Giordano Dance Chicago returns to jazz roots with new Fosse-inspired work

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Giordano Dance Chicago’s two-night engagement at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance this past weekend came and went all too quickly, but attention should be paid to the company’s exciting work and its ensemble of fearsomely strong, fearlessly athletic dancers who can flip from one style and mood to the next on the proverbial dime.

Among the five works on the program was one world premiere: “Feelin’ Good Sweet,” the work of Ray Leeper, who has created the choreography for music videos and live performances by everyone from Cher and Elton John to Il Divo and Snoop Dogg, and whose television credits include “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Leeper was first spotted many years ago by the late Gus Giordano, who called him up on stage during one of his fabled jazz dance workshops. And in this new work for 10 dancers he has playfully returned to those jazz roots by way of a free-form version of Chicago native Bob Fosse’s style, complete with women in sexy corsets and men in bowler hats all strutting their stuff as if they were performers in a footlight-lit Broadway musical.

Set primarily to suggestive arrangements of “You Know How I Feel” and “Get Happy,” the dancers (Rachael Berube, Devin Buchanan, Joshua Blake Carter, Ashley Downs, Zachary Heller, Natasha Overturff, Katie Rafferty, Sean Rozanski, Martin Ortiz Tapia and Linnea Stureson (filling in for the injured Maeghan McHale) nailed the style. And hats off to costume designer Emily Nelson and lighting designer Kevin Dreyer. Though hardly a breakthrough work it’s a real audience-pleaser and the ideal way to end a program.

There is no better to start a program however than with “A Ritual Dynamic,” Jon Lehrer’s bravura 2008 piece. True to its title, this fabulous exercise in furious contemporary madness is set to the percussive, playfully exotic sound of White Derbakeh and Egyptian Disco. And it serves as a bravura introduction to the way the Giordano dancers (dressed in black leotards splashed with Kandinsky-like abstractions) can attack the most challenging, hard-driving choreography.

A different sort of intensity was the name of the game in Lindsey Leduc’s duet, “Gravity,” which takes its title from the Sara Bareilles song whose lyrics confess “something always brings me back to you.” The fierce push-pull of a romantic relationship was expertly rendered in the performance of Berube (the real work-horse of the evening) and Rozanski.

Ferocity was the name of the game in Roni Koresh’s 2013 work, “EXit 4,” a piece in which the need for human connection is counterpointed by sections of intense (again, almost ritualistic) aggression. At one point midway through the piece a lone woman dances briefly to the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love,” and it seems like a near-futile lament.

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Finally, there was Davis Robertson’s masterful 2002 piece, ‘Entropy,” that found the company dancing everything from a sensual riff on the tango to the music of Astor Piazzolla, to the very different moves inspired by the great percussive sounds and chants of Punjabi music by way of the Dhol Foundation.

A program with a dynamic spirit from first to last.


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