The Real Story: Choreographer Monique Haley on Creating “ROOT” for Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre
When I watch Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre perform this work, I ‘feel’ me dancing. Maybe it has something to do with the time we spent together the past two years, but, as a choreographer, I don’t think it gets much better than that.
There is strength in community. But within that strength lies danger — the danger of losing one’s self to conforming to the group, to assimilating to the point of losing what makes you unique. In this modern age of technology and social media, the pressure to jump on the bandwagon and ride merrily along is at its apex. While we may find some safety and comfort in assimilation, we must always remember that the true power of community comes from the spectrum of strengths and talents that lie within the spirit of each individual. And when you can find the right community — the right mix of individuals that inspire each other to explore their talents and differences further — the potential of both individual and communal strength knows no bounds.
That limitless potential describes the community of artists at Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre. Now celebrating its 20th anniversary season, the musicians, dancers, choreographers and designers that Co-Founders Wilfredo Rivera and Joe Cerqua have brought together conjure an ever-churning sea of creativity that produces some of the very best concert dance Chicago has to offer. Over the last two years, choreographer Monique Haley has had the opportunity to dive into creating ROOT: mwanzo wa mwili ni roho — a work that explores “modern African American experience through traditional African modes.” The extended timeline for creation in combination with the diverse talents of CRDT have produced a masterful piece of choreography that demonstrates just what it means to embrace the strength of one, and harness and grow that strength in service of something greater.
DancerMusic Dance Editor Kristi Licera recently caught up with Monique Haley to learn more about her time with CRDT and the impact and importance of an extended creative period. Here’s what she told us:
My ability to build in this format with the artists allowed each rehearsal to have an intimate, honest and trusting dynamic, which at the end of the two years led to a powerfully rooted piece of art.
Kristi Licera: In the realm of non-profit arts, and more specifically that of concert dance, most new works are developed over periods of one to three months (with some evening-length productions getting six months or more). Not only does this put a limit on the amount of research and development a dance maker is able to accomplish, but it also limits the ability of the dancing artist to thrive in a particular movement aesthetic and find a deeper personal and artistic connection to the work. For ROOT: mwanzo wa mwili ni roho, you had the unique opportunity to work with CRDT’s dancers over a two-year period. Can you tell us about the unique opportunities this elongated timeline offered? What were some of the research components and explorations used to generate the movement for ROOT?
Monique Haley: The fact that CRDT Artistic Director, Wilfredo Rivera, allows choreographers to explore creatively with the artists of the company for two years is fantastic. It says much about the respect he has for the integrity of an artistic voice.
This opportunity has offered me the ability to research the core values of the work’s intention and use process methods devised through my academic research as a dance educator at Western Michigan University. It aids in uniquely informing dancers how to familiarize and in turn immerse themselves into my movement language from an authentic place. I could do this successfully because I had time to process my thoughts.
In creating this piece, I have learned to trust myself more when exploring concepts that I am interested in sharing on stage.
Monique: I read West African maxims from a book entitled, African Cultural Values: An Introduction, by an African author, Kwame Gyekye, that inspired the idea of ROOT during rehearsal sessions. I explained how the maxims tied into the work, and it triggered conversations that allowed me to hear the dancers’ voices and thoughts about the piece. In turn, this deepened their connection to the concepts I brought to the dance space each day. My ability to build in this format with the artists allowed each rehearsal to have an intimate, honest and trusting dynamic, which at the end of the two years led to a powerfully rooted piece of art.
…this company and the collaborative spirit that is a part of it continues to engage my love for collaborative creative experiences.
Kristi: One of the most beautiful things about dance is that it opens a limitless number of avenues for learning: about yourself, your culture, the people who surround you, the city and world you live in, about where you want your life to go. When you have more time to create, you have more time to learn, and over time, those lessons can flourish into something more. Can you share how the process of creating ROOT affected your growth and trajectory as an artist, creator, and educator? What have been some of the highlights of creating ROOT and working with the artists at Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre?
Monique: In creating this piece, I have learned to trust myself more when exploring concepts that I am interested in sharing on stage. To trust the ideas regarding the process method, I am devising through my academic research, the Diasporic Encounter Method. Working with Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre has gifted me a chance to actively explore my research with a professional company of artists for an extended amount of time – a first for me as a choreographer. Also, this company and the collaborative spirit that is a part of it continues to engage my love for collaborative creative experiences. Live jazz music from top jazz musicians in the area and a magical group of dancers will do that to a person.
Their work ethic and ability to captivate an audience by the way they communicate the intention of a piece through movement is truly something to see and experience.
Monique: The artists of this company are top-notch. Their work ethic and ability to captivate an audience by the way they communicate the intention of a piece through movement is truly something to see and experience. I have been moved to tears by their authentic sense of being during rehearsal runs of ROOT. I remember a specific moment during the last Inside/Out preview of the piece this past July. Did I have tears? Yes, but I was also brought to audible responses in between. It makes me laugh the way I was overwhelmed with such emotion on that day; it’s almost indescribable. It has been ten years since I have created on a concert dance company that reflects the spirit of who I am as a dancer when they move as one. The former River North Dance Company was that group in Chicago for me, until now. When I watch Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre perform this work, I feel me dancing. Maybe it has something to do with the time we spent together the past two years, but, as a choreographer, I don’t think it gets much better than that.
See Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre in the world premiere of Monique Haley’s ROOT: mwanzo wa mwili ni roho Saturday, September 28 at 8pm at Studio5 at Dance Center Evanston (1938 Dempster Street, Evanston, IL). Tickets are available via Brown Paper Tickets.
ROOT will also be performed as part of Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre’s Benefit Performance, Saturday October 26 at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts (915 E 60th St, Chicago, IL). The performance begins at 7:30pm, followed by a 9:00pm reception with the company. Tickets are available at www.eventbrite.com.
For more information on Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre’s 20th Anniversary Season and Fall Concert Series, visit www.cerquarivera.org.