Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago Spring 2011 Engagement: Live review

Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago in Le Grand Futur is Here! by Mia Michaels.

Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago in Le Grand Futur is Here! by Mia Michaels. Photograph: Gorman Cook Photography

The electricity in the Harris Theater March 25 could’ve powered Englewood for two hours. Students from the neighborhood’s Stagg Elementary and Edgewater’s Pierce International Studies School, both participants in Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago’s Science and Health outreach program, were in the house and highly amped. (And well-behaved, I have to say, not as distracting, for the most part, as some well-dressed grownups have been at dance concerts lately.) Their energy was matched by the adult audience members, who began rubbernecking as soon as company executive director Michael McStraw announced Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel’s presence during his curtain speech.

The intermission was a frenzy. Someone dropped a bottle of wine. Director Nan Giordano told me Emanuel broke the news to her earlier in the evening that he’d taken classes from her father, Gus Giordano, who founded the troupe in 1963. (As has been widely reported, Emanuel trained as a dancer for many years.) To a throng of pressing admirers and kids from Stagg and Pierce, Emanuel said Chicago was unique in having a “dancer mayor.” Looks like the art form’s got an advocate.

And the energy onstage? Exuberant, per Giordano tradition, but more cohesive now than during [node:118573 link=the company’s fall 2010 engagement, also titled “LiveLife.DANCE!”;] Except for two pieces, the choreography was also stronger on the whole, beginning with A Ritual Dynamic (by Jon Lehrer) and commonthread (by associate and Giordano II director Autumn Eckman), the two brightest lights of GJDC’s fall 2009 engagement, “MOVE!”

Another repeat from that bill was company member Lindsey Leduc Brenner’s duet Gravity (to Sara Bareilles’s single), still cloying and overly literal. Closing the first half was the revival of Nan Giordano’s Taal (2001). In the latter, live vocals by Sheetal Bhagat were a transporting overture, although once the curtain rose, they unfortunately became buried under a slew of effects. The choreography leans heavily on wrist rolling and finger gymnastics presumably meant to suggest mudrās, indistinct posturing that’s embarrassing given the wealth of authentic Indian dance in Chicago. Most of Taal’s time, however, was spent trying to activate four white fabric panels hung from the flyspace, the kind of setpieces used by aerialists. These dancers stayed on the ground, playing with toilet paper stuck to God’s shoe.

But the second act was enjoyably eclectic, beginning with Le Grand Futur is Here! by Mia Michaels, from before she became one of the original judges on So You Think You Can Dance. The piece, to music by Brazilian chameleon Amon Tobin, is endearingly bizarre and full of unique vocabulary—in the first section especially, the lamé-clad ensemble’s quirks and patterning recalled Too Beaucoup, [node:7553373 link=Hubbard Street’s recent premiere by Sharon Eyal and Gaï Behar;].

Two world premieres rounded out the evening, Eckman’s Sanza and a foray into Latin ballroom styles, Sabroso. The former, a women’s sextet to music by Burnt Friedman and Congolese group Konono N°1, got into and out of its crescendo gracefully. Black boots, clay-colored dresses (by Virgil Sanner) and high ponytails gave it an edge; Kam Hobbs’s hot-and-cold lighting spray-painted the floor. Former Same Planet Different World dancer Carrie Nicastro was lithe and irrepressible.

Chicago-based Del Dominguez created Sabroso with assistance from his longtime dance partner, Laura Flores. During an in-progress showing March 11, Nan Giordano said that GJDC’s five-year tradition of hosting a Dancing with the Stars–style benefit sparked the idea to commission a ballroom piece. “We wanted to make the openwork more interesting, the formations more interesting, so [the dances] would fit in the theater world but still be true to the ballroom world,” said Dominguez.

In his hands, intimate partner forms like the mambo and cha-cha do translate to the context of a 1,500-seat concert hall: Under five giant disco balls, Sabroso offered compositions as engaging as Lehrer’s and Michaels’s. GJDC’s dancers need more time to get comfortable with unfamiliar techniques, [node:215625 link=as do River North Dance Chicago’s with tangos by Sabrina and Rubén Veliz;], although Cesar Salinas, Martin Ortiz Tapia and Ashley Lauren Smith were nearly there already, impressively confident and relaxed. Tapia, Zachary Heller and Maeghan McHale were electrifying all night long.

Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago’s Spring 2011 Engagement continues at 8pm March 26 at the Harris Theater. Del Dominguez and Laura Flores teach dance at their Logan Square studio Mixed Motion Art and recently founded Siboney Dance Company.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)