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Giordano Dance Chicago blasts into action at Harris Theatre

Giordano Dance Chicago will pay homage to Gus Giordano with a performance of "Sing, Sing, Sing," part of Dance for Life 2016. (Photo: Houston Downs/Gorman Cook Photography)

April is Chicago Dance Month, and Giordano Dance Chicago got things off to an  explosive start this weekend with two performances at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

The 10 dancers in this company are fearless athletes with Olympian stamina who bring a rousing conviction and unabated dynamism to everything they do. They also seem to feed on a kind of joyful competitiveness and mischievous interplay, generating a group energy that clearly keeps them going through even the most punishing lineup.

The world premiere among the six works on this Spring program was Brock Clawson’s “Sneaky Pete,” and it’s a keeper for many reasons – most notably because it is driven by a quirky narrative, while most of the works in the Giordano rep tend to be exercises in pure movement.

Clawson, who has choreographed for modern and ballet companies, displayed his theatrical flair last year with dance sequences for “The Who’s Tommy” at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre. Here he has devised a winningly mad (at times goofy) scenario in which a Leading Actor (Zachary Taylor, clad in black, and with flashlight in hand), is part voyeur, part detective, part spurned lover, and forever in pursuit of the girl in the red dress dubbed Supporting Actress (Maeghan McHale, a Giordano veteran, and the company workhorse, who remains at the very top of her game).

Spinning through the work (and speed is of the essence here, as is flamboyant partnering) are five couples, with the virtuosic McHale joined by Rachael Berube, Devin Buchanan, Joshua Black Carter, Ashley Downs, Ryan Galloway, Adam Houston, Natasha Overturff, Katie Rafferty and Martin Ortiz Tapia. The whole thing is an alternately elegant and zany chase of sorts, with music by Kerry Muzzey, Abel Korseniowski and Adam Crystal, costumes by Branimira Ivanova, and playfully noir-like lighting by Kevin Dreyer. And Clawson (who should have taken a bow, but was nowhere to be seen), knew exactly when to draw the hijinks to a close.

The program opened with the take-no-prisoners “EXit4,” Ronen Koresh’s hard-driving, ritualistic work that is part primal/urban mating dance, part fight-club-like war game, and part Middle Eastern-tinged exotica. The Israeli-bred Koresh, who has overseen his own company in Philadelphia since 1991, makes masterful use of such basic formations as horizontal lines and circles. And there is a nearly relentless percussive drive and brute force to his movement (for both the men and women) that can erupt in a sort of exorcism of rage and shouts from the dancers. The only brief respite – perhaps sardonic – comes in a brief solo (danced by McHale) to a riff on a few bars from the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love.”

John Lehrer’s “Like a 100 Men,” to the music of Johnny Frigo, is a terrific showcase for the company’s male dancers (who are, by the way, sensational, with the Ailey-trained Buchanan a real standout), although it was perhaps too close in tone to “EXit4” to directly follow it.

Also on the program were Kiesha Lalama’s full company work, “Alegria,” to the music of Rodrigo y Gabriela, and Autumn Eckman’s “commonthread” (for five women), most notable for its fascinating score by Dan Myers and John Ovnik, which was superbly played (live) by Myers, on electric violin.

For an irresistible finale the company paid homage to Gus Giordano in high-stepping vaudeville style. His 1983 classic, “Sing, Sing, Sing,” set to the music of Louis Prima, has now been reworked for 10 dancers (from the original three). And with everyone dressed in black tailcoats and white gloves, and exuding pure Uptown flash, the company brought the house down.