Live review | Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago: “Passion and Fire”

There’s a reason why Beyoncé keeps stealing other people’s ideas: It’s hard to be both original and good. Now, Queen Deréon could of course just pick up her video phone and call one of the many major choreographic talents working today, to commission original dancing. She can afford it, and it would go a long way toward countering those who say that she doesn’t give dead men or European women due respect until pressed for comment.

The pop mogul’s first high-profile, retroactive declaration of homage was of course about similarities between “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” and Bob Fosse’s Mexican Breakfast. In 1983, roughly halfway between those two dance trios, another was created by Chicago choreographer Gus Giordano. To Louis Prima and titled Sing, Sing, Sing, it demonstrates the better way to pay homage: Bring the spark of inspiration to a roaring blaze by feeding it with your own breath.

You watch Sing, Sing, Sing and see more than just Fosse. The lighting design, by Joan E. Claussen, reaches back further, to vaudeville and maybe the Iroquois Theatre fire, by bookending the work’s bright center with menacing, overlapping shadows of the performers thrown onto the cyclorama by crimson-gelled footlights (think Dario Argento at the Moulin Rouge). As in Mexican Breakfast, Lindsey LaFountain, Lindsey Leduc and Maeghan McHale dance almost entirely in unison and, again as in Mexican Breakfast, it’s their subtle departures and returns to unison that are the meat of the piece.

The dancers wear black tuxedos with tails and sharp, white bow ties and matching gloves, suggesting that Sing, Sing, Sing may also have been inspired by another Chicagoan, Lou Conte. Conte’s The 40s (1978), similarly styled, was long the signature work of his company, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. But again, as with Breakfast, it’s the spirit of The 40s that’s seeped into Sing, Sing, Sing—not superficial details. Giordano’s choreography here is as masterful as Conte’s but still wholly of its own design. Giordano is engaged in respectful dialogue with the past and present of his art form. Beyoncé, as an “artist,” would do well to follow his lead.

(During the curtain call for Sing, Sing, Sing, looking exhausted but exhilarated, the three women kissed their palms and gestured toward the ceiling, looking heavenward as well. Giordano died on March 9, 2008, five months before the dawn of the “Single Ladies” era.)

There are six other dances on his namesake company’s “Passion and Fire” mixed bill, repeating October 22 at the Harris Theater. Two big dances have settled nicely since shaky but promising premieres last season: Autumn Eckman’s onomatopoeic Yes, And…, to Barbatuques, and Sabroso, a Latin ballroom–infused work by Del Dominguez and Laura Flores. In the latter especially, the company is now relaxed and exudes pure joy. Martín Ortiz Tapia is contagiously ebullient in both.

Eckman’s world premiere Alloy, to piano works by Beethoven and Mendelssohn with which you are familiar, is likewise shaky but promising. Stretches of this showcase for new dancer Devin Buchanan and four-year GJDC member Ashley Lauren Smith come dangerously close to a Beyoncé treatment of Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort. It has other nice moments all its own and is stunningly lit by Kam Hobbs.

Jon Lehrer’s Like 100 Men (2002) follows Alloy and is a great advance counterpoint to Sing, Sing, Sing. It’s for five men in black straight ties and offers compositional heft. Fans of Christopher Bruce’s Rolling Stones piece, Rooster, which Hubbard Street presented often during my time there in the early aughts, will find much to enjoy in Lehrer’s play with swagger. It fills the stage in lively banter with its Johnny Rigo score, and announces the arrival of Sean Rozanski of Queens, New York, a considerable talent and turner.

The program’s opener and closer, Davis Robertson’s tribaliturgical BeIngOne (2005) and Kiesha Lalama’s routine Alegría (a world premiere) suffer basic construction and jarring transitions. As one section nears its conclusion, the next storms in, seemingly ahead of schedule, trampling it. Sound levels fluctuate erratically to match. The dancers do their best with these subpar assignments.

Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago: “Passion and Fire” repeats on October 22 at 8pm at the Harris Theater.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)