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Choreography, concept, and direction: Christina Catanese

Dancers: Amber Casillas, Johanna Greenway, Lachan Jaarda, Alisa Lindsay, Saxony Matousek-Beals, Arye Shannon-Carmichael, and Lindsey VanDenBoom

Music: Lazuli Bunting by Andrew Bird

Videography and editing: Forrest Page Photography

Premiered August 2021 in Grand Rapids, MI through Atelier Dance Company's [Emanate] Nature event


The historic rapids of the Grand River (for which the city of Grand Rapids is named) are submerged beneath water held back by several dams, with many consequences for all who call the river home. But a major upcoming project will remove the dams to restore and reveal the rapids. Water science and river dynamics informed this choreography, incorporating movement qualities of slowness, wideness, and blockage that characterize the current Grand River, and the quick, lively, free quality of the past and future river and its rapids. This piece seeks to embody these dynamics and imagine the diverse, often unseen life forms that we share the river with.

When I moved to Grand Rapids, I was amazed to learn that the name of the city comes from historically important rapids on the Grand River, which no longer exist due to several dams that were built in the 20th century. But, there are plans in the works to remove to restore the rapids in the coming years, allowing the river to flow and function more naturally and enhancing the opportunities for people to engage with the river. It’s a major and exciting undertaking for the city and the river. 


This dance film explores the river as it is now and imagine what it could become. Water science and river dynamics inform the choreography, incorporating movement qualities of slowness, wideness, blockage, and submersion that characterize the current Grand River, and the quick, lively, free quality of the past and future river and its rapids. This movement seeks to embody these dynamics and help to send a message of how we can live with nature, building in a way that allows natural processes to unfold alongside thriving human communities. The film also captures this place at this unique moment in time, just before the major restoration project.


The film's setting is Fish Ladder Park and the Grand River. The Fish Ladder itself was designed by an artist in the 1970s to help migratory fish continue their journey upstream that was blocked by the dam; it also serves as a public gathering space by the river for fishing and recreation. There are many interesting aspects and levels of the structure that I strove to highlight by staging the dancers strategically and intentionally throughout it. 

This piece was staged on the performers of Atelier Dance Company, whose purpose is to create a space for classically trained adult dancers who miss creating and performing with other artists. With few opportunities for adult dancers who have chosen other career paths, Atelier Dance Company provides a place for artists who want more than an adult dance class but less than a professional career in dance.

Illusions of Grander

By Christina Catanese


Imagine a mile stretch of river dropping 18 feet.

Water roar, course over limestone cobble

Turbulent oxygenated swiftness

Reach, run, stream

Nooks, crannies, home.


Imagine seeking to control such a force.

Dams dictate direction:

Slow, broaden, submerge, suffocate

Imagine imagining no consequences.


We persevere.

Who makes a living here? 

All the life forms, life ways

Foreign, familiar, meticulous, resilient

Crittering in the under flows.


What names we give:

Snuffbox mussel,

Water penny,



Scuds, True bugs, Sturgeon, Logperch,

Purple wartyback,

Fatmucket, Pea Clam, Mudpuppy,

Steelhead, Elktoe,

Slippershell, Threeridge, Giant floater, Spike, Pocketbook, Fluted-shell, Pimpleback, Mapleleaf,

Strange floater,



Imagine barricades removed

Rapids restored and revealed

Return to roar

Lifeblood lively again.


Imagine the neighbors we could get to know.

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