Jazz dance dominated the scene at the Harris Theatre in Millenium Park July 22 through July 25, as the Jazz Dance World Festival returned to Chicago. Gus Giordano, who passed in March of 2008, is hailed as one of the most influential founders of concert jazz dance. Giordano initiated the first Jazz Dance World Congress, a five-day celebration of dance, in 1990. Master classes are held throughout the day, and inspirational performances are given in the evening. In 2002, the Congress was held in downtown Chicago for the first time, and the performances were presented as the “Jazz Dance World Festival.” The event has been held in numerous international locations, and has been in Chicago every other year since 2005.
Giordano helped shape the definition of jazz dance as a form that derives its soul from the expression of rhythm and musicality. Arguably, there is no company that can deliver this sense of intonation better than the Windy City’s own Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago. The company’s performance of Pyrokinesis, choreographed by Christopher Huggins, was sizzling with energy. The first section, set to solo piano music, was modern-dance based, and the movement, with pleading contractions and flexed hands and feet harkens back to Martha Graham’s technique. The second half becomes an explosive expression of jazz, exemplifying how the movement is the music (a spicy jazz piece by the United Future Organization) made visual. The trumpet trills became rounds of fouette turns, the percussive underlying beat transcribed as an African-based step. Truly, the Giordano dancers appear so tight with their unisons, bold in their solos, and in tune with each other when harmonizing, that they act as musicians with their bodies.
River North Chicago Dance Company also impressed the audience with its incredible physicality. The athletic piece, called Take a Seat, by Frank Chaves, featured five male dancers from the company and five chairs, on which they jumped and turned. In the second half, they commenced to do a whole section of turning, jumping, weaving in an out of each other, and even back-bending with the chairs mounted on their backs. I couldn’t imagine how much rehearsal (and how many injuries) this must have taken to perfect.
LehrerDance, a new company founded in Buffalo, New York by former Giordano Associate Director Jon Lehrer, performed their premiere performance at the Harris Theatre. Lehrer’s Fused by 8, as the title implies fused modern and jazz forms, while also adding elements of gymnastics or break-dancing. This echoed the music, which was a hybrid of classical and electronic/hip-hop. Though they did not quite possess the poise and perfection of the Giordano dancers, in time, they have potential to mature and become more in tune with each other as artists and athletes.
Other highlights from Friday night’s program include Billy Siegenfeld’s Chicago company, Jump Rhythm Jazz Project. This theatrical company combined elements of comedy, drama, vocalization, singing, body rhythms, and tap dance to make for an extremely entertaining experience.
All of the companies that performed graced the stage with technicality and musicality. The Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater showed off incredible extension combined with a balletic style. Two dancers from Philadelphia’s “Philadanco” performed a serious duet with utter beauty and concentration. Finally, the Cuerpo Etéreo Danza Contemporénea, hailing from Mexico performed a highly technical, athletic, and intricately rhythmic piece. All of the companies performed with the energy, grounded power, and expressive lightness that epitomizes jazz.