The Jazz Dance World Festival hit the high notes at its opening concert Wednesday night, a smorgasbord offering seven dance companies.
The festival was founded in 1992 by Giordano Dance Chicago, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. As host group, Giordano Dance opened the evening and showed just how much there is to celebrate in its anniversary.
“Pyrokinesis” uses eight dancers performing to music by George Winston and United Future Organization in a dazzling display of jazz-dance idiom. Gus Giordano not only founded the company now run by his daughter Nan, he also developed specific techniques for this style.
“Pyrokinesis” was choreographed by Christopher Huggins, whose powerful and imaginative creation uses a wide vocabulary. The dancers brought immense energy and impressive technique to this piece, with spins and leaps that caught the breath. Yet, it is the jazzier moves that are most memorable — a different sense of curves and sharp angles of movement, the lateral flexibility of the torso and the bursts of movement that push the rhythm the way a good drummer does.
In the later portions of the piece, it is even structured like a jazz band chart. As the rhythm section chugged ahead, groups of dancers and soloists came forward the way saxophones or trombones or solo trumpet might.
If Giordano Dance set a standard that would not be surpassed all evening, the following performance was no letdown either. Odyssey Dance Theatre from Salt Lake City offered a duet to, of all things, an abbreviated version of the second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. No jazz there; it was in the dance.
Choreographer Derryl Yeager’s “Solimbula” begins as stolidly as the Beethoven music does, but as soon as the first note of lyricism sounds, the dance blossoms. Eldon Johnson and Dayna O’Connell were beautifully attuned partners. When they leveraged against each other’s bodies in a spectacular ascending movement, Yeager placed it perfectly atop the music.
The first half concluded with the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble performing excerpts from Camille A. Brown’s “New Second Line.” It was another high energy dance, performed to music by the Rebirth Brass Band, which made excellent use of the full stage and also created a strong sense of community.
The second half began strongly, too, with excerpts from “Standing in Tears” performed by Koresh Dance Company from Philadelphia. The stamina of the 10 dancers was as remarkable as the unanimity they achieved in full ensemble. Ronen Koresh’s choreography belies the title, because the dancers kept lifting their feet so quickly it’s as if those tears were acid burning their soles.
Keisha Lalama’s “Torque” had unexpected and very welcome lyric touches, and the sense of pressure in the dancers’ movements that the title suggests. It was well performed by the Conservatory Dance Company of Point Park University, which is home to classes and other aspects of the festival.
“Contentoso,” which followed, was an enjoyable excursion to Latin dance that was choreographed and performed by Del Dominguez and Laura Flores to music by Tito Puente.
The show concluded with “Thunder” by Masashi Action Machine from Nagoya, Japan. Its strong gymnastics component naturally brought the Olympics to mind. The piece was performed to drumming music and provided a dynamic if somewhat impersonal conclusion to the evening.
Mark Kanny is the dance critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or [email protected].