Chicago Sinfonietta Preview- Wilfredo Rivera to Show What the Music Looks Like

Wilfredo Rivera, artistic director of the Cerqua Rivera Dance Theater, was recently commissioned by Chicago Sinfonietta to choreograph a dance to "show what the music looks like", as Jenna Deidel, marketing Director for the Chicago Sinfonietta put it.  The specific music, SIN FRONTERAS,  is also a new commission by composer Clarice Assad.  The music and the choreography will debut soon at Chicago Sinfonietta's Trademark performance, September 16 and 18.

Click here to read "Chicago Sinfonietta Commissions CLARICE ASSAD’s SIN FRONTERAS Preview – Insights to Assad and her Work"

Read below Wilfredo's comments on this collaboration and working with Chicago Sinfonietta.

Wilfredo Rivera
Wilfredo Rivera Photo courtesy of Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre

What originally drew you to Chicago Sinfonietta and this collaboration? Who approached who, and why?

We are connected through a mutual violinist- James Sanders- the first chair for Sinfonietta and a company musician/composer. We made the connection a while back.

I share with Chicago Sinfonietta the mission and values of diversity, community, equity, and accessibility in the arts.

Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre (CRDT) is more than a dance company, as it contains a 9-piece orchestra- bringing a marriage of choreography, original compositions, and what poetry in motion can evoke—understanding and acceptance.

We’ve heard that the central motto of this collaboration is to show what the music looks like. Could you expand on that? What is your central approach to the choreography of this piece?

Trademark is a celebration of Chicago Sinfonietta’s 30th anniversary season, commissioned for the composer to celebrate 30 years of diversity. It is designed and written for the orchestra, but not for dance in particular. My job is to create choreography that serves as a moving painting-—bodies representing moods, emotion, and also the journey the music is taking the audience through.

The piece starts solemnly with motifs and ideas giving a sense of Northern Brazil, and then travels through Peru, Central America, Mexico, New Orleans, Chicago, and New York. It also touches upon various Latin cultural music styles, all interwoven and interjected with American jazz music.

Transcending a “happy composition,” Sin Fronteras is a study of colliding, recovering, and embracing different cultures. The choreography works in a grey zone, black zone, white zone, and a colored zone. It moves from style to style very quickly, and the challenge is how to interpret the music when it’s rapidly jumping out of different landscape. The piece is coming along in a very embraceable way, overall keeping the spirit of the challenges of overcoming our differences until ultimately finding acceptance and unity in which the tension must be resolved.

Chicago Sinfonietta is especially well known for its focus on diversity and inclusion. How much was this a factor in the creation of your piece? Do you have any comments about Chicago Sinfonietta’s effort to showcase prominent female composers?

As the Sinfonietta is focused on giving voice to a rainbow of composers and choreographers, Cerqua Rivera shares its mission. The composition is already infused with the cultural landscape and musical styles- and with my background as a Latino choreographer and dancer, I have had the opportunity to work with various different companies and choreographers. I’m grateful to have very multi-disciplinary values, draw from different set of styles of dance, all pulling from my own history. All of the dancers in the company are dancing with us because they are all under the umbrella of diversity and compassion and community. We are all approaching the piece with that sensibility.

CRDT clearly has experience working with live music to create an all-encompassing sense of performance- how has this experience translated to working with this orchestra?

Working with Clarice is a different experience because they are allowing the composition to take front and center. We see ourselves as the icing on the cake, the moving painting/backdrop that came alive in a theatrical play. We are looking at serving the orchestra and serving the spirit of the composition, by taking this huge composition and transposing it to the 9-piece jazz band.

Lately we have also been rehearsing with the computerized version of the orchestra, which is very different from actually working with human beings.

How does this performance compare to CRDT’s other work? How does taking part in Trademark affect your work on “Inside/Out?”

Much of what we do with Inside/Out is to germinate ideas, work on them, and then present a preview of our works-in-progress. We are taking the work that we’re working on outside the studio and sharing it intimately in a very transparent way with an audience.  We then allow audience feedback to fuel the next iteration or work by that artist. We are trying to integrate the community as much as possible.

Inside/Out is a very different process than working with the Sinfonietta, but because we’ve been doing this type Inside/Out approach for a while, we are especially accustomed to changes and to things evolving, making us a good fit for collaborating on the Trademark performance.

We are constantly in motion, ready for both new music and new locations.

Cerqua Rivera has a strong history of collaboration, and we take pride in our dancers being able to navigate new music and new approaches to composition.


Wilfredo Rivera
Wilfredo Rivera Photo courtesy of Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre

How has working with Chicago Sinfonietta changed your perspective on dance, art, or music? What about your work with composer Clarice Assad? Would you take part in a performance like this again?

I was asked by the Sinfonietta a few years back to choreograph for Negro Spirituals, orchestrated with four different distinct sections with opera singers. Back then we were working with Paul Freeman, the original artistic director. The Executive Director and other key staff members were there then as now— but this is a new connection  with Clarice Assad. Clarice and I have worked very closely, and at different stages of Clarice assembling her composition we have met at her home to discuss the work. She has been very generous explaining the details of which instruments go with which parts and the dynamics of each section and we've had many in-depth conversations about how the work is structured. Then, about a month and a half ago, in my last meeting with Clarice, our music director Stu began transposing its orchestral core to a jazz core- creating a very different style for the work.

Final Comment: If you’re not used to seeing dance, this is the perfect opportunity to see how dance has been revolutionized and how dance keeps evolving depending on who is creating or performing each work. We are a company that is very vivacious, theatrical, dynamic, accessible.  We especially  care about bringing the audience on the journey with us. We do care that we all are experiencing something unique and that binds us together, allowing us to celebrate, reflect, think about, and ponder new material.  I urge you to come out and see this work.  It is something different and unique.  You'll hear an amazing score and see  stunning choreography that has so much athleticism and heart being poured into its performance.


Click here to read "Chicago Sinfonietta Commissions CLARICE ASSAD’s SIN FRONTERAS Preview – Insights to Assad and her Work"

Experience Cerqua Rivera's choreography as well as the rest of Chicago Sinfonietta's talent at Trademark.


September 16 at 8:00 PM

September 18 at 7:30 PM 


Saturday at Wertz Concert Hall

171 E. Chicago Ave

Monday at Symphony Center

220 S. Michigan Ave


$20-$62; $10 student tickets

For more information visit the Chicago Sinfonietta Website.

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