Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre 2021 SEASON KICKOFF Dance Review — Setting The Stage For New Work

A camera in the back of a room live streams the image of a stage, a sight that those of us watching live theatre and dance during the Covid-19 pandemic have come to know well. But this time, small clusters of tables of people in masks can also be seen in the frame.

On Thursday, April 22, Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre returned to the stage in front of a live audience for the first time since October 2019. The 2021 Season Kickoff was a celebration of new work with previews of several works in progress and choreography that spoke to social justice topics that have come to light during the past year.

Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre 2021 SEASON KICKOFF
Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre 2021 SEASON KICKOFF

Artistic Expressions of Social Issues

Many of the works in progress included in the 2021 Season Kickoff program surrounded themes including racial injustice, gender identity, and feelings of isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic. Identity City (Part 1), choreographed by Katlin Bourgeois, explored feelings of worthlessness and sadness that come when someone is not accepted for their gender identity. The soundscape mixes spoken word with phrases like:

“Why do you act like a girl?” and

“be a man!”

along with church bells and vocalists singing a rendition of the Our Father prayer. The somber piece is filled with smooth reaching movements followed by moments of the dancers curling in towards themselves, making themselves small on stage.

Let It Be, a preview of a new piece also with choreography by Bourgeois, is a little more hopeful. The creation is a reflection of the isolation felt during the pandemic, but the graceful and sweeping movements of the dancers wearing flowing dresses and shirts evoke feelings of hope, rather than despair. The balletic solos of the dancers with long-reaching limbs danced to Paul McCartney’s song, combined with the soft blue and purple tones of the lighting are elegant, evoking a sense of peace and serenity.

Mood Swing is a series of solos each choreographed by a different artist. A solo called Culture Loop, choreographed by Monique Haley, features dancer Simone Stevens in a red jumpsuit with red light cast over the entire stage. A voiceover reading the poem living while black and girl by Shea Glover plays while Stevens’ strong movements reflect the tension and anger in the text.

Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre Celebrates Live Performance

While many of the pieces in the 2021 Season Kickoff tackled difficult topics, there was still a sense of celebration in the room and a few lighter moments. Monique Haley’s piece ROOT: mwanzo wa mwili ni roho kicked off the evening with low-to-the-ground movements combining African drumming and jazz rhythms. The end of the piece is joyous, the dancers moving quickly throughout the space with explosive jumps. The claps from the audience remind those of us watching the live stream at home, including this reviewer, that the dance is actually happening in real-time, adding to the excitement of the performance.

Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre 2021 SEASON KICKOFF
Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre 2021 SEASON KICKOFF
Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre 2021 SEASON KICKOFF

Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre is one of the first companies to have an in-person indoor performance since the Covid-19 pandemic shut theatres down. The energy, even coming from the computer screen, is electric and celebratory, in this reviewer’s opinion.

This performance will soon be available for streaming ON DEMAND-- Stay tuned!

 The company will present its next program, INSIDE/OUT With Soul Remedy via live stream on June 17 at 7 pm. Streaming and more information can be found on Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre's website.

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Images courtesy of Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre

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Hayley Ross
Hayley Ross

About the Author: Hayley Ross

Hayley Ross is a writer, arts marketer, dancer, and fitness instructor in Chicago, IL. Originally from Ohio, Hayley has studied Ballet, Pointe, Modern, Jazz, Contemporary, and African dance and teaches Pilates and Barre fitness classes. She has previously worked for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The Harris Theater for Music and Dance, American Dance Festival, OhioDance, and The Chautauqua Institution. She is currently the Advertising and Marketing Manager for the League of Chicago Theatres.

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