The Harris Theatre for Music and Dance was buzzing with electricity following the performance of “Season 61: UNLIMITED” by Giordano Dance Chicago, last Friday night, October 27th. The audience was bombarded with vigorous dancing, driving music, and powerhouse performances by the season 61 ensemble. Friday evening’s performance was a tribute to former Executive Director Michael McStraw, and offered a glimpse into the company’s future with a special preview performance of an upcoming work choreographed by Al Blackstone, set to the music of American icon George Gershwin. The evening displayed the strong foundations that Giordano Dance Chicago is built upon. Video interludes allowed the dancers time to breathe and gave the audience a rare behind the scenes footage and insight into the inner workings of GDC.
The ensemble presented four strong and popular works from the repertory: Le Grand Futur is Here! (Mia Michaels, 1999), Sneaky Pete (Brock Clawson, 2016), Tossed Around (Ray Mercer, 2017), and JOLT (Autumn Eckman & Nan Giordano, 2012). While all four works are distinct in their choreographic voice, music choices, and subject matter, they all have one common denominator: the fierce attack and formidable power of the dancers. GDC ensemble members moved across the stage with ferocity to match the strong rhythms present in the music for each piece and continued to surge throughout the space, connecting with one another through movement and intention. The emotional connections between the dancers pulled audience members into the world that was being created on the stage, waiting with bated breath for what could come next.
A highlight of the evening was witnessing the grace and command of ensemble member Erina Ueda in each of the pieces. In “Sneaky Pete” Ueda played the tactile “antagonist” to the title character, and as all great villains do, had us rooting for her triumph. In “Tossed Around”, Ueda demonstrated the aptitude that a professional dancer must exhibit at all times when on stage, as a costume malfunction in the last minute of the dance could have created a disaster. Ueda, quick on her feet, was able to remedy the situation without missing a beat. The triumphant final pose of the work, a direct pointed finger off stage, seemed to strike harder as the realization of a possible fiasco being successfully avoided rushed through the auditorium. As many great thinkers have resolved, it’s not about how hard you fall, but rather it’s about how you get back up.
The anticipation of the night was for the special preview of a full work, choreographed by Al Blackstone to the music of George Gershwin. After a video interlude of behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage and interviews with Nan Giordano and Al Blackstone, theater goers were treated to a captivating duet performed by ensemble members Ryan Galloway & Erina Ueda. The full work is set to premiere in April of 2024.
The penultimate work of the evening may have brought tears to many eyes as audience members were treated to an unforgettable performance by previous Executive Director, Michael McStraw, and GDC Emeritus, Ashley Downs. Together the duet performed choreographer Sherry Zunker’s “That Man That Got Away” (1990), a cheeky reference to the stepping down of McStraw. While Judy Garland croons her tale of a long-lost lover, Downs propels her body across the stage in what can only be described as the epitome of the Giordano Dance Chicago movement aesthetic, continuously calling her attention back to a statuesque McStraw, clad in a sleek black tuxedo, gazing away from the woman who pines for him. In moments of desperation, she throws herself to his feet, upon his body, and in front of his steady eyes, hoping for one more moment with this figure whose love and adoration she craves so much, only to be dismissed with not even a shift of the eye from McStraw. It was a fitting tribute to McStraw’s formidable administrative leadership for the past 13 years, which was anything but passive!
“Season 61: UNLIMITED” presented a strong showing of the repertoire of GDC and the vigor of its ensemble members. As GDC takes to the road this season, audiences everywhere are sure to be left in awe of both the artistry and athleticism that GDC brings to the stage.