When Nan Giordano, artistic director of Giordano Dance Chicago (GDC), began planning the company’s spring season at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, she told Autumn Eckman, the company’s gifted associate artistic director and resident choreographer, exactly what tone she hoped to strike.
“She wanted it to feel light and celebratory, and she wanted me to create a piece that would celebrate the life of Kevin Flynn, the Chicago businessman [and former investor in the Chicago Sun-Times], who, along with his wife, Susan, were long-time supporters of the company,” said Eckman.
Flynn, the father of four, died this past August after he was struck and killed by a car as he rode a bicycle near his vacation home in Michigan. He was 46.
“Nan also is a big fan of pieces that take audiences on an audio, as well as a visual journey,” said Eckman, 36. “So most of this program, including ‘Mist,’ the new piece I choreographed, is accompanied by live music.”
In fact, “Mist” features 10 dancers but also the 26 singers of Bella Voce. The highly acclaimed Chicago-based chamber chorus, under the direction of Andrew Lewis, specializes in classical a cappella music but has begun to incorporate some instrumentation into its performances.
Eckman said it was Michael McStraw, executive director of the Giordano group, who first introduced her to Bella Voce. “I listened to many of the group’s recordings and finally selected two scores by American composer Eric Whitacre — ‘Cloudburst’ [which includes the use of a thunder sheet, bass drum, handbells, suspended cymbal, wind chimes, and piano] and ‘Lux Aurumque’ [“Light and Gold”]. They conjure images of water, storms, and radiance, turbulence and calm, shadow and light, solitary strength and the solace of community,” said Eckman.
“We initially rehearsed to Bella Voce’s recordings, so it was quite a shock when we first heard them live,” said Eckman. “But the singers, who are onstage with the dancers, really jumped on board to make it all work. It has been a wonderful challenge. And it has been a great honor to be trusted with this assignment.”
Also part of the Giordano program will be Eckman’s hugely popular 2012 work “Jolt,” a hyper-caffeinated, rhythm-driven piece to music performed live by composer Evan Bivins and percussionist Matt Martin.
“I’m a huge coffee drinker,” said the choreographer. “But the real source of ‘Jolt’ is my grandfather, who was a professional drummer with the precursor to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and was a huge influence on how I hear music. My father also was a drummer, and I got my first drum set at the age of 8. And one of my great treasures is a video made years ago with a camcorder that captures my grandfather and my dad playing percussion with kitchen utensils in my grandfather’s motor home in Florida.”
Also part of the lineup: “Like 100 Men” (2002), Jon Lehrer’s work is a tour de force for the six men of GDC, and is performed to music from jazz legend Johnny Frigo; “Taal” (2001), Giordano’s work for eight dancers, set to a blend of Indian and jazz rhythms, with live vocals by Chicago’s Sheetal Heinert; and “Sabroso” (2011), a sizzling full-company ballroom work by Del Dominguez and Laura Flores embracing elements of cha-cha, rumba, mambo and Latin swing dance styles.