Lucia Mauro on 16th Jazz Dance World Festival | WBEZ
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Lucia Mauro on 16th Jazz Dance World Festival

WBEZ July Dance: Jazz Dance World Festival – Segment Two By Lucia Mauro

INTRO The massive 16th Jazz Dance World Festival – presented by Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago – often feels like the Olympics even though it's not in the competitive sports realm. It brings together some of the most athletic and inventive dancers from around the world for a series of performances that redefine and set the bar higher for jazz dance. This year's festival, running July 22-25 at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park, is dedicated to the legacy of late festival founder Gus Giordano, who dedicated his life to elevating jazz dance for the concert stage and opening it up to endless innovations. WBEZ's dance critic Lucia Mauro navigates this year's festival.

WHILE Gus Giordano passed away last year at the age of 84, his spirit LIVES ON in the many generations of jazz-dance artists he inspired. The Jazz Dance World Festival honors those qualities, such as the dynamic energy and charisma he brought to the once-emerging field of jazz dance.

In the current universe of fusion styles, jazz dance's flexibility allows it to TRANSCEND hip-hop, tap, post-modern dance and contemporary ballet. The Jazz Dance World Festival provides a forum for artists with wildly varying aesthetics to share their visions and demonstrate the ever-elastic nature of jazz dance.

A total of 15 LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL companies perform in different combinations each night. One company, Japan's Masashi Action Machine, has been a presence at the festival since 1990. The group blends martial arts with American jazz dance AND ARE a surefire crowd pleaser. the company also integrates acrobatics, funk and percussive flair into its performances that test the limits of human stamina. Their style is summed up in the Japanese phrase, “Wakon-Yosai,” a mixture of Japanese spirit and Western styles.

New this year is South Korea's POZ Dance Theater, an all-female group often focused on the idea of survival against all odds. These petite powerhouse women mirror that theme in two dances choreographed by Hyun-young Woo. The first, “Vaznia Zunik,” takes its name from a flower that grows under the ice only to emerge every spring triumphant into the sunlight. The dancers combine contemporary jazz, ballet and athleticism into their allegory that expresses the dauntless human desire for freedom.

Their second dance, “Black Swan,” follows a similar pattern. It refers to the black swan species as, at one time, being caught and killed because the birds were considered messengers of the devil. The same evil connotations hold true in the famous ballet, “Swan Lake.” But the women of POZ Dance Theater liberate the beautiful and hardy bird from dangerous superstition. Their resilient movements suggest the indestructibility of these seemingly delicate but fierce creatures.

New from Chicago is the Mature Dance Project, spearheaded by Sherry Zunker, former co-artistic director of River North Chicago Dance Company. Last year, she formed an organization that provides ongoing training and performance opportunities for post-professional dancers ages 35 and older. Still agile and flexible, they bring a richness and authority to their multi-style performances. The Mature Dance Project steps into the spotlight at the Jazz Dance World Festival. It features former dancers from Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, River North, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. They will perform Zunker's “A Little Rhythm and Romance,” an uplifting tryst across the fields of concert jazz, music theater and swing dance.

The Jazz Dance World Festival is really a celebration of all dance…and of life. Performances take place WEDNESDAY THROUGH SATURDAY at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park. FOR WBEZ, I'M LUCIA MAURO

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