Giordano Dance Chicago’s 50-year history is inextricably linked with its founder, Gus Giordano. Nan Giordano recalls the charisma of her father, who passed away in 2008: With a “vision and dream” for the company to perform at the Harris, she says, one day he simply walked unannounced into former Harris Theater president Joyce Moffatt’s office. That was quintessential Gus, says the GDC director, who took over the company in 1993. “He wasn’t forceful or annoying; he was charming and everybody loved him. It was the same thing at the Kennedy Center: He walked in off the street and said, ‘Who do I talk to?’ ”
On Thursday 21 through Saturday 23, GDC heads back to the Harris as part of its 50th-anniversary season. The program includes a remount of the 2005 work, Giordano Moves, which encompasses decades of the classic jazz stylings that made Gus famous. Six dance artists remember the man who began his eponymous company in Evanston back in 1963.
Autumn Eckman, GDC dancer 1999–2004; artistic associate, GDC
“Gus was so connected and reached so many people. You could be in the smallest town and somebody will have had a connection to him. That was such a wonderful, defining thing [for the company]: the circle and the family, and how far it reaches.”
Susan Quinn, former GDC associate artistic director; associate professor of dance, University of Arizona
“When Madonna came into town and auditioned [dancers], a lot of the Giordano people made it because we knew that style. He believed, as a choreographer and a dancer, that you should be trained in everything: Modern made your core strong, ballet kept you clean, jazz gave you that excitement and soul, and tap gave you that rhythm. I thank him for making me learn everything.”
Sherry Zunker, founder, BeMoved Dance Fitness
“I remember most, more than anything, the whole energy of what it was like when he taught class. There was such a high, high energy, like you knew something exciting was going to happen. He made it an event. It wasn’t ever like you were just taking class.”
Jon Lehrer, GDC dancer 1997–2007; director, LehrerDance
“[Dancing for] Giordano taught me how to be a teacher. I was in New York City dancing for modern-dance companies and teaching wasn’t a big part of it. I got to Giordano and—with the school, the family legacy, the Giordano technique—they were training their dancers how to be effective teachers. It was the best ten years of my dance career.”
Homer Bryant, former principal dancer, Dance Theater of Harlem; assistant artistic director, GDC
“I look at old videos of Gus and he’s beating the drum [in class]. Somebody brought me a drum from Africa about ten years ago. Now I’m beating the drum teaching my floor barre classes. He made you feel comfortable in your skin. Arthur Mitchell—he did the same thing. There’s something innate in these guys that makes you want to be around them and learn from them.”
Randy Duncan, choreographer
“He was considered the godfather of jazz because of his unique style. For Chicago, it’s a great honor to have the Giordano dance company still doing what it’s doing at this stage, even without Gus around. This is why the company’s still around, because he had such a strong base from the very beginning.”
Giordano Dance Chicago performs at the Harris Theater Thursday 21 through Saturday 23.