A DANCE TRIBUTE TO MICHAEL JORDAN
Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago
at First Chicago Center
Gus Giordano, the doyen of Chicago jazz dance, has always been fascinated by the social phenomena that stir the public. Several years ago, for example, at the height of our curiosity about motorcycles and bikers, he choreographed a provocative piece about Harleys and the men and women whose sometimes violent lives centered around the machines.
This year Giordano has created A Dance Tribute to Michael Jordan, the highlight of a program by the same name. Jordan's style and grace make him exceptionally suitable for interpretation in dance. Basketball itself, for that matter, is almost balletic in its speed, lightness, and elevation. And for the most part, Giordano has succeeded in re-creating Jordan's persona through the performance of accomplished guest artist Amar, who's shorter than Jordan but has a similar feline grace. Amar's teammates are also a technically strong contingent, and the ambience of a basketball court, with all the complex movements of the game, is theatrically limned. But Giordano is not merely imitating a game. His Tribute is an impressionistic, not a literal, interpretation.
The four-part work opens with a short segment--less dance than biography--that features the adult Jordan hovering protectively over his childhood self (played by the charmingly uninhibited Damien McIntosh). "Yesternow," the first section, continues with "Playground," in which the dancing picks up momentum and teenagers live and breathe basketball. Then you have the lineup for "The Draft," the second segment. This life-or-death choice for inner-city kids is presented with almost brutal and militaristic impersonality. The two final sections are sheer, fleet dance, cleverly choreographed to suggest team play, with dancers loping across the court, dribbling, and leaping into the stratosphere to reach the basket. Giordano selected excerpts from two of Bach's Brandenburg concerti to accompany this section, and they are a heavenly, very apt choice for the almost classically balletic movements he has devised. He was also very lucky with his cast, which included not only his own well-trained dancers but Homer Hans Bryant, former principal with Dance Theatre of Harlem and Chicago City Ballet, and Terrence A. Pender.
If Tribute was not as consistently airborne as the theme demanded, it was not due to the dancers' lack of ballon. They have the bounce but the stage floor didn't. It is made of concrete, which is murder on dancers and therefore doesn't permit them the freedom to fly in jetes and jumps. But in general, Tribute works. You may not learn much about Jordan and his colleagues on the basketball court, but you learn how a choreographer uses his talents to create a vivid impression--in dance--of athletes at work.
Chain of Rocks, which opened the program I saw, had been named I'd guess for its five taped rock music selections. This piece, which featured Debra Chalifoux Giordano, is a sort of lexicon of the jazz vocabulary that shows off the company's finely honed virtuosity. The costumes, however--basically classroom wear decorated with some sort of ribbons--will hardly go down in history. But the lighting (uncredited) creates silhouettes of the dancers that make for a theatrically exciting effect and give this abstract piece some needed visual drama.
Barred, a short spoof of class work at the barre choreographed by Mark Schulze, is a witty bit of nonsense showing how three dancers, each representing a different discipline--ballet, modern, and jazz--respond in their individual styles to Pachelbel's Canon. Meanwhile a male colleague lies asleep in a contorted position on the barre itself. Leigh Kain, Chris Kerber, and Mary Mitchell contributed wholeheartedly to the fun, and Schulze (who played the fellow asleep) shows a real understanding of how each type of dancer approaches barre exercises.
Chameleon, by Sam Watson to an original score by Rocky Moffit, is designed to show how susceptible society is to various social and psychological pressures. The subject offers possibilities, and "Sub Personality I," as the first segment is called, starts off strongly. It is just the right length to demonstrate the average man and woman and indicate subtle alterations in personality as they occur. "Sub Personality II" indicates further changes, and "Sub Personality III," the final segment, is the spastic final result. The dancers did their best, but "Sub Personality III" goes on so long that I didn't care much by the end how the personalities mutated. Judicious cuts would clarify the dance design and keep the audience a bit more involved.
Saskia, also a world premiere, by Keith Anthony R. Cross to pieces by Sting, is an overlong three-part dance bound to a pretentious bit of poetry by Sting about love, hate, and lost and saved souls. The ballet takes the poem so seriously that its dance designs are blurred: unhappily, I didn't find "the path of holiness" the poem mentions, I found only the path to boredom. This I regret, for the Giordano dancers are moving with so much sophisticated style and conviction these days that watching them, whether in exhilarating jazz or in more-dramatic emotional work, is a real pleasure.