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Art as a means to connection seems like a pretty basic concept, but is it that simple? And are artists really doing it? In a city as insular as Seattle, reaching out to meet in the middle can be a difficult process for some. Luckily for the dance community, DanceCrushes Cheryl Delostrinos and Fausto Rivera are two examples of warm-hearted connection-seekers, who aren’t afraid of vulnerability, extending themselves in performance and life, and creating the support they see missing.

Photo by by Andrew Imanaka.

Long-time friends, they now describe their relationship as “chosen family.” If you saw their DanceCrush winning duet, Tequila Con Miel y Limón, it’s obvious this closeness also feeds their professional work. Tequila premiered at On The Boards’ Northwest New Works Festival in 2018 (read our review here.)

The title means “tequila with honey and lemon,” a cough remedy Rivera’s mother used to give him as a child. “We wanted to share this idea of passing down healing, or ways of survival.” says Delostrinos. Both children of immigrants (Delostrinos from the Philippines and Rivera from Mexico), they share the complicated experience of navigating multiple cultural identities.

Rivera grew up doing Mexican folk dance, where “dance is community.” Delostrinos trained at the PNB school. While dancing for Sonia Dawkins in 2009, they met and discovered a frequency in partnering. They’ve worked together since, through their time as students at the University of Washington, as well as post grad, when they co-founded Au Collective along with its other members.

Tequila presented multiple layers of connection between the two. “We wanted to create that world that we live in as if it was just isolated to us.” Delostrinos says. “The beginning is us being these energetic, ambitious dancers, feeding off of each other…and then we take it down to more of an intimate connection…like walking on the street, following each other, tending to a house plant. We used to be roommates, and the joke was that Fausto couldn’t keep anything alive. It’s an ode to our living space.” In the work, a portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe served as a commonality between their backgrounds, as they were both raised in Catholic homes.

Photo by Marcia Davis.

While their synergy was obvious in Tequila, the process wasn’t all smooth sailing. Through extended time spent together in creation, they “definitely fought!” Delostrinos says. “Our emotional selves felt safe to come out, so that resulted in a lot of conflict! But it just brought us even closer.” 

Rivera says, “There’s a lot of love and trust. We have each other’s best interest at heart, so there’s a safety in questioning each other’s decisions…I’m interested in making work that is earnestly about love. Not just the honeymoon way, but in the work and effort of it. Both Cheryl and I are very interested in the way effort looks on stage. We both believe in our hard work.” While he took on the role as director for Tequila, Rivera is a full time company dancer for Spectrum Dance Theater.

Photo by Marcia Davis.

Delostrinos and Rivera continue to create a network of support as part of Au Collective. Delostrinos describes the collective’s model for maintaining community simply: “We keep lines of communication open to each other. We stay available to each other. We recognize that community is multi-generational, so we focus on working with young people.” Delostrinos helped pioneer Au Collective as artistic director. Now, as the needs of the group shifts, the director position rotates among the members.

Rivera says in starting Au Collective, “We had a common interest in dismantling the notion that brown people were the ones to create “low art” …the stuff we can have fun to, but not really take seriously… just making the work that we were inspired to create…I wanted to use this work [Tequila] as a way to present things existing in the same space without having to explain why. Mexican music, non-Mexican music… it all exists there, and it’s valid because I exist.”

Though they shine individually in performance, Rivera and Delostrinos’ see their roles clearly: “We are not just ourselves—we represent a whole community of people. Our families, the young people we work with, the choreographers we work with. A connection between us is also a connection between our ancestors, our families. We want to be intentional and accountable to the people we represent.” Delostrinos says, who is taking her work to the Philippines this winter.

Photo courtesy of the artists.

“Cheryl has this expression ‘see and be seen.’ That’s how we approach work and community. I’m not on stage by myself, I’m not in the studio by myself. I’m seeing who is around me, and I’m being seen as well.” Rivera says.

Though they aren’t working on a project together now, Delostrinos says the dynamic in Tequila will always be there: “We’re still working together as people. Check in on us in 40 years, and you’ll see about the same thing happening. I’ll still be wearing that robe, Fausto will still be supporting me. Even if we’re not presenting work together, or not dancers anymore. That is very much who we are.”