So much goes into making a great dance piece that when an audience sees it for the first time, with no idea what it is, they can too often be a little overwhelmed. Although ‘overwhelmed’ may sound like a good reaction from an audience, it would definitely be better if some of the intricate imagination that went into making the piece were a little easier to appreciate, even the first time through. It might make it easier for people to enjoy dance more, to love dance more, and to go see more dance.
Take Ray Mercer’s Tossed Around, for example. Giordano Dance Chicago will be performing Tossed Around when they take the stage on August 18th for Dance for Life 2018 at The Auditorium Theatre. So much goes into a work like Tossed Around that if you’re seeing a work like that for the very first time, it can be a lot to take in all at once.
There’s Mercer’s intricately imagined movement design and its equally intricate execution, and beyond that, there’s the context of how and why it was made, the thought and trajectory that are such an important part of great dance. Add to all of that the mutually-driving dynamics of the original score by Bongi Duma, the lighting design by Jacob Snodgrass and the costumes by Nathan Rohrer, and it gets to be all too possible that an audience, with no idea about what they’re seeing, might miss a lot of what they might have loved.
That’s why it’s so great when somebody can give an audience a better idea of what they’re about to see. Then, when the lights come down on daily reality and up on a stage filled with creative imagination, the people in the audience might have enough of an idea of what they’re seeing on stage to become immersed in how good it is. Audience, cast and choreographer could at least begin their journey together, wherever it may take them. Of course, if somebody were going to try to introduce a work as rich as Mercer’s Tossed Around, you’d have to find just the right person.
Take Michael McStraw, for example. McStraw is the Executive Director of Giordano Dance Chicago, so he knows Tossed Around better than most, and not just its multiple layers of design. McStraw knows what went into it, and a lot of what has come out of it for audience and artists alike. He’s one of those artists who has both danced and directed dance companies, someone who can mix passion and professionalism and never drop a beat. So naturally, we asked Michael McStraw to give us a little deeper look into Tossed Around. Here’s what he told us:
Immediately, we are drawn into this dangerous, competitive, animalistic world of attack and retreat.
“Ray Mercer’s choreography has at its heart those universal truths that plague each of us: feelings of isolation, being alone when in a crowd, not knowing we are surrounded by others with the same irrational fears. How clever, then, that Tossed Around begins with an off-kilter version of the children’s game “Duck, Duck, Goose.” Immediately, we are drawn into this dangerous, competitive, animalistic world of attack and retreat.” — Michael McStraw
lightning-fast pacing melds with razor-sharp execution to showcase each moment of bravura performance
“The fearless, world-class dancers of Giordano Dance Chicago are renowned for their superlative ensemble work and an uncanny sense of the whole that never sacrifices the individual. These attributes of GDC’s five men and five women are intensified and celebrated by the demands of Mr. Mercer’s choreography: lightning-fast pacing melds with razor-sharp execution to showcase each moment of bravura performance.” — Michael McStraw
The chairs, like the people on stage, are thrown, caught, discarded and rearranged.
“While the work is for 10 dancers, let’s not forget there are 10 chairs on stage, too. Mr. Mercer was exceptionally focused with the cast as to how they must use the chairs, demanding that the dancers toss, catch and set the objects with surety and precision, without making sound and with little warning. The chairs, like the people on stage, are thrown, caught, discarded and rearranged. For me, there is no better metaphor for the way in which we sometimes handle our relationships with those we love most.” — Michael McStraw
Tossed Around draws the audience into a world of raw energy and emotional clarity.
“Tossed Around features an original, commissioned score from Sbongiseni “Bongi” Duma, a South African composer and musician who has worked for many years on Broadway with Mr. Mercer in The Lion King. Mr. Duma’s polyrhythmic, multi-textured, driving score provides the perfect auditory pairing with Mr. Mercer’s exceptional choreography. With lighting design by Jacob Snodgrass, costumes by Nathan Rohrer and the high-powered performance of the dancers, Tossed Around draws the audience into a world of raw energy and emotional clarity.” — Michael McStraw
Giordano Dance Chicago (GDC) appears in the 27th annual Dance for Life celebration on Saturday, August 18 at 7:30pm at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago, IL). Tickets are available online from the Auditorium Theatre or by phone from the Auditorium Box Office at 312.341.2300.
Now in its 56th anniversary season, GDC—America’s original jazz dance company—will perform Ray Mercer’s Tossed Around, a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat work for 10 dancers that Lynn Colburn Shapiro of See Chicago Dance called “exhilarating” and that“reinvented the meaning of musical chairs.”