Interview: Simone Stevens
Edited by: 
Katelyn Besser

Q: What has been your professional dance journey, and how did you come to dance with Cerqua Rivera?

When I moved to Chicago a year and a half ago I did the scholarship program at Hubbard and from there I met Katlin [Michael Bourgeois] and joined his company, Ensemble180, for the first season. In May. we [Hubbard] did a scholarship showing and from there I decided I would not return to the scholarship program because I think I got what I could from it. So I decided to freelance — I worked with some choreographers in Chicago and they hired me for different festivals that were happening. The last show that I did in November was with Hanna Brictson,  and she posted rehearsal footage online. The artistic director of Cerqua Rivera, Wilfredo Rivera, saw the video and reached out to one of his dancers (also in the video) and asked if she knew me. She told him that I happened to be freelancing and he reached out to me and was like ‘would you like a job’ and it worked out. Wilfredo had two dancers leaving and wasn't looking to audition, just to fill two positions. He looked on social media (thank god I use it) and asked his dancers if they had any recommendations. He ended up having 6-8 dancers he was interested in and then we had a private audition. We learned the rep and he talked with us afterwards. We sent him our resume and we had a phone call with him as well. I did that all around Christmas and after the audition I got the position. I knew in December I had the job but we only started a few weeks ago. So I had my contract and everything signed a little before we got into rehearsal.

Q: Do you have any mentors or important people in your life that have shaped the way you dance and or think about dance?

My mom, she was the first person to show me dance. I would watch her take adult dance classes when I was little. And then the director asked me if I wanted to take class with kids my age. My biggest mentor was Kristy Nilsson growing up. She really helped me continue with my dance training… she knew what I needed and was able to talk to me directly and let me know what I should be preparing myself for. Ido Tadmor, I met him in college at Kennesaw State University. He was a guest choreographer we had. I took a semester break before starting college so I met Ido my second semester of college and he was wonderful, I got to work with him for a week. He set a quartet of four of us. Ido is from Israel and danced with Batsheva and was the director of the Israel Ballet. Now he teaches at Chapman University in California. He had a lot of impact on me and we started off building a close relationship. He was interested in us as people, not just dancers. He was very invested in the work but more so how we are as artists and he taught me the connection between the two. I have had a relationship since I met him in 2014. Rena Butler is my queen. Whenever we do get to talk it is very genuine. She is gentle and very intentional in how she speaks to people. It is such a wonderful thing and I feel I can speak to her so easily. And finally, we have Katlin [Michael Bourgeois] from Ensemble180.

Q: Do you believe dance can be a platform for social justice topics? If so, how? and/or Have you used your art form to make a difference?

Yes. First of all, it depends who is telling the story. I think that is a direct way you are able to reach so many people, by not having one race or just one ‘look’ onstage.You’re able to portray these stories through different vessels that one person alone can not tell but if you tell it collectively it will have a larger impact.

Q: What inspires you and drives you forward as an artist and a person?

Knowing that there is more that can always be done is appealing to me but also frustrating.  I think that knowing my story is one that is unique (drives me). My upbringing and where I went to school — it wasn’t a large scale university, so not many know about it, but I am still able to be a professional dancer. I think that inspires me to know where I come from and I have people in my corner that believe in me just as much to continue going. I hope that someone can see my journey and it can inspire them.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist?

Cerqua started the week before everything shut down. We were in rehearsal one week before we had to cancel. We may go back next week but it’s not looking likely, so everything is just on hold. Also because of that I work at Trader Joe’s and I still have to go to work. It has been emotionally draining. I feel like I am kind of starting to get into a routine again — a new normal, I guess. I have time now to sit and think. I am very tired after work — I am full time now because they need people to work at Trader Joe’s. I don’t have the space to move, which is frustrating. I have had time to internally process and I have been writing again to process in a different way. With the company contract we are getting paid for the week we rehearsed. We had some school showings scheduled. Wilfredo was hopeful to get back soon but then the schools shut down. We lost rehearsals and the opportunity to share with the community. For me it was a new group of dancers I hadn’t worked with before, and we will go back eventually, but just the building of a relationship is hard to maintain because we are not physically together. It is a lot of effort just to keep in contact with people and continue to build this artistic relationship while apart.

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