When Melissa Mallinson and Nicole Gifford co-founded the Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival nine years ago, they were independent choreographers looking for opportunities to show their work in an increasingly dismal environment for the arts. "A number of festivals became defunct around the time of the recession of 2008-'09," recalls Mallinson. "A lot of arts organizations were really struggling. We were thinking about the types of opportunities we wanted to be involved in, what our experiences had been, and what types of companies and choreographers needed more representation."
From the 100-150 submissions they receive each year in response to an open call, Mallinson and Gifford curate a program that strives to feature a broad range of musical styles and dance influences. The result is a festival that takes the pulse of contemporary dance in Chicago and around the country, with 16 performances over two weekends at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. "The legacy of dance in that space makes it such an honor," says Mallinson. "We're the only event like this in the city."
Watching the festival evolve and grow over nearly a decade has allowed its founders to observe trends in dance as they emerge. Mallinson notes that many recent submissions have focused on identity in the context of current politics. "The strife and challenges in the world are being reflected on stage," she says. "Artists are being really bold and brave and sharing what they need to in a form of expression that is beyond words." v