BWW Interviews: Marie-Christine Giordano

Atlantic Crossing: A Dancer Comes to New York

Marie-Christine Giordano found her passion in Switzerland as a teen; a series of unexpected events brought her to the U.S. dance capital

By Michael Goodman

Dancer and choreographer Marie-Christine Giordano is one of countless non-natives who, drawn to New York for myriad reasons, have made the city their home. A veteran of the Alvin Ailey Center school and the Martha Graham school and company, she resides in the Greenwood Heights section of Brooklyn on the edge of Park Slope. She arrived here from Switzerland as a young woman in 1987.

Her minimally furnished apartment, where she has lived for more than a decade, is in a building that previously served as a pearl factory. Presided over by her 17-year-old orange cat, Leo, it doubles as a home and studio. The studio is light and airy, pleasant even in the summer. Diaphanous white curtains billow in the wind, which with the mirrors and white walls give the visitor the sense of floating in a cloud.

The studio is home to the dancer's namesake dance troupe, Marie-Christine Giordano Dance. The company has benefited from a program grant that has been renewed annually since 2007 and a 2013 Community Arts Leadership grant, both awarded by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

MCGD has taken various forms over the years, but as it closes out this year with a new board of directors, new interns and new round of fundraising, Giordano hopes 2014 will mark a critical year in its development and expansion.

Sitting in her kitchen, I ask Giordano, sporting an eagle tattoo, close-cropped blonde hair and gold hoop earrings, about her introduction to movement in Fribourg, Switzerland, where she grew up. "I was seven years old," she says, in her slightly French-accented English. "My friends were taking dance classes at a local studio. I asked my parents if I could join them, but they wouldn't allow it."

Not to be deterred, Giordano decided that if she could not take classes at the studio with the other girls, she would teach herself. "When we played together, I'd watch my friends practice the movements they'd learned," she says. "Then I'd go home, close my bedroom door and, using the window as a mirror, work on my own."

Giordano's first exercise in choreography came at age 18, when she was taking dance classes at a private school outside her hometown. The school's director invited her to perform in an end-of-the year recital. She tried to recruit other students to join her, but there was no interest.

In the face of this indifference, the director suggested Giordano prepare a solo. "I hesitated at first," she says. "I was so insecure that I wasn't sure I could face an audience alone." In the end, though, she took on the challenge. It marked a turning point in her creative life.

"In the course of choreographing that piece," Giordano says, "I discovered the medium that best allowed me to express myself."

In the early years after her arrival in the U.S., she took classes as a full-time trainee in the Martha Graham Dance Company. After completing the entire range of Graham technique classes, she moved on to a year of practical training.

During this time, Yuriko, a former soloist with the company, restaged the early Graham work "Panorama." A group of dancers had been selected to begin rehearsals for the company's New York season at City Center, and later to perform at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C., and its counterpart in Spoleto, Italy. The two months of rehearsals would serve as auditions.

Yuriko was a harsh taskmaster and drove her charges mercilessly. On one occasion, after a rehearsal, Giordano lay down, jaws clenched, and wept silently, her face to the floor to hide her tears. In the mind of the former soloist and instructor, though, her "tough love" approach was critical to the formation of a professional. Yuriko would later point to the young Swiss and say, "Do you see 'that lady' there? Jerome Robbins said that you either make a dancer or break a dancer. I made her."

In one of the rehearsals for "Panorama," the rehearsal director, Carol Fried, kept moving her around. "She said that I was so striking and beautiful that I stood out no matter where she put me," the dancer recalls. For a member of a dance ensemble, where individuality is often sacrificed in the name of exact replication of movements in unison, this was clearly not a compliment.

More On: Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham, Dance Company, City Center, Spoleto Festival USA, Jerome Robbins, Carol Fried,

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Michael Goodman Michael Goodman is a freelance writer on the arts who makes his home in Brooklyn, NY. He has contributed articles and reviews on film, visual art, and dance to various publications and websites.

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