Jazz dance company makes history at Auditorium Theatre

Giordano dancers
Giordano Dance Chicago dancers Adam Houston and Ashley Downs performing "Moving Sidewalks." Photo: Gorman Cook. Courtesy of GDC.

By Megan Kramer

Giordano Dance Chicago performed their first full-length evening at the Auditorium Theatre Saturday, including the premiere of “Shirt Off My Back” by Ray Mercer as part of the theater’s new “Made in Chicago” series.

The performance was a huge milestone for artistic director Nan Giordano, whose father Gus Giordano formed GDC in Evanston in 1963.

“It is a very honored, exciting opportunity for our company,” Giordano said. “We have been on the Auditorium stage numerous times, but we’ve never had our own evening.”

The Auditorium Theatre opened in 1889, and was home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra between 1891 and 1904. Legendary dance companies such as The Joffrey Ballet and Bolshoi Ballet have performed on its stage.

“And for me personally,” Giordano added, “Since I was a young girl I would go to many things with my father, and he was always very anxious to have his company on the stage. After 52 years, we made it.”

Giordano took over as art director in 1993 and has been running GDC since her father died in 2008. She had been reminding the dancers how huge the performance was, and they were buzzing with excitement as they prepared for the show.

“They’re in the history making right now, because we have not been on the Auditorium stage on our own,” Giordano said. “The dancers that we have really embrace Giordano Dance Chicago and they are very committed. They especially like when they are part of the legacy.”

Excitement aside, the company prepared for the performance just as intensively as for any other performance.

“A lot of rehearsal, a lot of fine tuning, a lot of practicing, a lot of time and energy, a lot of work on the administrative side,” Giordano said. “It’s a lot of work to put on a show, and this is no different in the preparation for it. It’s just in a different, exciting hometown venue for us.”

The performance comprised the world premiere of “Shirt Off My Back”; a revised version of “Moving Sidewalks” by Autumn Eckman; “EXit4” by Roni Koresh; “Feelin’ Good Sweet” by Ray Leeper; and “Alloy,” also by Eckman.

Choreographed by Broadway star and former Chicagoan Ray Mercer, “Shirt Off My Back” highlights the sacrifices people make entering into relationships. Giordano and company agreed that the piece was well suited to the Auditorium’s “Made in Chicago” series.

“We thought it would be nice to have someone from Chicago that’s been in New York coming back to Chicago,” Giordano said of Mercer, who is currently a cast member of Broadway musical “The Lion King.”

Autumn Eckman’s 2013 “Moving Sidewalks,” inspired by the changing landscape of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood in the mid-19th century, was also considered a good fit for the series. The revised version featured new costumes with a more historical look and included Giordano II along with the original 10-member company, a total of 16 dancers on stage.

“They’re in the history making right now, because we have not been on the Auditorium stage on our own.” – Nan Giordano

Whether you were able to catch GDC at the Auditorium or plan to see them perform at “home” at Harris Theater in Millennium Park, Giordano has one goal: you feel, not just see.

“It’s really most important that the audience walks out of the theater, no matter where it is, saying, ‘Wow, I am so energized. I really felt them,’” she said. “I want the audience to feel us, not only see that we’re good.”

While GDC is a jazz dance company, Giordano says the genre has “a large vocabulary.”

“I try to take the audience through a journey, so they’ll see a lot of different styles, different music types,” she said. “We’re a jazz company, we just push the envelope with the breadth and depth of our repertoire. And that’s what jazz is – it’s not just dancing to jazz music.”

Giordano Dance Chicago dancers Adam Houston and Ashley Downs performing “Moving Sidewalks.” Photo: Gorman Cook. Courtesy of GDC.