Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre’s 20th Anniversary celebrates AMERICA/AMERICANS –exploring three American experiences—immigrants, African diaspora, and Native Americans
When and Where:
September 27, 2019 @ Studio5
October 4, 2019 @ Auditorium Theatre
October 18, 2019 @ Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center
ROOT & A Place Between Earth & Sky
September 28, 2019 @ Studio5
October 26, 2019 Benefit Performance @ Reva & David Logan Center for the Arts
With three new works in their upcoming concert series, Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre hopes to elevate their repertoire to the next level. Developed through deep collaborations with company artists, national choreographers, as well as a social worker, lawyer, theatre director, and painter, CRDT dives into examining and sharing the human experience.
“I hope audiences feel lifted up and a sense of belonging to a larger community. I hope they have experiences that open them to new perspectives and at the same time help them see the through lines of the human experience… that we all make unique contributions and those add richness to life, they don’t create walls between us.” -Wilfredo Rivera, artistic director and co-founder of Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre
Here, Wilfredo Rivera (WR) shares more of his thoughts with Picture this Post (PTP ) readers--
PTP: Why have you chosen American Catracho, ROOT, and A Place Between Earth & Sky for this current season?
CRDT: I began developing American Catracho three years ago with our 20th Anniversary in mind. I wanted to create something truly special to mark this exciting milestone. I, and the company, have never developed an evening-length work before. We've never worked for so long on a single issue and involved such a wide range of collaborators - from actors and singers to lawyers and social workers.
For our anniversary season, I wanted to create a set of works that epitomizes our mission to explore and celebrate contemporary society. For me, that means reflecting and representing the breadth of America. When Monique and I began discussing her work ROOT a few years ago, I knew it would be a great complement to Catracho. Just as I was exploring an immigrant journey rooted in a Latin American experience, she wanted to explore an African diaspora experience and the influence of cultural legacy. In that same time, the theme America / Americans came to me as not only our theme for the anniversary year but also a theme we may stick with for the next few seasons. It really captures what we've been moving toward for 20 years now.
Wanting to find one more piece to round out the season led to my conversations with Shannon Alvis and Clarice Assad and resulted in Place Between Earth & Sky. These two artists brought more nuance and additional perspectives to our constellation of American pieces. Two Latinx women, one a recent immigrant and both world travelers, exploring the long-hidden Native American heritage one of them just discovered... It was perfect.
How did the choreographers’ backgrounds affect the choice of topic and shape these works?
At Cerqua Rivera we know that a diverse collective of artists working in an environment of open collaboration is required to create the compelling, grounded, layered work we make. So the diversity of these choreographers - me a Latinx man with decades of experience as a dancer and choreographer and an arts leader, alongside a Black woman with an accomplished career as a dancer, early in her career as a dance educator and choreographer, with another accomplished Latinx dancer choreographing at a national level and on our professional company for the first time - this is just the type of team I like to bring together. Their backgrounds drove the areas they wanted to explore.
For this pivotal year at Cerqua Rivera, I was also interested in engaging artists at a crossroads - in their career, in their life, as artists. This wasn't a year I wanted artists to travel their same roads. I wanted open questions and really interesting explorations. This group brought us that.
All of these works, like all Cerqua Rivera work, are each rooted in a personal narrative and concept developed by a choreographer. For me, my own journey as an immigrant and the personal experience of close family and friends had been in my mind demanding my attention for several years. For Monique Haley, who created ROOT, her journey as an artist led her to a place where she wanted to consider the modern African American experience with traditional African forms of movement. Shannon Alvis, who created Place Between Earth & Sky, only recently learned about her Blackfoot heritage. This discovery shook her, and like many artists she turned to her art form as a means to process this experience.
How is American Catracho different than other works you have choreographed?
This has been a longer process and involved a bigger group of artists than anything I've ever done. I've also been working in an environment where it seems every day the piece becomes more timely and an important contribution to the conversation about immigration. That has added weight to this piece that I've never experienced before.
Catracho has formally involved more than 30 people, including our company of ten dancers and ten musicians. I challenged myself throughout the process to not let my own experience narrow my perspective. This led me to bring a lawyer and a social worker, a painter and a theatre director, actors and singers onto the project too. They have taught me so much, and the piece we've made really gives audiences an experience unlike anything else they'll see.
Developing the piece over three years has been a gift and it was possible because of numerous sponsors and a lot of behind the scenes improvements we made at the company. This extended timeline has allowed me to build and involve the large team of collaborators, as well as to really think deeply about immigration and how to bring to life the emotions and physical experiences that are a part of it. I think this is why audiences connect so deeply with it.
How do you feel that these works contribute to the current political/cultural conversations regarding immigration?
All of our pieces are grounded in specific narratives, and Catracho is rooted in a Latin American experience. However, we have found throughout Cerqua Rivera's history that these types of pieces, strongly expressing a specific narrative, actually transcend that narrative and reveal communal themes. It sounds counter intuitive, but when we tell a specific story we create stronger work that can deeply impact a wide range of people. In creating and sharing work driven by three distinct and specific narratives this year, we are not holding up a Latin story, a Black story, and a Native story for others to examine. We are dissolving notions of invisible lines separating different groups of people and exposing the layers of human experience we have in common.
From the start, I have been proud and sometimes surprised by how audiences have related to American Catracho. People whose families have come from all over the globe have rushed up to me after concerts, grabbed my arm, and told me how much the piece reminded them of their families' stories. In our Inside/Out events this spring and summer, our new work this year has generated more of these reactions. We are reflecting and representing the impact of the many groups that make up America and the many generations that made each of us. We are blurring lines of us and them and encouraging pride and appreciation. This is so different from the divisive narrative we are bombarded with every day, but it is the root of this country's strength and the beauty of America.
…When the audience is in the theatre with us, I want them to be joined with the company and the rest of the audience as a united community experiencing joy, laughter and recognition. The passion and talent of our performers and the months of work that go into each piece will move and inspire them. When they leave, I want them to remember and value the bonds they felt and the excitement of exploration and discovery. Connecting with those emotions helps us support one another and live our best lives.”
For tickets and more information, visit Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre website.
Editor's Note: Click here to read more Picture This Post stories about Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre