Harvest Contemporary Dance Review – Physicality and Vulnerability

The Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival celebrates its 10th year, performing at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts

Harvest Contemporary Dance
J Sun Howard Photo by Kiam Marcelo Junio

As the lights dim to a near-blackout, we think Searchers has reached a peaceful end. Suddenly, dancer Norma Ann Taitano Phillips erupts into a fit of violent revolt against her fellow performer in this piece, Junji Dezaki, refusing the love and care being offered.  Instead Phillips seems consumed by their own rage and hate. The only piece to bring a tear to this viewer’s eye, this duet seemed to exemplify the theme of the entire evening’s works --  vulnerability and human expression.

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

The 10th Annual Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival included performances of works by 19 choreographers, nine the last weekend, September 27 and 28. There were pieces from Same Planet Performance Project, Jordan Reinwald, MitchellMovement Collective, James Morrow, Melinda Jean Myers, The Brande Lee Collaborative, Jennifer Glaws/Jagged Moves, Sean Greene/JuNo, and RE|dance group.

Here are some highlights---

Frayed Glamour – Choreographed by Brande Lee & James Morrow

The lights come up and Marilyn Manson’s Beautiful People smacks us in the face. The performer begins a rage-fueled aerialist piece  The only outlet for this rage that the performer has is climbing the silks as quickly as possible, tying herself into and out of knot after knot of fabric and dropping herself over ten feet with death-defying agility. In this writer’s view, if you've ever felt judged by your outward appearance, you might especially relate to this performance.

I ASSUME YOU’RE ASSUMING I’M ASSUMING – Choreographed by Melinda Jean Myers

At the start, the nine dancers are covered with post-it notes. These multicolored pieces of paper fall from the performers, leaving a trail with every move. Sweeping them up or re-sticking them on each other, the sticky notes act as a symbol of assumption, how we view one another, and how that impacts the spaces we move in.  In this work, Melinda Jean Myers is pushing us to explore how assumptions and societal pressures can leave their mark on ourselves and each other.

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

The Searchers – Choreographed by Sean Greene

Love isn’t always pretty. Sean Greene’s choreography and the performances by Junji Dezaki and Norma Ann Taitano Phillips captured that chaos, the anarchy of imperfect humans in love and afraid, while also delicately dancing the lines of consent. The Searchers seemed to say that romance is as much fear as it is passion, and as much commitment as it is a cage. For this viewer, the piece was more an abstraction of codependency than a literal depiction of the subject. It also struck this reviewer how triggering  The Searchers  might be for those who have experienced unhealthy relationships.

The whole evening was a powerful exploration of the heart, and how we interact with one another on an emotional level. If matters of the heart are of interest to you, this writer highly recommends catching the 11th year of Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival.

Highly Recommended

Presented by: Nicole Gifford Dance and ology dance/MelissaMallinson


Joanna Read with Same Planet Performance Project

Jordan Reinwald

Taylor Mitchell with MitchellMovement Collective

Harvest Contemporary Dance
Nicole Olson Photo by Chris Young, Belleboche Photography

James Morrow

Melinda Jean Myers

Brande Lee

Jennifer Glaws with Jagged Moves

Sean Greene with JuNo

Michael Estanich with RE|dance group

Harvest Contemporary Dance
RE|dance group Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis


Bad Bunny: Michelle Giordanelli, Micheal O’Neill, Patrick Burns, Enid Smith, Earlyn Whitehead.

For Will: Jordan Reinwald.

After the Function: Cameron Lasater, Bridget Krouse, Tori Rumzis, Taylor Mitchell, Anna Long, Abigail Stachnik, Santiago Quintana.

THE MOVEMENT: Rebecca R. Levy.

I ASSUME YOU’RE ASSUMING I’M ASSUMING: Angelica DeLashmette, Jessica Madden, Bethany Sullivan, Ianka Hou, Kate Vincek, Tatum Beynon, Katelynn Malmstedt, Alyssa Simpson, Brooke Lilienthal

Frayed Glamour: Brande Lee

Touch Code: Emilia Bruno, Emma Marlar, Gemma Rose Isaacson, Noelle Awadallah, Sharon Picasso, Tori Casagranda

The Searchers: Junji Dezaki, Norma Ann Taitano Phillips.

What Love Looks Like: Daiva Bhandari, Michael Estanich, Danielle Gilmore, Corinne Imberski, Lucy Vurusic Riner



Production Stage Manager: Sarah Lackner

Production Design: Stonewolf Studios

For more information on next year’s festival, bookmark the Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival website.

Photos courtesy of Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival

Editor’s Note:  Read the related story – “Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival Preview – Q&A with Producers Nicole Gifford and Melissa Mallinson”

Heather Sparling

About the Author:

Heather Sparling is a Chicago-based storyteller, collaborator and lighting designer. She received her BFA in Lighting Design from Boston University. Since then she has worked all over the country in theaters large and small. While living in New York, Heather worked full-time on the production staff for St. Ann’s Warehouse. In Miami, she was employed as Lighting Supervisor for Florida Grand Opera. Since moving to Chicago 6 years ago, Heather has designed lighting for over 30 productions including La Havana Madrid and The Fly Honey Show. For more information on her design work, visit Sparling Designs Website.

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