Two-year process culminates in "ROOMS" at historic Colvin House


The phrase “work in progress” can take on many meanings within the context of dance. It may indicate previewing a performance’s rehearsal process months before the polished premiere. Or, seeing a work that will eventually be extended, adapted and performed again in a new light. What it certainly means is meeting movement with an open, flexible mind; whatever you see in the “now,” may shift.

For Artistic Director of dropshift dance, Andrea Cerniglia, and her upcoming work “ROOMS” premiering Apr. 14, “work in progress” means 2 years of cultivating an entire “Sense Series” of vignettes that will further transform, sculpt and meld into an immersive open house experience in the historic Colvin House located in the Edgewater neighborhood.

“My incubative process is longitudinal,” says Cerniglia. “Some of the things that will be performed have been in development or had a variety of different iterations since late 2021. I’m always interested in making things and going back to them later.”

The three vignettes joining together for “ROOMS”—"DWELL/burrow,” “bloom” and “objects”—have been performed in full, in part or in progress for a variety of audiences throughout 2022 and 2023. While all are unique, they each oscillate around the theme of sensed memories.

Inside Colvin House, Andrea and her collaborators pull in familial objects and stories, as well as abstract projections, lighting and fabrics, to create environments that an audience can walk around in.

Because the show is designed to be durational, where and how to roam is at the audience’s pleasure. If you arrive between 6–6:30 p.m., you’ll receive a tour from one of the performers and a map of the house. From there, you can choose to explore the nooks and crannies of each floor, watch excerpts of the movement vignettes being performed in different rooms at different times or escape to the basement where a “speakeasy” is in full swing. (Here, audience members can watch visual projections, partake in puzzles or indulge in drinks served at a mini bar.)

This kind of setup breaks all preconceived notions of what going to a dance performance looks like: Rather than a quiet, static audience, the environment created by dropshift dance invites exploration, decision-making and even conversation. But the choices don’t solely rest on the audience. Many of the movement vignettes are improvisation-based, necessitating spontaneous actions and reactions from and by the dancers, too. Engaging technical effects dazzle the viewer, like lighting installations, soundscapes and projections hidden in the deepest corners of the old home, and a “roaming” camera operator links to a feed you can watch in the main foyer like a mini-movie.

dropshift dance presents "ROOMS" at the Colvin House. Photo by Roberto Martinez.


Cerniglia is no stranger to neither the creation of immersive art nor the use of multimedia. Since founding dropshift dance in 2009, Cerniglia says that “one thing that’s remained is the idea of collaborating across mediums and creating environments. I’ve always been excited to bring other artists in and have a conversation on whatever the artistic target or viewpoint is.”

Custom-made fabrics by Collin Bunting are essential to the movement vignette “bloom,” with which the performers drape, wrap, fold and sculpt to create abstract shapes and sensations. A detailed lighting design by Richard Norwood gradually increases in color and saturation as you climb the steps of Colvin House. Each multimedia element aims to harness one of the five senses. Cerniglia emphasizes that “Dance is all the senses.”

Cerniglia will be joined in performance by Ali Claiborne-Naranjo and Christina Chammas, two movers who have collaborated on this process since its inception. To enhance the themes of memory-gathering and storytelling, Cerniglia asked them to bring in objects from their childhood homes; ones that evoked specific memories or sparked the senses upon sight or touch. Careful arrangements of the personal mementos (and sometimes verbal storytelling about them) allows the artists to have a very intimate connection to their own performance.

“We did a couple of interviews with family outside of rehearsal, and so we had recordings of those that we brought in,” says Chammas. “Then we have individual items. Mine are mostly things that I remember having a strong attachment to in childhood… It made the piece more personal for me, and it gave me a kind of way into the work, conceptually.”

Colvin House enhances that feeling of nostalgia and home. Stained-glass windows and a crystal chandelier that allow the light to dance upon the walls. Decorative crown molding and two old-fashioned telephone rooms near the front entrance. All amass to a teleportation from 21st century Edgewater on the outside to the early 20th century vision of architect George Maher on the inside.

Pair the setting with the collaborative artists’ experiences and movement that will enliven the space, and you’ve got decades of history concentrated and layered into a singular place and time.

“It’s so complex to track a process like this through so many years,” says Claiborne-Naranjo. “Everything we’ve been through individually, together, globally, personally—it’s all in there.”

While they are recapitulating old movement phrases, recordings and objects, the new space and the response to the architecture will inform and “reinvigorate” the abstract themes, physical movements and sensory reactions.

“I am quite certain that this work invites guests along on a journey, through time, events and spaces, from each of our lives,” says Cerniglia. “I hope that they have the chance to witness tender moments between performers and that our use of care for each other and for the dance comes through.”

“ROOMS” by dropshift dance premiers at Colvin House, 5940 N. Sheridan Road. Performances are on Apr. 14–15 from 6:30–8:30 p.m., with doors opening at 6 p.m. Tickets are $35. For more information about “ROOMS” and dropshift dance, please click the event link below or visit