Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre debuts concert centered around immigration


Lauren Carrane

Cerqua Rivera’s “American Catracho” will premiere at Studio5 on Sep. 27. The concert explores immigration, culture and heritage through the lens of Latin music and dance.

Janea Wilson, Reporter

For some, dancing can be a fun way to let off steam from a busy week in the close comfort of friends. For the performers of “American Catracho,” it’s a way to tell a commonly shared story of immigration to a larger audience.

Presented by Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, “American Catracho” will premiere at Studio5 in Evanston on Sep. 27. Three years in the making, “American Catracho” explores immigration, culture and heritage through the lens of Latin music and dance.

The concept for the show was inspired by the company’s creative director and co-founder Wilfredo Rivera’s experiences immigrating to the U.S. when he was 12 years old. The show’s name pays homage to Rivera — the term “catracho” refers to a man born in Honduras, his home country.

“It’s taking my own individual immigrant experience and giving it a global perspective,” Rivera said. “The climate around immigration has immensely bloomed in the last few years, but the big issues that we are seeing taking headlines have been there for a long time.

Born in a family of musicians, Rivera has been expressing himself through music and dance since a young age. This prompted him and the Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre to work on integrating live music and choreography to create a deeper experience for the audience.

Rivera said what makes Cerqua Rivera unique is rather than dancers performing to a soundtrack, the music is played live alongside the dancing.

“Live music in which the musicians are emotionally and intellectually connected to the work is very different than having musicians just play,” Rivera said. “When you’re in the room for one of our concerts, you can definitely feel the shift because they are so invested in the performance. That reaches emotion in so many different ways.”

The show coincides with Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre’s 20th anniversary. Since its establishment, the company has continued to encourage artists to take chances while pushing their creative vision to engage audiences.

Since the company produces multiple types of art forms such as dance, music and visuals, they also strive to create a diverse environment of dancers and musicians.

“We strongly believe that only with a diverse group of people collaborating together can we create these really rich art pieces that connect with people,” Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre’s executive director Catherine Painter (Communications ‘93) said.

Painter said the theatre’s collaborative approach turns the best ideas into the narrative, rather than compromising. She added that people from many backgrounds have been able to connect with “American Catracho” because of the diverse perspectives that went into the creation of the production.

This process, she said, makes it easier for people to not feel intimidated by dance performances. While plays have characters people can relate to, dancing is more nuanced and open to multiple interpretations and takeaways.

“It can feel less opaque than other art forms,” she said. “A lot of times, people feel like dance will be over their heads, but that’s not what Cerqua Rivera is about. It’s artwork that’s focused on really having an impact on its audience with the quality and strength of the artwork.”

Béa Rashid (Communications ‘78), artistic director of Studio5, shares this sentiment. She said the company’s show is an “alive” experience that is rare to come by. This is the third time Cerqua Rivera has performed at Studio5. Having known Rivera and the company for many years, Rashid said she looks forward to bringing their culturally relevant but ultimately inspiring stories into her studio.

“Their choreography makes you think about the subject matters they’re presenting, but you’re never left with a feeling of despair,” Rashid said. “You’re always left with a feeling of hopefulness in the future.”

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