If he was still here today, Gus Giordano would have been exceedingly proud of his company’s 51st season opener. In a one-night-only repertory offering of full company pieces titled Escape Ordinary: 51st Extraordinary Season, Giordano Dance Chicago gave us exactly what I expected: all-out, balls to the walls, technically stunning dancing that brought the audience to its feet.
I was sitting relatively close to Gus’ memorial seat during the first half, and honestly I hadn’t seen this company since the Jazz Dance World Congress in, like, 2001. The company now bears little resemblance to what I saw back then; though Jazz Dance is still clearly a focus of the repertory, it’s hard to know what that means anymore. Giordano took “jazz” out of its name a few years back, yet Executive Director Michael McStraw came onstage at the top of the performance to remind us of their mission to “expand the art form of American Jazz Dance.” He also encouraged us to sit back and enjoy the “passion, energy, and unbridled enthusiasm” we were about to witness.
Exquisite technical dancing in a mostly for fun program came in the form of high kicks aplenty and more pirouettes than I could count. People came out in droves, including a large population of tweens and their moms.
This is the dance that sells. This is dance for dance’s sake. And, I suppose, somebody’s gotta do it.
The standout work of the evening was the world premiere of Roni Koresh’s EXit4. Koresh’s lineage includes ties to Batsheva, and EXit4 employs stylings reminiscent of Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. The piece opens with an additive phrase in full unison that grows in intensity and abruptly dissolves into a short introspective solo (set to the Beatles’ All You Need is Love). This would be the only moment of respite, as the lone dancer would be replaced by a grounded, almost tribal, quintet for the men. The women followed suit before the group came back together. The final section of the piece was sometimes directed toward a light coming from downstage right… dancers ran toward it and then seemed to abstain from “going toward the light” as though this excruciating purgatory is a place they wanted to remain. The focus shifts from DSR to the rafters in the final moments, with high releases indicating a sort of acceptance, or, dare I say, exit (?).
The closer, La Belleza de Cuba, was joy in the form of shirtless men and fluffy skirts! Latin dance is fun, and Latin dance with high kicks is really fun. La Belleza (a 2013 work from Liz Imperio) was the only piece that cast a lot of light on the dancers’ faces, allowing their personalities and exuberance to shine right through to the back row of the Harris Theater.
Where I take issue with what Giordano put forward last night is this: when you have an all-out full company piece, followed by another all-out full company piece, followed again and again and again by all-out full company pieces, the impact of all that “passion, energy, and unbridled enthusiasm” is diminished overall. EXit4 offered strong gestures and a glimpse of meaning outside of technical virtuosity; the other works from Kiesha Lalama, Autumn Eckman and Brock Clawson kind of blended together in my brain by the fact of their proximity in the program. The evening was begging for a trio, an Argentine Tango… something to slow the pace and offer variety to that non-stop intensity.
One thing is clear after last night, and my marathon weekend of dance that also included trips to see Bill T. Jones and Kristina Isabelle’s The Floating City: I get on a high horse quite often about the need to expand and grow dance audience, butts in seats, blah, blah, blah. While all of that is true, it’s also apparent that people go see dance. Even with all those choices, and some I’m sure I didn’t make it to, the houses were packed and exceedingly pleased. At this point (week four of the Fall Dance Marathon) I should be totally jaded and disgruntled about dance. Instead, I’m reassured, inspired, and totally content.