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Body and Soul

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GUS GIORDANO JAZZ DANCE CHICAGO

at the Harold Washington Library, through September 17

Dance is a raw art form--the dancer has no props, no musical instrument to hide behind, no words, no canvas or script. This puts the dancer in an incredibly vulnerable position. She communicates with her body, and the body is a sensitive thing. Martha Graham called it a divine garment for the soul; when dancing is good, it's as if the dancer lifts that garment and allows the soul to sing alone.

Very few dancers get to this stage. Sometimes fear of vulnerability prevents it. Then there's the trap of technique. Dance can be so damn difficult that it takes all one's efforts just to get the steps right. Dancers focus on the movement and forget that their body ought to communicate something. It's at this point that most dancers plateau.

Gus Giordano--the founder of Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, long known as America's "ambassador of jazz dance"--is an old guy. He can no longer dazzle an audience by shaking his shoulders or kicking his heels above his head. But with his simple solo during the Giordano company benefit performance, Tribute to Peg, he achieved that gossamer connectedness of soul and body, bringing some audience members to their feet.

What Giordano has--and so many dancers lack--is sincerity. Peg Giordano, his wife and artistic partner, passed away last year. This tribute is a dance that only Giordano could have performed. Others might go through the movements, but no one can convey the feelings of love and longing Giordano does. With his solo and the rest of the concert (Nan Giordano-Casey is now the company's artistic director), Giordano comes close to achieving his lifelong goal: proving that, like jazz music, jazz dance can be sexy but can also convey more delicate sensibilities.

Giordano's 12-member company is technically impressive, rivaling Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in its ability to turn on an audience. Cross Culture, choreographed by Sam Watson, is one high-powered crowd pleaser. Danced to the driving rhythms of techno pop, it's an all-out display of energy and skill, with mighty fast hip hop steps and other souped-up variations of club dancing. The only problem is that it lacks an emotional context: it's interesting to watch but, like an audition for an MTV video, basically meaningless.

Thankfully, in Weewis choreographer Margo Sappington follows Giordano's lead and brings out the more delicate, emotional side of jazz dancing. Ann Newlin-Holmes and Lonnie Davis perform a tender but eerie pas de deux that transports the audience into a netherworld of love and obsession. Dina Pizzi and Michael Taylor follow with an equally obsessive but more violent pas de deux. Giordano's 1983 Sing, Sing, Sing makes a different emotional connection: it's a spunky, joyful piece that conjures up the glamour and thrill of old jazz halls.

The more successful dances on the program are the ones, like Weewis and Sing, Sing, Sing, that go beyond technique to establish some emotional context. Frank Chaves's Grusin Suite, danced to the sound track for The Firm, fails because it lacks that context: the audience doesn't know where the dancers are or why they move as they do. The premiere of Billy Siegenfeld's Getting There, however, does get there: these dancers seem real people on the streets whose emotions run the gamut from trepidation to snappy slaphappiness. Figuratively speaking, we could put ourselves in their shoes. Technically, we couldn't come close.

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