How long does it take to really get to know someone? And once you do, how does your opinion of that person change? How about your opinion of people who share their characteristics or experiences? Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre has long been interested in building empathy by telling nuanced stories from the perspectives of people who are misunderstood, marginalized and stereotyped. It’s an undertaking that requires generous measures of time and care; crafting these stories in all their complexity, with true compassion—and through the abstract mediums of movement and music in particular—can’t be accomplished in the few weeks normally afforded to dance projects. CRDT gives collaborating choreographers and composers years to develop a new work, with ample opportunity for audience response along the way.
Enter CRDT’s “Inside/Out” series, one of the higher production value works-in-progress presentations out there—and a rarity in the world of dance. CRDT cofounder and artistic director Wilfredo Rivera says that the “Inside/Out” showcases are key to the development process, bringing audiences into an intimate setting and allowing artists to share work “at a vulnerable juncture” in the process of creation. To many ears, this may sound like a terrifying prospect, but vulnerability is a key ingredient to the deeply humane process and product CRDT strives to cultivate, germinate and bring to fruition. Rivera says the results of these in-progress showings in an intimate setting are palpable. At an “Inside/Out” event in May—for “Mood Swing,” a suite of dances made in response to the pandemic—one couple told Rivera afterward that the performance made them feel hopeful for the first time in two years.
Two “Inside/Out” performances are scheduled for the coming weeks: a showing of “Metamorphosis” July 23 at Studio5 in Evanston, and one for “SOUL REMEDY” August 5 at Constellation. Both pieces are multi-year projects: “Metamorphosis,” with choreography by Shannon Alvis and music by cofounder Joe Cerqua, has been in development for two years. “SOUL REMEDY,” choreographed by Monique Haley with music by Pharez Whitted, is halfway through a two-year incubation. Both pieces will premiere in spring 2023.
Alvis’ piece is inspired by the experience of trans dancers in Chicago, and specifically informed by company member Lucas Greeff, a dancer, choreographer and circus artist who also performs with Joel Hall Dancers. Rivera says the piece is already creating points of connection for audiences with people whose lives are too frequently reduced to a label. “If you don’t know a trans dancer or don’t have a trans person in your inner circle, it could bring up feelings of anxiety or hesitation,” he says. “But at the end of the day, [‘Metamorphosis’] is literally an evolution of the human spirit, whatever encases that human. The responses from all types of people have been, ‘I see myself. I see a reflection of what I’ve lived through.’
“It’s not going to have a Fourth of July happy ending, because we’re all constantly evolving,” he says. “It’s important for Lucas not to be characterized with a fairy tale ending. When you climb a mountain and look to the sky, there’s more to fly toward, more territory to cover. We have a secure base and then think what’s next in our lives? The uncertainty and excitement and danger of what’s next.”
“Metamorphosis” will premiere as half of an evening-length show, “Identity City,” alongside another new work by company member Katlin Bourgeois, a reflection of their own journey as a non-binary person.
Haley’s “SOUL REMEDY” delves into the contributions of Black Americans to jazz and pop culture worldwide, and what Yale historian Robert Farris Thompson dubbed “the aesthetic of the cool.” Rivera says that at this stage in the development of “SOUL REMEDY,” the company is investing in deepening conversations and care for all involved, hiring training organization Creative Praxis to facilitate what can be emotionally taxing work. “We’ve brought along some art and movement therapy folks to work with the artists while we unpack these narratives. How it affects us personally and as an ensemble as we dive more deeply into the Black experience in correlation to the arts and each other. So, we’re practicing what we’re preaching. How do you feed your soul when you’re feeding everyone else’s soul?”
When I remark to Rivera how impressive CRDT’s commitment is to an artistic practice that honors the fullness of individual experiences, he chuckles and says, “In all honesty, it’s not easy. For us to be able to articulate artistically, we need to be able to articulate it internally. It’s exciting and scary, but exciting.”
“Inside/Out with Metamorphosis” at Studio5 Performing Arts Center, 1938 Dempster, Evanston. Saturday, July 23 at 7:30pm. Tickets at eventbrite.com. “Inside/Out with SOUL REMEDY” at Constellation, 3111 North Western, Chicago. Friday, August 5 at 7:30pm. $15-$30. Tickets at eventbrite.com.