Traditionally, a celebration of 55 years is known as an Emerald Anniversary. The emerald is commonly known as a symbol of eloquence, hope, and foresight – all qualities that the artists and staff at Giordano Dance Chicago possess, qualities that have empowered them to continuously preserve, and then push, the boundaries of American jazz dance.
On March 23 & 24, the dancers of GDC will grace the stage at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Chicago to celebrate 55 years of legacy and innovation. Among the works being presented is the world premiere of Take a Gambol, choreographed by former company member and current Operations Manager and Giordano II Director, Joshua Blake Carter.
DancerMusic’s Kristi Licera asked Joshua about his journey through Giordano, as well as the creative process behind his new work. Read on to learn more about Joshua and how he is weaving his thread into the fabric of American jazz dance:
Kristi: You have spent nine years at Giordano and had the opportunity to attend their summer program on full scholarship the two years leading up to your initial move to Chicago. Can you tell us more about your journey through GDC – from your introduction to the organization to your current position as Operations Manager and Director of Giordano II?
Joshua: My journey to GDC began far before I really realized it. One of my first and most influential teachers in high school had been in Giordano II. I didn’t learn this until later, but she was the same teacher who guided me toward the University of Arizona. I fell in love with U of A where I ultimately received my BFA in Dance. During my time there, the jazz faculty was completely comprised of former GDC dancers. This was where the connection to the company really began. On two different occasions, Giordano summer scholarships had been awarded to other students who ultimately could not attend. I stepped in and asked our faculty if I could be the one to use the scholarships – it worked. My first time around I was not a model dance student: horrible class attire, crazy colored hair… not the classic look the company desires. The second time around I’d cleaned up my act. It was time to get serious about working post college. Artistic Director Nan Giordano noticed the change – thank goodness! About nine months later I auditioned, joined the second company and the rest is history!
I don’t even know if I expected to dance as long as I did, but joining GDC made me fall in love with dancing all over again.
Kristi: Dancers often do not consider an administrative position as part of their career path, especially in the beginning stages of trying to establish a career on stage. Did you ever envision yourself in an arts office?
Joshua: When I first began my professional career, the end goal was to be a choreographer. I don’t even know if I expected to dance as long as I did, but joining GDC made me fall in love with dancing all over again. Not that I had fallen out of love, but it made my fire burn much brighter.
Along the way I continued to send out my choreography reel and connect with artistic directors. I applied for everything. During this process I learned a lot about arts administration. It was on a personal and much smaller scale, but it did get me asking questions. For me, I like to know and need to know how things work from all sides. Questions led to administrative duties with GDC during off-contract periods, which led to my position as Operations Manager. Nan and Executive Director Michael McStraw asked me several years ago about my interest in joining “the other side” post-dance career, so when I knew it was time I took advantage of the opportunity. My new role, as well as my continued role as Giordano II Director, allows me to stay with GDC- a company I love dearly – and gives me the ability to continue my choreographic career with a little more freedom.
Kristi: Part of the Giordano mission is “to create and present new and innovative jazz dance choreography, often redefining and expanding the very definition of jazz dance”. How do you feel that your aesthetic and philosophies as a choreographer support this mission, especially in light of the company’s 55th anniversary?
I like to think of the steps and movement I give to dancers as characteristics and mannerisms. They aren’t steps at all; instead I provide my dancers with information on the character they’re portraying
Joshua: I like to think of the steps and movement I give to dancers as characteristics or mannerisms. They aren’t steps at all; instead I provide my dancers with information on the character they’re portraying (just like actors get sides to a script). Like the actors, the interpretation of the character comes from the dancer. That’s what I want dance to be. During the creation process, I often compare scenarios to those out of movies. People enjoy movies because they often see themselves reflected in them. And what is it about a cinematic experience that can crossover to that of a live dance performance? It is a dancer who truly transforms themselves into the role they’re portraying – one who makes the audience feel the joy or experience the sadness. The beauty of theater today is that our technical capabilities are continuously increasing. Having the addition of lighting and costumes and seeing the big empty proscenium box transformed enhances the living, breathing art form of dance.
When I examine contemporary movement, especially of the torso, I see so much jazz influence. Isolating the obliques. Expanding the rib cage backward in a contraction.
My work, while “contemporary,” is a good example of how classic jazz has influenced and infused itself into contemporary styles. Looking at contemporary movement, I notice the influence of jazz not only in the grounded elements of the work, but in the use of the torso. The word “isolation” makes many people think of a jazz classes – it’s an entire segment of most classes. When I examine contemporary movement, especially of the torso, I see so much jazz influence. Isolating the obliques. Expanding the rib cage backward in a contraction. Maybe some dance patrons wouldn’t call it a jazz isolation because it isn’t sharp or staccato in quality, but for me, jazz is where I learned how to use my torso in that isolated way. I hope my work allows people to see the expansiveness of the genre, and that jazz is more relevant than ever.
Kristi: Tell us more about your new work, Take A Gambol. How did you come up for the concept of this piece and its title?
The music felt nostalgic. When I closed my eyes I could see it being a part of a film. That’s when I knew it was right
Joshua: In a team meeting one day in December, Nan threw out this idea of a new work for the men that would highlight classic jazz. Something to pay tribute to our 55th Anniversary. I knew it needed to feel fresh as well as stand apart from past works that featured the men. We went through several music sampling sessions until finally I found what felt like the perfect soundtrack. When brainstorming with our team, it was suggested and encouraged to listen to music from the 1960’s era. I listened to everything from The Kingsmen, The Four Seasons, The Supremes, Janis Joplin to Blood, Sweat & Tears, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Mason Williams. I dabbled in 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. I wanted the music to be the nostalgia. That’s why I went to the pop music first. It transports people back to a different time. Some remember the first time they ever heard Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby” and for others it can simply help them feel like they are part of that period of time, even if they weren’t. Sadly, none of it was quite right. I’d found a few instrumental pieces that I really liked, but again, nothing was gelling as a complete soundtrack. It wasn’t until I stumbled across Perry Como’s “Catch A Falling Star” that brought it all together – a song familiar enough to all generations and the missing connecting piece. My dance now includes a musical journey with Maynard Ferguson, Perry Como, Mose Allison and Quincy Jones.
I know most people are going to think we’ve made a spelling error, but I’m hoping it challenges them to research the meaning. It is a play on words after all!
The music felt nostalgic. When I closed my eyes I could see it being a part of a film. That’s when I knew it was right (there’s my “cinematic experience” coming into play). After the work was completed, the naming game started. Nothing was sticking. So again, we tossed around ideas, and Michael suggested “Gambol.” I have been known to love a lengthy title, so the sound of it wasn’t working for me at first. For about a week I’d turn to Michael and just shout out a title. He’d let me know his thoughts. He did the same to me. Then I realized a play on words might be fun with “Take A Gambol”. It had a nice ring to it, and it seems appropriate for the 1960’s. It made me think of the Rat Pack Live at the Sands in Vegas and the old Oceans movies. I know most people are going to think we’ve made a spelling error, but I’m hoping it challenges them to research the meaning. It is a play on words after all!
Kristi: Giordano Dance Chicago not only has a legacy of incredible dance artists but has also been host to some of the most innovative choreographers of our time. How does Take A Gambol fit into the fabric of the GDC legacy, and how do you feel that it celebrates the company’s 55th anniversary?
Giordano Technique is regal, grounded, proud and comes from the soul, and I think this work contains those elements.
Joshua: The work is a juxtaposition of the past and the present. It has a sleek, classic look with a soundtrack that will take you back in time. However, I created the work with my own movement aesthetic in mind. While the music and the attitude of the 60’s definitely influenced the movement, I tried to stay true to me. Giordano Technique is regal, grounded, proud and comes from the soul, and I think this work contains those elements. It’s part of the future while utilizing foundational elements of this American art form.
Giordano Dance Chicago will perform at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Chicago at 7:30PM on both Friday March 23 and Saturday March 24. Tickets are available online, in person at the Harris Theater Box Office, or by phone at 312.334.7777. For group ticket sales of ten or more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 312-922-1332.