By Sharon Hoyer
Back when musician-composer Joe Cerqua and dancer-choreographer Wilfredo Rivera teamed up with painter Matt Lamb to create a company, few dance troupes regularly performed to live music. Nineteen years later, this is still largely the case, at least as a regular practice, and when live music and dance appear together, musicians are often submerged in the orchestra pit, out of view. Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre forged the way for a fresh approach to concert dance, giving equal visibility to a nine-piece jazz band onstage with the dance ensemble, with visual art elements woven into the set. “It’s truly a multisensory experience,” Rivera says in a phone interview.
Anyone who caught CRDT’s most recent work-in-progress showing at the Old Town School of Folk Music last spring can attest that the company’s mission of using dance and music to nourish mind and soul is realized in the alchemy between musicians and dancers. CRDT pieces engage some of the most pressing questions of our time, and at times the room emotionally transforms as dancers physically interpret deeply personal material to an energy that only live music can produce. There are ample opportunities to experience this firsthand as CRDT performs their fall concert series, “My Past/Our Present” at three locations throughout the month of October, first at Studio5 in Evanston October 5 and 6, then down to Links Hall in Lakeview October 19 and 20, then on to Hyde Park at the Logan Center for the Arts for one performance October 27. The extended run is rare in the dance world—shows most commonly run a single weekend—but even more rare is the tour of local venues.
“It’s important to us to bring the arts to the neighborhoods,” Rivera says. “It’s great to go downtown for a show, but not everyone can make it to the Auditorium Theatre, especially if you have kids. We want to not just visit a venue and take on the responsibility of selling tickets, but really partner with presenters and reach their community.” The approach to presentation is part and parcel to CRDT’s creative muse: the themes that shape our community.
The fall program consists of four pieces that speak to a multitude of experiences, each the product of collaboration between a composer and a choreographer. “ROOT: mwanzo wa mwili ni roho” teams Cerqua with past collaborator Monique Haley, who explores her identity as a black female artist, maturing and finding her voice. Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre company member and one of last year’s Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artists Joshua Ishmon pairs with Pharez Whitted who, amongst many accomplishments, now serves as the jazz director of Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. Ishmon is a young rising star in the Chicago dance scene and Whitted a seasoned artist in his fifties. Rivera says the age gap in the pairing is by design, as further creative fodder for Ishmon’s reflection on influence and identity, “The Process Takes a Lifetime.” Rivera has two pieces on the bill: “Sin Fronteras,” a commission from the Chicago Sinfonietta with music by Grammy nominee Clarice Assad, and the latest iteration of his multi-year project with Cerqua, “American Catracho.” Rivera, whose family emigrated from Honduras so that he could have access to professional dance training, explores the immigrant experience in a suite of dances that have been in development since 2016. The final piece will premiere next year, in celebration of CRDT’s twentieth anniversary season.
Rivera says that CRDT hopes to expand their reach further into the neighborhoods in the years to come. Earlier this year, they performed at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center (a hidden gem on West Armitage Street in Hermosa), and the company will return in 2019. This month gives ample opportunity to experience CRDT’s unique brand of immersive, uplifting performance and get a peek into what’s to come in their twentieth year.
At Studio5 in Dance Center Evanston, 1934 Dempster, October 5 & 6 at 8pm. At Links Hall, 3111 North Western, October 19 & 20 at 7pm (October 19 is a benefit concert, special tickets required). At the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 East 60th, October 27 at 7:30pm. $30 in advance, $35 at the door, discounts for students and seniors. Tickets at cerquarivera.org.