Jazz Dance Congress Struts into KenCen

Article excerpt

"The Kennedy Center approached us about having our Jazz Dance World Congress here over the Fourth of July. They wanted to celebrate with an American art form. Well, you can't get any more American than jazz," Gus Giordano says.

This week Mr. Giordano and the center are co-sponsoring the sixth Jazz Dance World Congress, which is attracting more than 700 members and participants. One hundred dancers, choreographers and directors are due from Japan, where last year's congress was held. Groups are headed here from Guam, Mexico and Germany (which will host the 1997 congress), and from all over the United States.

"The dancing in `West Side Story' was the breakthrough for classic jazz in the '50s," Mr. Giordano declares, "and having the Jazz Dance World Congress perform at the Kennedy Center this year is going to be the breakthrough for jazz dance in the '90s."

Mr. Giordano, the recognized leader in the field of jazz dance and founder of the dance congress, circles the globe giving workshops and master classes in what he calls classic jazz.

"I've been put on this earth as a disciple for jazz," he says. "I've been dancing since I was 5, and I'm 72 now."

The congress will introduce some of the major jazz dance companies from around the world in a program that varies each day. Mr. Giordano's Jazz Dance Chicago will perform daily, and each performance will include four or five other companies, including troupes from Finland, Holland, Puerto Rico and Japan. Among the well-known American groups performing are the American Tap Dance Orchestra and the Peter Pucci Plus Dancers.

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The world congress aims to raise the standards and quality of jazz dance.

"We try to show the classic side of jazz, not what you see on MTV," Mr. Giordano says. "That means you dress like a dancer - you don't wear combat boots. You dress like you were taking a ballet class - only you don't wear pink tights and toes shoes, you wear black jazz pants and jazz shoes."

The dance guru is well aware that his art is a young one.

"Jazz dance became recognized as a major form after Jerome Robbins' `West Side Story.' It took a ballet choreographer of his genius to give it the form and method it needed," Mr. Giordano says.

"And even before Robbins went into jazz there was George Balanchine, who gave jazz dance the personality and reputation it still has today, which is kind of slutty and sexy. He developed that in `Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,' a ballet he did for a Broadway show back in 1936.

"Street jazz is just doing steps, but classic jazz tells a story, like Balanchine and Robbins did."

Mr. Giordano is doing a new work for his group's Kennedy Center appearances, one called "In the Beginning . . . " Because this year not only marks the 25th anniversary of the center and the opening of Leonard Bernstein's "Mass," but was also the year the Beatles disbanded, he's using music by the Beatles and Bernstein.

"There's a definite story line, because we're also using something else from that time: May 4, 1970, was the Kent State massacre, where the four students were killed. That's what the piece is about. It's not just a series of steps."

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Another intriguing premiere is scheduled by the Masashi Action Machine of Japan, with a piece called "Japanese Businessman," which is described as paying tribute to the "battle soldiers of industry. …