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Dancing the blues away
March 19, 2008 - Rick Chatenever
Exuberance is one of those things in short supply these days. The young members of Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago have exuberance to spare — along with the technical prowess to make it stick. They danced for a small but appreciative Castle Theater audience at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center last Thursday, infecting the crowd with their contagious smiles and spirit.
Having “Jazz” as the company’s middle name signaled a performance that was as energized as it was polished. As opposed to some of modern dance’s more abstract landscapes, jazz dance accentuates the music, the theatricality, the movement’s ability to tell stories and convey emotions.
That emotion was definitely upbeat, despite the announcement at the beginning of the program that the company’s founder and namesake, Gus Giordano, had died earlier in the week, and that the performance was being dedicated to him.
Giordano was one of six choreographers represented in the lively program that was athletic and graceful, alternately sexy and innocent, fueled by the choreographers’ ingenuity and the dancers apparent delight in their own abilities.
Giordano’s piece was a duet to a Louis Prima-powered version of “Sing, Sing, Sing.” In black outfits with white gloves, leggy Kimberly Cunningham and Maeghan McHale dance, dance, danced, creating a kinetic crescendo in a creative space between cabaret and minstrel show.
With the varied choreography, each number was fresh. There was never a sense of the dancers — Lindsey Leduc, Craig Kaufman, Jarrett Kelly, Meghan McDermott, Robert Mckee, Eugene Peabody, Cesar Salinas, Ruth Sherman along with Cunningham and McHale — repeating themselves.
Instead the program was exploratory, playful and joyous, especially the numbers that brought the entire company to the stage, sharing their individual virtuosity while contributing to a buoyant mood greater than the sum of its parts.
A couple of nights later, I watched the intoxicating urge to perform transform a cast of Kamehameha Maui high school students into wigged, waistcoated beings from another time and place.
They were the cast members of Moliere’s “The Miser,” a French farce dating back to the 17th century when court attire looked like articles circus clowns might wear today, but basic things —love, greed, romance, schemes and illusions — looked pretty familiar.
It was a kick to see the young actors under the direction of Camille Romero getting their mouths and minds around Moliere’s wry worldview —and their glee at bringing words written more than two centuries ago back to life, turning them into jokes that still work.
Making the audience smile was also the goal of this week’s huge movie box-office hit, “Horton Hears a Who.”
Producers of this G-rated, computer-animated comedy didn’t have to go nearly so far back in time — only to 1954, actually — for Dr. Seuss’ original source material.
It’s the fanciful tale of Horton, a carefree elephant dwelling the land of Nool, who hears voices coming from a speck of dust. Eventually he realizes he has made contact with the tiny world of the Whos. The precarious peril the Whos are in is not all that different from the dangers Horton (given endearing voice by Jim Carrey) faces in trying to save them — and himself from persecution — in his own realm.
In a strange way, Dr. Seuss feels almost as far away in time as Moliere for modern audiences. His whimsical, braying, mischief-making, goofy cast of characters masked all manner of topical concerns when he was actually making them up.
The fragile nature of the Whos’ little planet was on the minds of people in the Cold War, nuclear-powered paranoia of the ’50s. The vilification of Horton — led by one particularly nasty kangaroo busybody (voiced by Carol Burnett) —was fresh in the minds of people who had just been through the McCarthy witch hunts.
The new movie version goes easy on those Big Themes, and heavier on the hipper comic contributions of stars like Carrey and Steve Carell. The movie’s whimsical worlds, large and small, are full of more modern neuroses recognizable to today’s audiences.
Punctuated with its sing-song rhymes, the film is eccentric, touching, wacky and charming in all sorts of unexpected ways.
At first I thought it might have been a mistake to pull it out of its original time frame … until I was reminded that the fundamental things still apply.
It’s still a good thing to become mindful, and to do what we can for little folks, and little planets, in peril.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org
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