On October 1, 2021, Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre opened its Fall 2021 series, “America/Americans” at Studio 5 Performing Arts Center, 1938 Dempster Street, Evanston. The venue was virtually all black- décor, stage and comfortable seating and served as a fine backdrop- a tabula rasa or clean slate- for the outstanding performances this night. This was a full program of beautifully performed original live music, clever black and white spliced with color projections, spiffy costumes, and outstanding choreography deftly executed by this technically superb troupe.
In fact, for an audience still not accustomed to live performance, the depth and breadth of this event took one’s breath away!
There were 5 dance pieces:
- Excerpts from Root by Monique Haley, a stunning primer on African cultural values viscerally expressed by 8 dancers. Joe Cerqua’s composed music was strong and primal; the costumes had big-cat touches, the moves were large, emotional, fully invested.
- The world premiere of Mood Swing, curated and directed by Wilfredo Rivera, including choreography (and poetry) by Eddy Ocampo, Katlin Bourgeois, Monique Haley, Shannon Alvis and Wilfredo Rivera. In this piece, a response to the last 18 months of confinement and its attendant issues, Cerqua Rivera’s mission of exploring intimate stories with truth, confidence and diverse voices was thoroughly realized. There were elements of angst, fear, illumination, and joy.
- Identity City (suites in progress) including Metamorphosis (work in progress) by Shannon Alvis, draws its inspiration from collaboration and shines light on the pivotal transformation of gender identity. One can feel the conundrums, quandaries, fears, and ultimate vindication of the journey to an authentic self. As Wilifredo Rivera put it “Most people spend many years working through self-development; for a transgender person that period is remarkably encapsulated in a much more compressed time”.
- Shiver, choreographed by Stephanie Martinez, assisted by Noelle Kayser is an exquisitely evocative presentation for a trio of dancers. In interview with Martinez, she described the piece as “A person’s transformation from addiction- the beginning, middle and end of this process manifested physically.”. In the words of Rivera, “Each dancer represents a different part of the same individual undergoing this process of change”.
- Soul Remedy (work in progress) by Monique Haley is a light-spirited segmented ensemble of joy- “a multi-year exploration of the Aesthetic of the Cool”. Composed by Pharez Whitted, after a recorded prelude by Duke Ellington, the dancers implode across the stage to the height of syncopated jazz, leaping, lifting, strutting and beaming.
In between the dances were one intermission and several musical interludes:
- The CRDT jazz band, Joe Cerqua on vocals performed a tough, jazzy rendition of Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle. Arranged by Stu Greenspan, the piece sounded wholly new, with Cerqua’s whisky/honey voice a tribute to steadfast love.
- Greenspan also re-arranged The Beatle’s iconic Let It Be, the combined voices of Joe Cerqua, raspy and soulful, and Margaret Murphy-Webb, melodic and inspired, were a perfect backdrop to a balletic trio.
- Alabama, an instrumental composed by Cerqua, was sexy, sweet and eloquent.
- Why Don’t You Do It Right, an elegiac jazz standard by Kansas Joe McCoy, arranged by Stu Greenspan, was an openhearted explosion of pure soul: a perfect intro to Soul Remedy.
The show was performed again the following night at the same venue and audiences will have 2 more opportunities this fall to attend this delightful, moving and important dance concert:
On October 9, at 7:30 pm at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills and
On October 17, at 7 pm, as a benefit performance at Epiphany Center for the Arts, Chicago
Kudos to the dancers, Shelby Moran Amarantos, Jesse Hoisington, Thomas Jacobson, Morgan Reed McDaniel, Brennan Renteria (rehearsal director), Ayanna Coleman, Cindy Johnson, Trey Johnson, David Schuerman, andLiena Sherry, additional collaborators Marti Gobel, Lucas Greeff, Ethan Kirschbaum, and Jessica Miller Tomlinson.
Special thanks to the band, Paul Cotton, Rob Dicke, Darius Hampton, Dan Hesler, Leandro Lopez Varady and Felipe Tobar.
A big shout-out to Managing Director Catherine Painter, Projection Designer Sim Carpenter, Margaret Nelson, Lighting Designer, and Jordan Ross for Costume Design.
Photos by Fernando Rodriguez