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Jazz Dance World Festival comes to Pittsburgh |
Theater & Arts

Jazz Dance World Festival comes to Pittsburgh

Mark Kanny
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'Chromatic'
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'Chromatic'
Giordano Dance Chicago
Giordano Dance Chicago
Giordano Dance Chicago
Giordano Dance Chicago
Giordano Dance Chicago
Giordano Dance Chicago

A lot of Downtown will move differently this week as the Jazz Dance World Festival comes to town.

Giordano Dance Chicago, formerly Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, is kicking off its 50th anniversary season in Pittsburgh by presenting the festival in association with Point Park University.

“It will be a gathering of energy and of collaborations, as well as training for young dancers who can come in and be touched by many different styles, not pigeon-holed,” says Nan Giordano, artistic director of the company. “At night, we have shows, open to the public, featuring five or six companies a night from all over the world. There is definitely something in there for everyone as we showcase the depth and diversity of what we feel jazz dance is.”

The Jazz Dance World Festival will present 10 dance companies in four programs Wednesday through Saturday at the Byham Theater, Downtown.

Performing ensembles include Cuerpo Etereo Danza Contemporanea, Mexico; Masashi Action Machine, Japan; Odyssey Dance Theatre, Salt Lake City; Philadanco! and Koresh Dance Company, Philadelphia; Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, and Giordano Dance Chicago and the Conservatory Dance Company of Point Park University.

The festival is having an International Choreography Competition at the Byham Theater at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. Ticket holders to the evening performance are welcome to attend the competition. The winner will receive $2,500 and the opportunity to perform beside professional ensembles at Saturday evening’s concert.

Educational activities will take place Wednesday through Sunday at Point Park University, with some spillover to the August Wilson Center.

“Jazz is not new to Point Park. We have had a strong jazz program for many, many years and have several graduates who are members of Giordano Dance Company,” says Susan Stowe, chair of dance at Point Park. “Nan has always admired our dancers and program, so it was natural to collaborate with them. Our new facilities can host hundreds of participants.”

Point Park opened its dedicated dance facility along the Boulevard of the Allies in 2008.

The Giordano company grew out of a request from Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet while on tour in Chicago to see some jazz dance. Gus Giordano, already a distinguished teacher of jazz dance, was asked to put together a show for the Russian dancers.

“The Giordano technique is a distinct technique that my father established and wrote a book about,” says Giordano, who took over as artistic director of the company in 1993. “Two-thirds of the tutorial positions in his ‘Anthology of Jazz Dance’ he came up with. He also came up with his own dance notation and established that. I still teach his formula for dance technique – exercises, positions, warm-up combinations — to this day.”

Gus Giordano believed jazz came from rhythmic soulfulness of African roots and devoted his professional life to recognition of jazz dance as an art form.

His technique “comes from the soul and moves out,” his daughter says. “It is not merely positions of the body in isolation. It has a feeling of athleticism and strength. You don’t have to know one thing about dance to leave our show saying, wow, I felt that.”

The August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble will present two works at the festival: “A New Second Line” by Camille Brown on Wednesday, and “Function” by Kyle Abraham on Friday.

“My company is a repertory company,” artistic director Greer Reed says. “We get choreographers of all skins of aesthetics, including jazz.”

Reed says it was a no-brainer to accept the invitation to the festival, because a lot of the company’s works reflect a jazz-modern background.

“Jazz dance is one of those techniques that has stood the test of time,” she says. “Giordano technique is still valid and used a lot, even though dance now is a mix of everything — modern, ballet, jazz, tap.”

Reed says there are many styles of jazz dance, as there are many styles of jazz music. “But the jazz dance I know hasn’t been as earthy as modern. Jazz is more up. It’s where the fingers go, how your torso moves. It’s hard to describe but you feel it when you dance it.”

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s contribution to the festival will be parts of Dwight Rhoden’s “Chromatic” on Friday evening.

“Dwight Rhoden is so much in the contemporary pulse of the jazz dance idiom,” Giordano says, “which he here sets on a ballet company.”

Terrence Orr, the ballet’s artistic director, did some jazz dance a dozen years ago and also earlier in his career at San Francisco Ballet.

“It was a learning experience. I think it’s fascinating,” he says. “It’s a very different world doing real jazz with dance, but they are very conducive to being with each other, because both are expressive of feeling in motion. They commingle very well.”

“For Point Park, (the festival) is a great recruitment tool,” Stowe says. “There’ll be hundreds of high school-age dancers on campus seeing our program and learning about it, meeting our faculty and seeing our students perform.

“It’s also high visibility for the city of Pittsburgh. People from all over the country will be walking around Downtown, enjoying the Cultural District and restaurants. It’s going to be an exciting four days,” she says.

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or

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