America/Americans Review- Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre 20th Anniversary series finale

Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre in the world premiere of "Place Between Earth and Sky", choreography by Shannon Alvis; music by Clarice Assad; projections by Simean Carpenter; photo by William Frederking
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The diverse collective of artists working together as Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre (CRDT) concluded their 20thanniversary season, presented as its annual fall concert series 2019 with the world premieres of three major works in two complete concerts. 

CRDT is a Chicago company that has been creating in a new art form for the past two decades. They are pioneers in the integration of original music composition with conceptual dance in a curated theme seasonal context. The company’s work is rooted in the founders’ vision that art can direct people to contemplate the factors that unite us as well as enrich our society by demonstrating what is different- or special- about us.

In events produced throughout Chicago, CRDT provided sophisticated, moving, beautiful performances to a wide range of audiences. Each piece of work was created in a collaborative effort between a choreographer and a composer, grounded in a strong and specific narrative and performed by the company’s full dance ensemble and jazz band in a joint project that is sensory abundant. 

Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre in “Root”; choreography by Monique Haley; music by Joe Cerqua

On October 26, 2019, CRDT presented at the superbly accoutered David and Reva Logan Center on The University of Chicago’s Hyde Park campus. The company members include Briana ArthurShelby MoranJoe MusielBrennen RenteriaFernando RodriguezRachel SpiesKristen Vasilakos and Carson VonFeldt.

Accompanying the dance was a full jazz band consisting of Timothy Archbold, cellist; Joe Cerqua, trombone and vocalist; Paul Cotton, percussionist; Rob Dicke, drums; Stu Greenspan, bass; Dan Hesler, flute; Leandro Lopez Varady, pianist; Felipe Tobar,
violin; Pharez Whitted, trumpet; and Juli Wood, flute and saxophone. The music was heavily rhythmic, percussion and flute accented, brass flavored and obviously original, authoritative, and improvisational.

  • A Place Between Earth & Sky 

A sensual, symbolic work by choreographer Shannon Alvis, set to highly charged music of Clarice Assad, and inspired by a Blackfoot myth, the piece is crafted to suggest different times of day, different stages of life, different cycles of evolution. Many of this people’s legends are secret, unrevealed, but it is known that there are entities called the Sky People or Sky Beings, sacred spirits who live in the Sky World far above the clouds. One can imagine that betwixt the creatures that walk the earth and those in the sky, there may conceivably be a place populated by beings as fluid, physically able, and filled with creative light as those on the stage this evening.

The dance embraced the idea of community, miming actions used in ritual, while wonderfully rich projections of landscape/skyscape- and almost unearthly music- enhanced the vivid action. As the participants deftly circle each other, they complete each other by their communal moves. The piece is emotional and intimate, instantly drawing in the audience. At times, the dance movements are accentuated by exhalations from the band, the music sounding almost Celtic, a percussive ultra-intense atmospheric surround. 

As the projections show us fields of wheat in the prairie, the music becomes imperative, and the dancers become living emblems, embodying their time and place and positions within their group. This is a very strong, powerful evocation of a people in whose daily lives everybody held equally important roles. The women are as thoroughly active and contributing to the whole as are the male dancers. In smoky light, they are propelled by the beat, driven by the infectious music as they touch the earth and reach for the sky; they transform, lift, turn and leap with supple, fluid, expansive moves.

Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre in “Place Between Earth and Sky”; choreography by Shannon Alvis; music by Clarice Assad

  • ROOT: mwanzo wa mwili ni roho

This exotic and athletic piece by choreographer Monique Haley with music by CRDT cofounder Joe Cerqua began with the djembe player out in front; the dancers then initiate a solemn, sensuous, viscerally dynamic East African inspired and immediate, joyous work.  An exploration of modern identity based in ancient tradition, the dance was filled with seemingly imperative movements. 

To the sounds of urgent percussion, the dancers and the audience are totally engaged in kinetic and dramatic movement. The shadows cast on the multiple high wooden slanted doorways lining the stage are themselves enormous and exotic, framing and suggestive of unseen totems. 

As the dancers whirl and spin with infectious energy, the drumming seems to summon up the movements from inside the core of these wonderful athletes. Vibrations and abstract natural progressions are absolutely melded and exciting. What is more, the dance is a showcase for all of the dancers, together and each on her own. As the music pulses louder, the moves seem unfettered, and the finale brings the radiant participants to a pause with a sense of abandon and exhilarating release.

Kudos to all the collaborating choreographers, composers, and other artists and a special thanks to David Goodman-Edberg for his breathtaking lighting of the stage and the movement, to Jordan Ross for the wonderfully earthy, sexy costumes, and to Simean Carpenter for creating an entire other world with the projections. 

Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre in “Root: mwanzo wa mwili ni roho”; choreography by Monique Haley; music by Joe Cerqua

For information and tickets to all the fine programs of Cerqua Rivera Dance Theater, go to

All photos by William Frederking


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