Wilfredo Rivera Talks About Merce and More—Choreographer Spotlight

Meet Choreographer Wilfredo Rivera

Editor’s Note: Choreographer Wilfredo Rivera of Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre had attended the Choreographers’ Tour of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s recent exhibit, “Merce Cunningham: Common Time”.

(An exhibit by the same name—and three times the size!—continues at Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center. )

Read Wilfredo’s comments about Merce Cunningham and insights into his own work below this video that showcases highlights of the upcoming Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre season.


PTP: Your choreography seems to be built on a very strong feeling for music—yes?

WF: “This distinct connection to music emanates partly from my family music upbringing and also from my own natural instinct to respond and converse with music. A vital component to my collaborative work continues to be a musical score that is intrinsically connected to the subject matter.”


PTP: Does that make Cunningham’s more abstract approach to movement somewhat foreign to your dance genre or are there takeaways?

WF: As a prolific professional dancer in the Chicago scene, I was fortunate to work in a wide spectrum of choreographic approaches and techniques. The projects leaning toward the more abstract, such as Cunningham’s work, have definitely contributed to my personal understanding and appreciation of work that can be intellectually stimulating. There are times—depending on the piece—that my movement or rhythms counter point the music. Thus, it is extremely empowering to be able to make more abstract choices at key moments. In my case, they might be fleeting, when I deem them appropriate.”


PTP: At CRDT’s recent performance, you noted that some of the work was more improve, while other is more rehearsed. How do you relate that aspect of what you do to Cunningham’s “Common Time” approach?

WF: “There is such an invigorating aspect to improv within live Jazz music and folk performances. But— how do you maintain a high quality technical element when applied to dance? To me, these inquiries serve both as connecting and separation points between Cunnigham’s early work and some of my recent explorations. We asked—‘Audiences are familiar with high quality technical wizardry Jazz music improvisation. Could we at Cerqua Rivera tip our toes into that pond?”


PTP What part does feeling have in your choreography or choreography you are drawn to?

WF: “Feeling is a component of the larger puzzle that makes up a music/dance integrated piece. The subject matter drives the narrative and because my work is mostly inspired by human stories and with communal connections, emotions and feelings will be interjected in the work.”


PTP: How do you relate your use of film and art in your work to the way in which Cunningham used it in his?

WF: “Cerqua Rivera was originally created by a desire of painter and muralist Matt Lamb, composer Joe Cerqua, and myself to create multi-disciplinary art that celebrates inclusion and diversity.


Perhaps we share the concept that the complexities of life can be more interestingly explored thru various mediums working in synchronized harmony—not just dance alone. In my case, the film and art work in tandem with the music and choreography and they serve to reveal parts of the narrative. They are not used to serve as a standalone component but they are instead another ‘character’ or conspirator in the narrative. A patron recently described our concerts as a cinematic experience.


A new approach we’ve taken has been the inclusion of a live painter, Lewis Achenbach, in both the development and rehearsal stages and the actual performances of certain pieces. In this case- we aspire to capture the fleeting essence and energy source in the room as it is born, evolves and literally dances and plays!“


Read other choregraphers’ comments about their work and Merce Cunningham in our ongoing series, “Choreographers’ Eyes – Dancers Explain Dance”.

Of particular interest, read comments by choreographer Sherry Zunker, Wilfredo Rivera’s longtime colleague and collaborator in the next Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre performance on June 29.

Photos courtesy of Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre

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