CRDT's "The Island" Tells A Different West Side Story



On Wednesday, Aug. 30, Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre returns to Links Hall with “The Island,” a new work by Michelle Manzanales, featuring an original composition by composer and violinist, James Sanders, and based on a true story.

“The Island” premiers as part of “Inside Out,” the work-in-progress series which offers insight into the choreographer’s process of creation. The program is also a part of CRDT’s “Stories from the West Side”, a series that focuses on stories from Chicago residents who are people of color from that part of town.

“The Island” is based on the life experience of Marisa de Arce and her sister, whose troubled home life caused them to retreat to a small patch of public land in Humboldt Park, a secret refuge. CRDT debuted a different version of “The Island” at the Beverly Arts Center in April, 2022, with choreographer Rigoberto Saura. Besides legacy ballets like “The Nutcracker” and “Giselle,” it’s rare to see the same story interpreted multiple ways by a dance company; Now, with Manzanales and new dancers, the company takes steps towards a CRDT multiverse.

Manzanales’ relationship with CRDT and Artistic Director Wilfredo Rivera goes back almost twenty years. joining the company in the early 2000s, and later as a guest choreographer. Now the Director of Ballet Hispánico’s School of Dance, Manzanales is ready to bring her wealth of experience back to CRDT.

“Michelle’s project really captures our company ethos,” said Rivera. “From being an emerging choreographer to becoming a mentor for our dancers, it’s a beautiful way of passing down the knowledge.”

The roles of dancers and choreographer blur in a collaborative effort of dance creation. “I’ve asked them to think about how they relate to the story,” said Manzanales, “how do they feel inspired or connected to it.” Dancer Michelle Skiba describes Manzanales’ method, saying, “She came in with some ideas that she wanted us to investigate on our own, letting us personalize our gestures, before coming in to fine- tune it.” In solos, duos, trios and small groups, the company was instructed to develop phrases of movement based on de Arce’s story and Sanders’ music.

“We focused on the ‘community’ aspect of the dance,” said Skiba. “Michelle wanted us to be intentionally focused on our partners, to really see the person who we’re dancing with, acknowledging that we are there for another person… But also, we could let loose!”

Skiba describes a phrase that her and two other dancers create with Manzanales: “In a straight line we move from downstage towards upstage. I slide under someone’s legs, then lift someone up while another person climbs over us to come to the front, creating an appearance like a rolling tumbleweed, or a quality like flowing water, bodies replacing each other as we move front to back.”

Other imagery focuses on the story’s sisters as youths, with dancers miming gestures lifted from various juvenile games—like card playing and “Patty Cake”—then transforming them into stylized artistic movement.

A band of musicians adds additional adaptability to the process. “CRDT has this wonderful synergy between dance and their original compositions and live music,” said Manzanales. “I don’t always pick the music then create—I usually focus on the story instead and finding music later—but this time is different. There’s a real collaboration between story development and how the music supports it.”

Manzanales credits the dancers above all. “I’m responding to what I’m seeing them respond to.” She cites how their input keeps the work vibrant and surprising. “I’m excited to see what we’re going to create together.”

Rivera expresses immense pride in both the “Inside Out” and “Stories from the West Side” series. “We used to have, like most companies, showings—we set up chairs, you dance, have a glass of wine and you’re out the door, but this is different. It’s about elevating and centering people of color’s stories, which are not often developed with the same high-quality artistic processes as the way that we do. We engage the audience in a dialogue, unpacking, exploring, and sharing the creative process.”

“The Island” is your chance to find a deeper engagement with a work of art and the artists behind it. CRDT offers a unique way to experience dance, from the inside out.

Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre presents “The Island,” 7pm at Links Hall, 3111 N. Western Ave. Tickets are $15-$30 and are available by clicking the event link here.


Photo Credit:

Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre presents "The Island" by Michelle Manzanales at Links Hall on Aug. 30; Photo by Herminio