s effective ensemble costuming of white jeans and tops, with Frazier alone bare-chested and vulnerable, allowed the group to be both individuals and a collective body amplifying the soloist. Each dancer was in his or her own specific turmoil and physical conflict, while at the same time functioning as one body gone haywire, all heightened by Son Lux’s suspense-building music. 

Darlings of the evening were Maeghan McHale and Devin Buchanan, who are making their final appearances as dancers with GDC in these performances.

McHale, a stellar artist for the past fourteen years with GDC, began as a scholarship student and rose through the ranks of Giordano II, apprentice, and finally company member to become a versatile stylist and virtuoso performer, taking on lead roles in countless pieces ranging from humor to drama, jazz, funk, lyrical and modern. Maeghan’s stage magic radiates an inner energy that makes her someone you can’t help watching.

Buchanan has astounded audiences with quiet nobility over the past nine years with GDC, soaring into the air seemingly effortlessly, his endless extensions reaching easily beyond the rafters, the steady sureness of balance and his inborn lyricism making him the most poetic of GDC dancers.

GDC honored their contributions with a farewell tribute with their performance of Autumn Eckman’s duet, “Alloy,” set to the music of Mendelssohn and Beethoven, performed live on-stage by pianist Paul Hamilton. McHale’s balletic eloquence and Buchanan’s adoring support wrapped us all in the tender moment of their affection for each other and of our affection for them. They will be missed!

One last word, even though there is so much more to praise about the dancing and the program—GDC may be losing two of their most experienced dancers, but the ranks are strong and healthy. Every single one of the ten company members and two senior performing associates is an artist of impressive chops. The company sparkles with precision and pizzazz!


Giordano Dance Chicago's spring series concludes tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Dr. Tickets start at $15, with Hot Deals available through See Chicago Dance. For more information, visit www.giordanodance.org or click the event page below.