Impetere Credit: Cheryl Mann Productions

The popular belief that the cells in our bodies replace themselves about every seven years has been challenged by the brief lives of cells in our stomachs and the longevity of those in our brains. This fall Visceral Dance Chicago launches its seventh year with seven new dancers, as well as one new dance. Yet its season opener this week at the Athenaeum takes a long look at the past with a selection of repertory from previous seasons by artistic director Nick Pupillo. These works include Impetere, the vividly athletic piece he choreographed in 2013 to introduce his new ensemble; Synapse, commissioned by the Harris Theater in 2017; and Keep, a revision of a duet first presented in a warehouse at Rockwell and the river last autumn.

Premiering in the program is Homage, the second work created for Visceral by Spanish choreographer Monica Cervantes. Homage is also a new look at the past, drawing on memories of her grandfather, who passed away a decade ago. “I have been thinking about this piece for a long time,” she says. “I felt now was the moment to do it. When someone leaves suddenly, you don’t have time to say what you wanted to say. It’s hard to let go when you don’t have time to say goodbye.”

The loss of her grandfather coincided with Cervantes’s move from Spain to Chicago, where she danced with (the now defunct) Luna Negra Dance Theater from 2010 to 2013, also serving as rehearsal director for the company under its second and final artistic director, Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano. This time, coming to Chicago from Tarragona, the city near Barcelona where she now lives and works, has “felt like coming home,” she says. “I feel Nick and Visceral are my family too, so I had the confidence to tell this very personal story.”

Homage is a fusion of the past and the present, combining music from Cervantes’s grandfather’s native Andalusia by Joaquín Rodrigo, Daniel Casares, Arturo Díez Boscovich, Orquesta Filarmónica de Málaga, and Manolo Escobar with movement initially developed by guiding the Visceral dancers through a series of improvisational cues that allowed Cervantes’s vocabulary for her memories of youth, age, loss, and community to merge with other bodies. Bricks serve as a central motif, acknowledging Cervantes’s grandfather’s occupation as a bricklayer, even as they become an abstract set piece indicating but not representing a grave marker.

Reflecting on Cervantes’s engagement with Visceral, Pupillo says, “I felt Monica’s 2014 piece Changes was an important turning point for the company—with Homage, again I see the company growing in another new direction. I don’t want to define what Visceral is—I want it to constantly evolve.”  v