Giordano Dance Chicago’s  Illuminate is ‘Feelin’ Good Sweet’

It seems like forever ago, but it was just last October when theaters were beginning to emerge from the pandemic shutdown that Giordano Dance Chicago gave a performance that reminded us of everything we had been missing. For an hour and a half, we saw how dance can fill the soul and enrich our lives, and we knew again how essential live theater truly is. 

Now, four months later, in what’s proven to be a post-pandemic renaissance of theater and dance, Giordano Dance Chicago’s Illuminate is still most definitely getting it right, maybe better than ever. 

Featuring two world premieres and four hits from their repertoire, GDC’s Illuminate is the perfect, eclectic mix of old and new, edgy and classic, feeling and style, timely and timeless, but most of all, the show’s just flat-out fun.    

In the first of the six pieces, Ronen Koresh’s edgy EXit4, with its series of twists and turns, is an Act 1 all in itself. The fast frenetic energy and quick, stunted movements of Koresh’s choreography tell the story of modern life and disconnected relationships in a work that examines the paradoxical struggle between the basic need for connection and the desire for individuality. EXit4 swings from buzzing anxiety in its percussive opening to a brief moment of hope with a Beatle’s “All You Need is Love” interlude to an explosion of disappointment-fueled rage to a final redemption of sorts, all the while showcasing the precision and style that has become a key piece of the Giordano repertoire. 

From timely to timeless, GDC alumna Sherry Zunker’s The Man that Got Away, originally produced in 1990 at the suggestion of founder Gus Giordano, proves an altogether different and equally wonderful piece of the company’s legacy. Juxtaposed with the edgy EXit4, Zunker’s fabulous, sexy, elegant, fun solo/duet gives Ashley Downs the chance to bare her broken-hearted soul while her Man, played expertly by Executive Director Michael McStraw, stands silent, still, and utterly impassive. Like a trip back in time–or, for some, maybe not so far back–Downs lights up the stage with her gorgeously futile plea set to the Judy Garland classic. 

Jon Lehrer’s percussion-fueled, heart-pounding, A Ritual Dynamic is an almost primal close to the first act. With its ‘expect the unexpected’ feel and, at points, almost acrobatic use of space, Leher’s 2008 Ritual brings the audience “to the edge of their seats”‘ and puts the technical range and soul of the fifteen GDC dancers on full display.   

The second act features a pair of world premieres. Autumn Eckman’s non-linear Retroverse plays with time and perspective in a piece that opens with the dancers taking their bows before the curtain drops. Then, when the curtain rises again, we find ourselves in the middle of a sequence that seems to be moving forward, then backward, then forward again in time, with the dancers focus stage left, then right, but never quite out into the traditional darkness of the audience. Enhanced by an original score by Dan Myers performed by Myers and the Kaia String Quartet and creative lighting design by Jacob Snodgrass, the effect is mesmerizing and playfully disorienting. What was the front is suddenly the side, and then the other side. 

*Here I wish to convey my heartfelt applause, because–though the work was refreshingly creative and touched by genius–the audience on Friday evening had a hard time realizing that the curiously different piece was actually over when it finished in the middle.*  

Joshua Blake Carter’s 3, a trio danced by Adam Houston, Katie Rafferty, and Fernando Rodriguez, is a sweet, spirit-lifting, skip through a sunshower in the park set to the music of Laura Mvula with Metropole Orkest. Mvula’s lyric “bathe in the sunlight, don’t mind if the rain falls” served as Carter’s inspiration for the piece and showcased Rafftery’s infectious energy. 

And from the pair of world premiers to classic Giordano Jazz, Ray Leeper’s Feelin’ Good Sweet brings the performance to a close with the definition of style and class. Beginning with Michael Bublé’s take on the Nina Simone classic Feelin Good then a trip through Aretha Franklin’s Dr. Feelgood on the way to Micahel Brennan’s arrangement of Get Happy, Downs, Houston, Rafferty, and Rodriguez joined Ryan Galloway, Rosario Guillen, Amanda Hickey, Skyler Newcom, Onjélee Phomthirath, and Erina Ueda brought the house down.

Illuminate is meant to inspire. To lift us up. To leave us humming a tune and, just maybe, dancing a little bit as we make our way home. And with brilliant choreography danced by an amazing ensemble, Giordano Dance Chicago reminds us, once again, that there is nothing quite like amazing dance.

Giordano Dance Chicago’s Illuminate will be danced at the Harris Theater on April 2nd at 7:30. Tickets are available at harristheaterchicago.org/performance/59th-season-spring-series-illuminate.

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