This weekend, Giordano Dance Chicago (GDC) enthusiastically opens its 59th season, celebrating its return to the Harris Theater stage after almost two years. While welcoming six new dancers (now 12 dancers total) to its roster, GDC also says farewell to company dancer Zachary Heller. It will be a bittersweet moment 14 years in the making.
“The plan was to retire last year,” Heller said on a phone call earlier this month. “We were supposed to be touring to Scotland, Amsterdam, Italy, Germany…all over. After a big year like that, we usually have a more chill year and I wanted to end on a high.”
Of course, the pandemic changed those plans and he had to adjust. Not one to sit idly during down time, he got his real estate license, secured a job with @properties and to date has over $1 Million in sales. He also created “a fun little side gig” called Events by Zmash (think Zoom cocktail parties and creative charcuterie boards), and teaches at Definition Dance in Bucktown, as well as around the U.S. for Star Dance Alliance and its Wild Dance Intensive.
His ties to the dance intensives go back to when he was a teen. Before it became Star Dance Alliance it was known as Dance Power Express. Heller participated starting at age 11. One of his teachers in later years was none other than Gus Giordano.
“I’m the last Giordano dancer who took class from Gus. He taught for the convention I teach for now,” said Heller. “My audition for the company was a week before he passed away. My first concert was in honor of him. It was very important to me.”
Heller will dance in four of the six works on the “Illuminate” program, which is designed to highlight him and the other returning dancers, while welcoming in the newbies. Opening the show is “Flickers” by Marinda Davis, one of Heller’s best friends. The closer is “Pyrokinesis” by Christopher Huggins, which is the first piece he learned after joining the company. Both hold special meaning for him and are perfect “bookends” for the final show of his career. Since its premiere in 2019, “Flickers” has become an emotional release for him and “Pyrokinesis” is “fire! Just pure fun,” he says. “It’s the best closer in the company repertory.”
Heller will also dance in “Take a Gambol” by Joshua Blake Carter and Ray Mercer’s “Shirt Off My Back.” Also on the program are two duets: “A Little Moonlight” by former GDC dancer Autumn Ekman and the company premiere of “All for You” by current company member Adam Houston.
Highlights of Heller’s career include tours to Turkey and Hawaii, Dance For Life in Palm Springs and GDC’s 50th anniversary season. As he reflects on his 14 years with the company, Heller gets emotional. “It’s been my home. Nan [Giordano, artistic director] gave me a place to find and be myself. Not every dancer gets that…and they are my family. I can’t be more thankful.”
Giordano Dance Chicago performs Friday and Saturday at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St. Tickets are $29-$90 and available at harristheaterchicago.org or 312.334.7777. For more details, click the event page below.