Giordano Dance Chicago has been a successful independent dance company for more than half a century, and although anyone would call that an astonishing accomplishment, it’s also an understatement. For one thing, ‘successful’ is an understatement. They’re adventurous, world famous, consistent, consistently innovative, and still here, doing what they always do. Not only that, they’re doing it again this weekend at Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance.
As those fifty-five years have slowly rolled by, Giordano Dance has never stopped moving in double time.
What’s probably even harder to imagine is this: to say they’ve been successful for ‘more than half a century’ is an understatement too. As those fifty-five years have slowly rolled by, Giordano Dance has never stopped moving in double time. While building a world-wide touring presence that is built on the foundations of Gus Giordano’s technique, they’ve simultaneously reached out to the communities they serve to find new voices, new visions and new dance forms. If time were measured in creativity, they’d be on their second century by now.
We asked Giordano Dance Chicago’s Executive Director Michael McStraw to give us a little more perspective on all of this, and especially on what we’re going to see this weekend at their Fall Series. Here’s what he told us —-
Johnny Nevin: Giordano Dance has been performing for fifty-five years, which is an astonishing run in the world of Concert Dance. Although the Company is universally known as a jazz dance company, it predates almost every major contemporary company, and it was probably a significant force in the development of the very concept of an independent dance company. Considering the breadth of choreography that Giordano performs, as well as the fact that the Company, by its own description, is “often redefining and expanding the very definition of jazz dance”, what do you think is most characteristic about a Giordano performance? Is it possible that it has as much to do with the Company’s ability to define and redefine itself as it does with Giordano Dance’s role as America’s original jazz dance company?
Michael McStraw: It has been an incredible 55 years! For more than five decades, Giordano Dance Chicago has been heralded for high-energy, high-impact performance and the diversity of repertoire. Our imprint on the art form of jazz dance is far-reaching and significant with: creation of 163 original works; mentoring of emerging choreographers; commissioning of innumerable composers, musical scores, and lighting, set and costume designers; education of tens thousands of underserved public school and community students; creation of generations of professional dancers; and performances to millions of audience members worldwide.
GDC recruits, hires, and fosters dance artists who possess more than just superlative technique and experience, but who also convey passion, humanity, and elegance. — Michael McStraw
As America’s original jazz dance company, we follow – unfailingly – six guiding principles that ensure that we stay true to our mission to expand the art form of jazz dance. First and most importantly, the legacy of founder Gus Giordano suffuses all aspects of the organization and cannot be over-emphasized. Second, the leadership of Artistic Director Nan Giordano has transformed the organization to continuously raise its artistic standards and expand its influence worldwide. Third, no matter the choreography, GDC artists work from the solid, regal, precise base of the Giordano Technique. Fourth, GDC embraces and remains true to its aesthetic, recognizing that it happily occupies the middle space on the spectrum of what dance can be, that is, about halfway between intellectual pursuit and pure entertainment. Fifth, GDC recruits, hires, and fosters dance artists who possess more than just superlative technique and experience, but who also convey passion, humanity, and elegance. Lastly, ours is always a passionate and visceral offering which connects deeply with our audience. These are the elements that guarantee our unique and influential place in American dance.
Johnny: How is that reflected in the impressive range of choreographic visions that are featured in the Fall Series concerts?
It was dance pioneer Gus Giordano himself who once said, “I know one thing for certain about jazz dance. It is a living art form which is always about to do something new.”
Michael: Nan Giordano often states that there are two essential factors to a successful GDC performance. First, she strives to take the audience on a journey through different dance styles, musical genres, and emotional landscapes. Second, she says that if each audience member does not feel the performance, if they are not physically touched by the power of our performers, then we have not done our job. We want people to leave the theater hungry for more. When choreographers are chosen to add to our extensive repertoire, it is with the clear understanding that their effort, their presence on a program, will shape both the art form of jazz dance and give the audience a superlative and quintessential Giordano experience.
The upcoming performances at the Harris Theater perfectly embody these goals. World premiere works such as “Tossed Around” from Broadway’s Ray Mercer and “If I Could…” from Chicago’s Brock Clawson bring qualities that are fresh, nuanced, dynamic, and exciting. Past works being restaged, such as Liz Imperio’s electrifying “La Belleza de Cuba” and Nan Giordano’s “Giordano Moves” for 15 dancers, have been selected because they, too, remind us of our past as well as that which continues to thrill today. And although a particular choreographer may appear, on first blush, to be a Broadway or a modern or a commercial artist, each person selected has at his or her roots substantive training and unflinching belief in the hallmarks of jazz dance: elegance, passion, groundedness, athleticism, exacting rhythms, with strong line and exceptional ensemble.
It was dance pioneer Gus Giordano himself who once said, “I know one thing for certain about jazz dance. It is a living art form which is always about to do something new.” We hope your readers will come experience the uniqueness of what Giordano Dance Chicago has to offer and observe intimately how we honor and transform the art form of American Jazz Dance.
Giordano Dance Chicago’s story may be one of amazing accomplishment, but unlike other stories that you can only read about, you can actually go and see this one. You’ll be seeing the accomplishments of fifty-five years of imagination and determination, and more than that, you’ll be seeing the accomplishment and excitement of the choreographers and performers that keep making this company move like they were just getting started. They’re at the Harris Theater on Friday, October 27th at 7:30pm and on Saturday, October 28th at 7:30pm. There’s also a lot more to learn about Giordano Dance Chicago at their site giordanodance.org.
PHOTOS (from top): • Jacob Frazier and Katie Rafferty Giordano Dance Chicago (Gorman Cook Photography) • Zachary Heller and Natasha Overturff Denny Giordano Dance Chicago (Gorman Cook Photography) • Jacob Frazier Giordano Dance Chicago (Gorman Cook Photography) • Ashley Downs Giordano Dance Chicago (Gorman Cook Photography) • Maeghan McHale and Zachary Heller (Courtesy of Giordano Dance Chicago)