Masked dancers in street clothes move in zig-zagged lines, occasionally halting to avoid crossing paths. They are anxious to get somewhere—or just to get out of the crowd—and quickly walk off stage. Before this year, we never knew how familiar this scene could feel. It certainly resonates today, while watching the Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre’s fall performance America / Americans virtually from home.
Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre’s most recent foray into the virtual performance landscape took place as a benefit performance honoring long-time supporter Sandra McNaughton. Sandra, or as she’s affectionately known, Sandy, is not only a patron of the dance company but also of the greater community of Chicago performing arts. The program featured two reimagined projects as well as two completely new ones, created in response to the pandemic and the social justice movement.
America / Americans is united through the themes of group, belonging, and individuality. ROOT, described in the program as exploring “an individual’s place and strength in community,” features four dancers moving in sync who occasionally break off into solos while the other three continue their synchronization.
The beat of the onstage drum is steady and strong, evoking a feeling of cyclical togetherness as the dancers move to the consistent rhythm. The dancers’ dynamic and energetic movements lead them to occasionally break formation, but each inevitably falls back into the group movements. This pattern is repeated throughout the entire concert—creating a sort of physical reprise that reflects the relationship between individuals and their groups.
The movement and staging communicates that this relationship between the group and the individual is not necessarily an easy one. Dim, blue-tinted lighting evokes a sense of mystery as dancers move tentatively and lethargically through the fog. Pained sobs echo behind one dancer who cowers briefly in a center-stage spotlight. Another solitary dancer runs frantically around the stage, as if lost. These moments of uncertainty and struggle, however, are met with perseverance and strength—movements become quicker, sharper, and larger, the lighting grows warmer, the tempo grows faster. Clusters of dancers run and leap; soloists turn and kick.
The result is a physical story of struggle; individuals learn, reject, and appreciate their place in their surroundings by physically moving through the space around them.
Song and spoken word underscores the performance’s messages. While a bell tolls, several voices recite charged phrases: “men don’t cry;” “why do you talk like a girl?”; “put some meat on those bones.” The light is dim and dancers move back and forth in opposing directions. Extensions and reaches feel labored, as if literally pushing against stereotypical assertions.
Later we see a woman alone in a red spotlight and a singer humming softly, accompanied by the poem Living While Black and Girl. The poem’s articulations of frustration, injustice, fear, and anger are visually mirrored in the dancer’s anxious movements. This piece is an especially moving culmination of the concert’s themes, in this writer’s view, incorporating the climate of the world in which it was created.
America / Americans is recommended to anyone looking for a thoughtful, beautiful, and emotional meditation on the state of the world today, as well as the more general nature of human society. For those who long for the days of live performance, the CRDT’s fall series will be a welcome return to quality choreography, score, and lighting. The performance will be broadcast again on November 5-7.
Choreography: Christian Denice, Noelle Kayser, Monique Haley, Joe Cerqua, Shannon Alvis, Katlin Bourgeois, A. Raheim White
Dance Ensemble: Shelby Moran Amarantos, Jesse Hoisington, Brennen Renteria, Fernando Rodriguez, Simone Stevens, Carson VonFeldt
Performing Apprentices: Josephine Castillo and Lucy PiersonJazz Band, Chamber Ensemble: Joe Cerqua, Rob Dicke, Stu Greenspan, Leandro Lopez Varady, Felipe Tobar, Juli Wood
African Percussionist: Paul Cotton
If I Can Dream (1968)
by Walter Earl Brown
Arrangement by Joe Cerqua
CRDT Jazz Band, Featuring Joe Cerqua (Vocals)
Let It Be (1970)
by Paul McCartney and John Lennon
Arrangement by Stu Greenspan
CRDT Jazz Band, Featuring Joe Cerqua and Margaret Murphy-Webb (Vocals)
November 5, 2020 7 PM CST
November 7, 2020 2 PM CST and 7 PM CST
Images courtesy of Cerqua Rivera Dance Theater
About the Author: Isabella Sturgis
Isabella Sturgis is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago, where she earned a B.A. in Psychology and Creative Writing. A lifelong fan of the arts—from film to ballet to literature—Isabella is continuously searching for her next favorite piece or production. She hopes to pursue a career in public relations, journalism, or publishing and, if she’s lucky, even publish a book of her own. In her free time, you can find her reading David Sedaris or listening to the Cats soundtrack.