Giordano Dance Chicago’s Illuminate Lights Up the Night

There’s a chance, maybe a slim chance, but there’s a chance it’s not too late. You might already have plans. People like to plan their Saturday nights in advance. I get that. 

Still, there’s a chance that you’ll see this in time. If you do, and you’re up for a quick trip to Millenium Park, go see Giordano Dance Chicago’s Illuminate at the Harris Theater. 

You won’t be disappointed. 

Why? Three reasons. 

First, Illuminate is amazing. More on this later, but trust me, it’s amazing. 

Second, it opened last night and it closes tonight, so you only get one shot to see this show and it’s tonight. 

Third, and this might sound a little presumptuous, but here goes… 

You need this show. You might not know it, but you need this show. 

What makes me so sure? As I watched the ensemble’s Opening, I began to get the sense that maybe we all need this show. 

****

From start to finish, Giordano Dance Chicago’s long-awaited return to the Harris Theater reaches into our hearts, lifts up our souls, and reminds us there’s nothing quite like the feeling you get from witnessing the artistry, energy, and technical mastery of an amazing dance performance.         

“Cloudy days are gone. Sunny days are coming!” sings soloist Bongi Duma in a voice that seems to come straight from the earth. Inspired by a team-building experience, with concept and structure by Giordano Artistic Director, Nan Giordano, this “dance of welcome” embraces “beauty, community, energy, gratitude, love, and unity.” The choreography is joyful, the costumes beautiful, and the movements’ effects are exactly as intended. But the star of “Opening” is clearly Duma, whose voice rises through the Harris theater to set the tone for the evening.

Choreographed and first performed in 2019, Marinda Davis’s Flickers launches a celebration of Giordano ensemble mainstay Zachary Heller. Heller, who has been with GDC for fourteen years, begins the pounding, pulsing, piece dancing below the flickering lights. Ably backed, and often lifted by the company, Heller demonstrates the extraordinary range, versatility, and skill for which he is known. The impact is intentionally unnerving. Flicker pulses with anxiety. The dance is overstimulating, detached, uncomfortable, reminiscent of more than a year of isolation and worry. 

Then a voice calls out “This moment everything changes!” and, with this, everything changes. With encouragement from the company, Heller is uplifted, both metaphorically and literally, and ultimately redeemed in a finish that, once again, lifts the soul. 

Katie Rafferty and Adam Houston keep the good vibes going as a sweet and charming couple dancing the night away in Autumn Eckman’s A Little Moonlight. In a night filled with hope and joy, Houston and Rafferty dazzle and delight with a duet that feels, at once, thoroughly modern and like a love note to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. 

Shirt Off My Back, choreographed by Ray Mercer and featuring a gorgeous pas de deux danced by Amanda Hickey and Fernando Rogriguez, begins with a whisper that changes the mood to a deep, sexy angst, and then catches fire with a percussive flourish that drives the tempo and quickens the pace. Once again Heller shines along with the ensemble dancers Ashley Downs, Rosario Guillen, Skylar Newcom, Onjelee Phomthirath, and Erina Ueda. 

With Take a Gambol, choreographed by Joshua Blake Carter, we return to a night on the town to “Catch a Falling Star” with the cool, clever, creative, technically flawless brand of jazz that lifted Giordano Dance to its premier place on the Chicago dance scene. Danced with great joy by the ensemble, Take a Gambol is pure fun. 

Adam Houston’s gorgeous and heartbreaking company premiere All For You, danced beautifully by Newcom and Downs, sets the stage for the finale, which serves as both a send-off for Zachary Heller and a perfect showcase for the amazing talent and energy of Giordano Dance Chicago.

Following his expression of gratitude to the audience and donors, Giordano Dance Chicago Executive Director Michael McStraw introduced the final piece, Pyrokinesis. As a tribute and send-off, Heller was given the chance to choose the finale for the evening’s performance. Heller chose to end his time on stage with Giordano with one of the first pieces he performed in his debut fourteen years ago as a newcomer to the GDC stage. “Every time Zach steps on stage the impact on the audience is extraordinary,” said McStraw. And this final performance is no exception. After a gorgeous piano opening, Heller, Downs, Guillen, Hickey, Houston, Newcom, Phomthirath, Rafferty, Rodriguez, and Ueda set the stage on fire with an extraordinary high-energy set of performances that, at points, seems to border on the edge of impossible.    

***

Illuminate is meant to inspire. With brilliant choreography danced by an amazing ensemble led by a veteran stepping away from the Harris stage seemingly at the height of his powers, Giordano Dance Chicago reminds us that there is nothing quite like amazing dance. And, after too much time away, that’s exactly what we need. 

Giordano Dance Chicago’s Illuminate will be danced at the Harris Theater October 23 at 7:30. Tickets are available at harristheaterchicago.org/performance/59th-season-fall-series-illuminate

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