Review: Giordano Dance Chicago Gives New Life to Classic American Jazz Music

Gordano Dance Chicago is in season 61 and has given a new visual life to some of the most iconic music by American composers. Founder Gus Giordano is considered one of the great choreographers who carved out the Giordano Technique taught to generations of dance students. Two world premiere dances were on the program for Friday, April 5. The first half was a variety of dances including a mesmerizing pas de deux, choreographed by Giordano rehearsal captain Adam Houston, called Unconditional. The show's second part was dedicated to George Gershwin's music, including "Rhapsody in Blue" and lovely songs from the era when people dressed up for dinner and dancing.

The show opened with an energetic group dance called Entropy from the Giordano repertoire in 2002 by Davis Robertson. In a nod to the title, the dance evoked a sense of chaos—well-choreographed chaos that was fun to watch. There was a video in between the opener and "Sing, Sing, Sing" by Louis Prima. While it was good to hear about the company and the strides they have made, it felt like a commercial that should have opened the show. Frankly, I was annoyed because it broke the spell that had been woven.

You may have heard "Sing, Sing, Sing" by Benny Goodman's orchestra but it was composed with lyrics by Louis Prima, known for his rambunctious stage personality and musical chops. Giordano took things to the mat with moves that dazzled and got the audience revved up. It is one of my favorite songs and watching these talented dancers spin like a kaleidoscope was a highlight.

The final dance of part one was "Soul," choreographed in 2018 by Ray Leeper. This was a miss that should have been reconsidered. Gladys Knight and the Pips, Al Green, and the Ike and Tina Turner Revue were a part of the golden age of soul music. Giordano has the jazz moves and I can see the balletic basics in their movements. However, none of them would make it down the Soul Train line when it was on Channel 26 in Chicago. Al Green's "Can't Get Next to You" has a Memphis grind and gospel shout flair. They possibly would have done better with the Temptations' Motown version. It was the same for "Imagination" and "Proud Mary." These songs are jams in the lexicon of soul music but it felt like an episode of Glee and took away from the groove they had going.

Giordano Dance Chicago Ensemble. Photo by Anderson Photography

They made amends and then some with the world premiere of Gershwin in B. It was a glorious mix of music instantly recognizable from jazz greats like the Benny Goodman Quartet on "Room 837" and Oscar Peterson on "Nice Work". Giordano Dance Chicago was firmly in their element with the choreography from Al Blackstone. The second part featured dancers Erina Ueda and Ryan Galloway as characters in a vignette of a woman following her dreams of being a dancer. Galloway plays the man by her side even when she turns him away. The video before part two featured Galloway talking about his gratitude to be closing his career at Giordano with this performance.

Blackstone put together a rousing work that showed influences from the great choreographers of the 20th century. The passion and intimacy reminded me of Gene Kelly. The hat motif and articulated movements have Fosse engraved on them. Stir in some Jerome Robbins and even Twyla Tharp modernism in the Giordano framework, and Gershwin in B becomes a masterwork in their repertoire. The lighting design by Julie E. Ballard added drama and beauty to all of the performance pieces—a big shout-out to the Giordano costume department. I love the gorgeous costumes, especially the '30s and '40s-inspired for the Gershwin performance. I highly recommend that you get yourself to the next performance of Giordano Dance Chicago.

Giordano Dance Chicago performed on Friday, April 5, at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St. For more information on Giordano Dance Chicago, please visit www.giordanodance.org and visit www.harristheater.org to see the wonderful programming by the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in their 20th year.

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Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.