The weather was heavenly, the crisp fall day of sunshine and clear blue skies beaming its benevolence through the floor-to-ceiling windows into the studio on South Archer Avenue. It was as if the day had anointed Giordano Dance Chicago’s rehearsal run-through of its 57th season opener with the blessings of grace, harmony and an abiding faith in the power of dance to touch the essence of where we live within ourselves.
The day’s heavenly aura seemed to resonate through the five jazz dance gems that comprise a jewel-toned program as well, with repertory that balances the tenuous grasp we have on life with love, wonder, joy and transcendence. And it all comes together in the varied palette that this remarkable company has forged over a 57-year journey of discovery and development of jazz dance as a serious concert dance idiom. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of room for fun, steamy shoulders, sassy hips, in-your-face kicks and “attitude,” that characterize the genre, but with Giordano Dance Chicago, jazz dance is about a lot more than a great show. And that’s what’s so special about what they’re doing, and how they’re doing it.
You don’t just watch a rehearsal of Giordano Dance Chicago, you get swept up in the spirit, commitment and energy of this extraordinary collection of dance artists. Hugs abound as guests are welcomed into their home by the artistic family they form together. And then they dance!
I’ve watched the core of ten dancers evolve under Nan Giordano’s inspired direction over the course of a couple of decades now, watched individual dancers come into their own as artists, as adult men and women, watched Giordano Two dancers move on to junior and senior performing associates, and then into the ranks of the main company. Over time, as their ever-inventive repertory of company classics and bold new commissions continues to expand the definition of jazz dance, it also continues to redefine and develop the company’s dancers.
The evolving maturity in the company ranks is especially evident in this season’s program, which features the world premiere of award-winning choreographer Peter Chu’s “Groove, in formed,” Chu’s second commissioned piece for the company.
Chu, a Juilliard grad for whom jazz dance was one of the primary techniques he studied during his formative years, began his training as a competitive gymnast before discovering dance. It was through jazz that he “began to appreciate the polyrhythms and the history that helped shape this American Art form,” he said in a press statement. “Entering this second creation for Giordano Dance Chicago, I wanted to connect to the steps and rhythms infused in jazz dance and in the Giordano technique. Smooth and syncopated moves in the body emphasize individuality but are united by the pulsing history and a few movements that make up the Giordano technique.”
Nan Giordano describes Chu’s creative process with this piece as “very calm and quiet,” utilizing qigong techniques as well as embracing and integrating the signature Giordano technique. Group pulse is activated in each of the dancers in a series of poses that come to life, “in forming” both the movement and each other as they all enter “the groove.” Original music composed by long-time collaborator Jake Kelberman creates an infectious jazz beat with wonderful horn riffs.
Opening the program is former Hubbard Street dancer Alberto Arias’s “Surrender” (1999), restored to this season’s repertory for the first time in 18 years. Three contrasting couples form the work’s central structure, beginning with company veterans Zachary Heller and Ashley Downs in a sizzling Latin duet that just about sets the room on fire. Making a strong debut with the company this season, Jack Halbert is the lone man out, dancing solo in a soul-searching journey for something lost, or perhaps never attained, to the longing lament of period jazz songs. Katie Rafferty and Ryan Galloway are simply delicious in their affection for each other in a playful flirtation, while Linnea Stureson Tolbert and Adam Houston complete the portrait with lyrical coupling.
It’s refreshing to get a second look at Mirinda Davis’s wrenching “Flickers” (2019), created for the full company and featuring Jacob Frazier in a dramatic tour de force struggle for survival.
Five couples delight in Del Domingues and Laura Flores’s ballroom extravaganza, “Sabroso” (2011) that takes ballroom to unexpected new heights.
The company transforms into angels in flight in a truly heavenly reprise of Randy Duncan’s transcendent “Can’t Take This Away” (1997) completing the program with the live, on-stage performance of the Bourné Family Singers.
Giordano Dance Chicago’s Fall Engagement takes place Oct. 25-26, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Dr., with what we have come to expect from them, which for the Giordano crew means always going beyond. Way beyond!
Tickets and more information are available by clicking the event page below.