A major contributor to success in life is the ability to consistently make the right choices (easier said than done!). It’s especially difficult when the success of others relies on those choices, and even more troublesome when you consider that every choice made creates a ripple that will inevitably effect the variety and outcome of new opportunities. When you are a dance company, that ripple extends not only to each audience member at a performance, but further to the presenters and employees at the theater, the community surrounding the theater, and to the dance and arts community at large. When you are Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, those ripples often feel more like a series of waves.
Now on the cusp of their twentieth anniversary season, CRDT’s success is due largely in part to the consistently strong choices of Artistic Director and Co-founder Wilfredo Rivera. As from the beginning, Wilfredo’s passion, creativity, and commitment to artistic collaboration continue to lead the company to new performance venues, new audiences, and new creative projects that push the boundaries of both the individual artist and the ensemble as a whole.
Behind the scenes, there is another person integral to the success and growth of Cerqua Rivera – Executive Director Catherine Painter. For the last five years, Catherine has worked alongside the artistic team at CRDT to ensure that their unique mixture of dance and live music can reach as many communities as possible. The work and thought she has put behind each and every choice for Cerqua Rivera culminated last year in the company’s first ever three-venue tour of Chicago. This year’s Fall Concert Series placed CRDT back to the same three venues: the series opened in Evanston, traveled down to Lakeview, and will soon close in Hyde Park. The big difference is the program has already made a much bigger splash than in the previous season, and there’s still one performance to go.
DancerMusic’s Kristi Licera caught up with Catherine to learn more about Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre and the choices they continue to make that create the enriching experience the Fall Concert Series offers their audiences. Here’s what Catherine told us:
…both musicians and dancers need to be active participants – giving and responding.
Having a jazz band as well as a dance ensemble is a defining characteristic of Cerqua Rivera. It takes a certain type of musician. The band is made up of fine jazz musicians comfortable with improvising, with learning music that evolves over the course of the year and with interacting with composers who might be playing right alongside them. In performance, they must do more than watch our Music Director and stay on track musically. The dancers drive and respond to the tempo and mood, and both musicians and dancers need to be active participants – giving and responding. Often the musicians bring their instruments into the dance space and you can see the back and forth quite literally. Our musicians also have to be game to perform in lots of different spaces, whether it’s a theater setting for a concert or a small dance studio for an Inside/Out (preview) event. The Cerqua Rivera band can roll with all this and make it look easy.
— Catherine Painter
…even when membership evolves year to year the dance ensemble is recognizably Cerqua Rivera.
Every year, our dance ensemble includes some returning members and some new ones. It is amazing to see them gel into a cohesive whole over the course of the season. Our Co-founder and Artistic Director Wilfredo Rivera fosters their individual contributions as well as their collective energy. This year was both unique and typical. In addition to our 2018 new work, we revived a piece to perform at Dance for Life. The dancers also learned work from our repertoire for school and community programs. I think it really speaks to Wilfredo’s leadership and the kind of dancers he recruits that all of this works so well, and that even when membership evolves year to year the dance ensemble is recognizably Cerqua Rivera.
— Catherine Painter
I think this is what draws audiences in. They can feel the bonds among our artists and they feel welcomed into the experience because of that.
The community and the collaborative environment of Cerqua Rivera is really unique. For the past four years, we’ve shared it over the season in our Inside/Out programming and it’s clear in our fall concert series too. It’s more than dancers performing to the music the band plays or the band simply playing a score. At times it feels like a trust fall, with one of our artists performing a segment of music or dance knowing that a fellow artist will be joining in. Not every artist would be comfortable in that vulnerable position, but ours are. And instead of looking like a tightrope act, it strikes me as a gathering, growing chorus. I think this is what draws audiences in. They can feel the bonds among our artists and they feel welcomed into the experience because of that.
— Catherine Painter
A theater full of interested, responsive people creates this pinball effect – with the artists’ and audience’s energy bouncing off and building off one another.
A big change for the company in the past few years has been where we’ve chosen to perform. Every year we select Inside/Out and concert locations that suit our audiences and our art work. It’s not just about what we can afford to rent. That sort of one-sided relationship doesn’t work for us – perhaps not surprisingly given how central collaboration and community are at Cerqua Rivera. We partner with organizations to bring something new to their audiences, to reach different audiences in different parts of the city, and to bring our friends and fans together with people who’ve never experienced Cerqua Rivera before. So far – if I can brag for a second – this year’s fall concert series is a great example. We’ve had full houses at both Studio5 in Evanston and Links Hall in west Lakeview. A theater full of interested, responsive people creates this pinball effect – with the artists’ and audience’s energy bouncing off and building off one another. It’s been just electric.
— Catherine Painter
Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre’s 2018 Fall Concert Series concludes October 27, 2018 at 7:30 pm in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood at the Reva & David Logan Center for the Arts (University of Chicago, 915 E 60th St, Chicago, IL 60637).
PHOTO CREDITS and Artist IDs (Top to Bottom): All photographs courtesy of Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre by Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth • Kristen Vasilakos in “Sin Fronteras” • CRDT Composer and Musician Pharez Whitted (Foreground) and Musician Julie Wood (Background) • Dancers (L to R) Rachel Spies, Shelby Moran, Joe Musiel, and Sara Schroerlucke in “American Catracho Part 3” with members of the CRDT jazz band • Choreographer Monique Haley with the CRDT dance ensemble and musicians • Dancers (L to R) Briana Arthur and Kristen Vasilakos in “The Process Takes a Lifetime”