Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival Preview – Q&A with Producers Nicole Gifford and Melissa Mallinson

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival Q&A with Producers Nicole Gifford and Melissa Mallinson on how this 10-year festival continues

September 20–21 8 p.m.
September 27–28, 8 p.m.

Ruth Page Center for the Arts
1016 N. Dearborn

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival (HCCDF), produced by Nicole Gifford Dance and ology dance/Melissa Mallinson, celebrates 10 years of showcasing contemporary dance with a diverse roster of local, regional and national artists and companies September 20–28 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. Among the 19 participants, four are making their Festival debuts and about half are from outside Chicago. Each weekend features a completely distinct lineup, and each program runs roughly 90 minutes. Ninety artists and companies submitted nearly 180 works for consideration. Here are the lineups for each weekend:

September 20 and 21 lineup

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
Aerial Dance Chicago Photo by Kristie Kahns

Aerial Dance Chicago

performs an excerpt from their 2012 full-company work Higher Ground, inspired by the uncertainty of life and everchanging nature of reality.

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
Margi Cole Photo by William Frederking

The Dance COLEctive

(Chicago) Founder/Director Margi Cole performs the solo My Sufi Tale, which uses material from Chicago Moving Company Artistic Director Nana Shineflug’s Sufi Tales (1988) as well as Cole’s experience studying with Shineflug.

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
Giordano II Photo by Leni Manaa Hoppenworth

Giordano II

(Chicago) performs Periphery, a full-company work that depicts a part of the dancers’ journey as they step into the next phase of their careers and lives and how our communities lift us up and support us toward that next step.

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
JSun Howard Photo by Kiam Marcelo Junio

J’Sun Howard*

(Chicago) offers a duet, aMoratorium, exploring black male identity, visibility, temporality and its absence, focusing on death as it relates to the black church and black spiritual traditions.

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
Kybele Dance Theater Photo by Shawna Sarnowski

Kybele Dance Theater/Seda Aybay*

(Los Angeles) performs Sonsuz, a group piece inspired by a Mary Oliver poem, about how to cherish every moment in life, living it to its fullest with no regrets.

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
Nicole Olson Photo by Airi Katsuta


(Phoenix) performs a solo, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, inspired by the story of Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
Dmitri Peskov Photo courtesy of Dmitri Peskov

Dmitri Peskov

(Ephraim, Utah) performs a world premiere solo, Fall From Grace, reflecting his sense of alienation and displacement, having moved here from what many consider a hostile country.

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
Take Root Photo courtesy of Take Root

Take Root

(Rochester, Michigan) presents an underwater dance film, Ripples From the Skin We Shed, featuring the full company including musicians who created music from underwater microphones and the sounds found during filming.

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
Jessica Miller Tomlinson Choreography Photo by Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth

Jessica Miller Tomlinson Choreography

(Chicago) performs a new work, a series of three duets that each interprets the music of North Carolina-based folk guitarist Alyn Mearns.

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
VADCO Photo by Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth

VADCO/Valerie Alpert

(Chicago) performs The Memphis Project, a new work inspired by Alpert’s visits to several Memphis historical sites, particularly the National Civil Rights Museum and the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum.

September 27 and 28 lineup

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
Jennifer Glaws Photo courtesy of Jennifer Glaws

Jennifer Glaws

(Minneapolis) performs Touch Code, a trio that examines the sound, energy, chemistry and responsiveness to the interruption of personal space.

Juno/Sean Greene*

(Studio City, California) performs The Searchers, Greene’s duet exploring relationships—what is typical and what often happens due to each person’s “baggage.”

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
Brande Lee Collaborative Photo courtesy of Brande Lee Collaborative

The Brande Lee Collaborative*

(Virginia Beach, Virginia) performs an aerial work, frayed Glamour, which addresses body image and the pressures society places on individuals, especially women, to hold up to certain unattainable standards, causing us to hate what is naturally beautiful and unique about us.

MitchellMovement Collective

(Chicago) performs After the Function, a new comedic work depicting an abstract world that explores themes of formality vs. informality.

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
Jim Morrow Photo by Sharon Bradford

James morrow/THE MOVEMENT

(Virginia Beach, Virginia)  performs We Don’t Dig Holes to Bury Ourselves, a solo that explores cringeworthy justifications of war, the media on war and how the U.S. is in constant conflict with ourselves over wars.

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
Melinda Jean Myers Photo by Kristie Kahns

Melinda Jean Myers

(Iowa City) performs the premiere of MMMama, a solo looking to illuminate the body’s use in postpartum motherhood.

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
REDanceGroup Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis

RE|dance group/Michael Estanich

(Chicago) performs What Love Looks Like, Estanich’s new work that imagines a future where the possibility for love, sorrow and spirited acceptance is made manifest and an idealized lightness prevails.

Jordan Reinwald

(Chicago) premieres a solo developed as a clown piece about a sad clown who has worked very hard to become a crossing guard.

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
Same Planet Performance Project Photo by Kristie Kahns

Same Planet Performance Project

(Chicago) performs an excerpt of a new evening-length work, BAD BUNNY.

* indicates HCCDF debut

Producers Gifford and Mallinson share their thoughts with Picture This Post (PTP) about 10 years of producing this festival.

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
Melissa Mallinson Photo courtesy of Melissa Mallinson
Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival
Nicole Gifford Photo courtesy of Nicole Gifford

(PTP) Why did you decide to create this Festival?

Melissa Mallinson: In 2009, we observed a gap in performance opportunities for established independent artists and small companies. At the time, there were a number of emerging artist showcases, and of course big companies produced their own shows or were presented. Not to mention the recession of 2008 made it tough on many artists. We knew if we banded together, we could find a way to keep artists’ work on the stage. We also love the community energy and innovation that you discover in a festival, meeting new artists, seeing new work and opening yourself to new ideas.


How did your respective backgrounds contribute to the Festival’s development?

MM: We had both spent a number of years in Chicago choreographing, performing, and staging our own events. I had spent five years working in the Events Department at the Old Town School of Folk Music, and Nicole worked in marketing for a major magazine publisher.


Has the festival always been held at the Ruth Page Theater?

Nicole Gifford: Yes, as performers, we always loved performing at the Ruth Page Theater. It’s a special space with history.


What have been some highlights of the past 10 years?

NG: In the fifth year, we both had five-month-old babies! But seriously, it’s hard to pick out highlights. Every year is so special and different based on who is participating.


How has the festival evolved through the years? How will this year’s festival be different from or the same as prior years?

NG: The festival is a product of what is submitted to us and what works well together to create a cohesive show for our audience. For the first four years, we held the festival on only one weekend, with performances Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We had three different lineups, and the artists performed just one time. In our fifth year, we began a new format expanding to two weekends. This way we had two lineups, and each artist performed on both Friday and Saturday, with a unique lineup each weekend. This also gave our audience more opportunities to see one or both lineups.


How do you select troupes to perform at the festival?  What does the selection process include?

NG: We have a call for artist submissions in May. Melissa and I get together and watch all of the videos ourselves. The selection process usually includes Twizzlers and other yummy snacks, as well as movies and games to occupy our five-year-olds. We like to include a variety of group pieces, solos, duets, etc. Additionally, we look for a good variety in music, theme and feel. We like to include artists from Chicago, but also from around the country, returning artists and artists new to us.


How is the Harvest Festival different than other dance festivals in Chicago?

NG: We have such a unique opportunity, with the wide array of submissions we receive, to create a truly one-of-a-kind lineup for our Chicago audience. It’s also a unique experience for the performers to meet artists from around the country. We allow for as many networking opportunities as we can.


What are your hopes as the Festival moves into its next 10 years?

We hope HCCDF continues to thrive as a platform for innovative dance artists to share their work! It's fantastic to welcome new audiences to see cutting-edge contemporary dance, and we want to keep spreading the word about HCCDF as an intimate, thought-provoking, beautiful night out.


$25 general admission, $18 military, seniors and students with ID

Get Harvest Contemporary Dance Festival tickets here

For more information please visit HCCDF Website.

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