Full disclosure: I usually find concert jazz dance to be indulgent, obvious and desperate. Although I’ve taken my fair share of classes in the style, it’s not one that resonates with my temperament. It’s a relief, then, that Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago doesn’t take a purist’s approach to the form — watching MOVE!, the company’s fall program at the Harris, is welcoming enough to skeptics like myself, even if there’s still not enough meat on the bone to sate my hunger for something that smacks of authenticity.
Of MOVE!‘s six acts, three merit discussion. Jon Lehrer, whose work I’ve seen before, is one of this genre’s brighter lights. Opening the program was “A Ritual Dynamic” (2007), a full-throttle ensemble work in which the Giordano dancers are all stars. The motif of a pretzel-legged crouch is snapped into through all sorts of impossible-looking operations, and bursts of acrobatics are integrated and unique enough not to devolve into gymnastics. More than once I was reminded of Brian Enos’ “Dipthong” — “Dynamic” exists in the same tense, sexy, North African pop realm, only turbocharged. Although Lehrer often fills his stage with bodies, unison is barely touched upon — like a spinning rock skipping across a lake’s surface, most of the composition is airborne and ever-shifting. If anything, it’s too much — there’s often far more to look at than one viewer can catch. A slow duet plays out in the stage’s corner, but the ensemble in the “background” is so busy the two dancers have ended their union by the time one realizes they’ve met. Side-to-side hops look like an Olympic skier on moguls; small cages made with hands connected at the fingertips hold some kind of invisible fuel. Unlike most of the program, “Dynamic” succeeded at being as fun as it tries to be.
Former GJDC dancer Autumn Eckman’s “commonthread,” another world premiere, had an open-hearted genuineness and varied vocabulary demonstrative of the breadth of her experiences as a performer (she’s been a member of Luna Negra, Hubbard Street and Lucky Plush in Chicago, in addition to a principal with Santa Barbara’s State Street Ballet). Dan Myers plays the electric violin part of his and John Ovnik’s original score live on the stage apron while a quintet of dancers (Brenner, with Zachary Heller, Maeghan McHale, Cesar Salinas and Martin Ortiz Tapia) whip each other through gummy encounters. Its men’s trio was especially transfixing, as was a duet to filtered pizzicato. An idiosyncratic use of shoulders pinned to cheeks provided visual relief for the evening’s splayed openness and an upward focus was handled with care, suggesting religiosity without broadcasting the theme. Countering it were walks in grand plié that dialed up gravity. Branimira Ivanova’s costumes, in olive, brown, brick and eggplant with accents of electric blue, were flattering and chic.
MOVE!‘s big draw, a world premiere by Rennie Harris, had a winning casualness but felt oddly unfinished. “I Want You” is a couple of episodes of swaggering hip-hop-infused dancing in black-and-white suspendered pants and knee socks (again by Ivanova) that point closely back to Run-D.M.C. and a little further to the 40s. Scored by fellow Philadelphian Vikter Duplaix and James Brown’s 1971 single “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved,” Harris inserts flirtatious vignettes into tricky spatial patterns. The vocabulary has an improvisational feel that masks its intricacy, and the ensemble heartily lunges at its slinky cockiness. It’s all over too soon, though, never feeling like it went anywhere.