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TDE Asks Chicago: Chatting with the Producers of Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival (HCCDF)

TDE Asks Chicago: Chatting with the Producers of Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival (HCCDF)
Sammi Sowerby / Follow on Instagram

By Sammi Sowerby / Follow on Instagram
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Published on September 2, 2015
Image courtesy of Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival

As the Festival Celebrates Its 6th Anniversary with Two Weekends of Dance Starring 19 dance Artists

HCCDF was founded in 2010 as a way to share and celebrate the work of practicing contemporary dance artists and companies. Producers Nicole Gifford and Melissa Mallinson have a combined 30+ years of experience in producing dance events, choreographing and performing their works in Chicago and throughout the Midwest.

When: Sep 18-19 & 25-26 (two consecutive Fridays and Saturdays) @ 8pm.
Where: Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, Chicago IL
Tickets: $25 general admission, $18 military seniors and students with valid ID.

Call 312-337-6543, visit or make door purchase.

More information and full performers’ line-up available HERE.

Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre by Lisa Green of Stephen Green Photography.

Sammi Lim for The Dance Enthusiast: Why Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival? If I could make a guess: Does it connote the reaping of aspiring artists?

Melissa Mallinson: We chose our title to reflect the season during which Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival (HCCDF) is held, and also the mission of our organization. HCCDF shares and celebrates the work of practicing contemporary dance artists. Our festival gathers and shares the bounty of creative work from choreographers around Chicago and across the country.

TDE: How did the two of you cross paths and why do you work well together?

MM: Nicole and I met sometime around 2002 while dancing with companies and freelance artists in the city.  We performed in many festivals like Dance Chicago, Around the Coyote (now defunct) and others. Over the years, we shared many projects, dancing in each others’ works and together for other artists. Our friendship grew as we discovered shared interests and challenges. We work so well together, because we each support the other in our strengths and needs. We are both 100% committed to producing the kind of experience that we as dance lovers want to see, and we as dancers and choreographers want to join. I am deeply grateful to have a beloved friend as an excellent collaborator and partner.

Nicole Gifford: I feel the same!

Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre by Kristie Kahns Photography.

TDE: Is this the first year that Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival (HCCDF) will span two weekends instead of one?

MM: Yes, we’re thrilled to expand HCCDF for our sixth anniversary!  We’ve been looking forward to our event’s growth for several years, waiting for the right confluence of theater availability and organizational capacity. It’s exciting that our audiences will have more opportunities to see HCCDF, and our artists will have a full weekend in which to share their work.

TDE: What is the starkest difference between HCCDF in its first year and this present year?


MM: In purely measurable terms, our first event in 2010 received 33 submissions from artists. In 2015, we received more than 170. More than 60% of our artists apply to participate again. We are  humbled by the quantity and quality of the submissions we receive. This helps us curate an amazing, dynamic, accessible event, which draws a supportive and engaged audience.

NG: As Melissa said, the festival has grown measurably since it's inception! I think we too, have grown as producers and women. At job interviews they always ask, "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"  I'm thrilled that we've been at this for 6 years and I look forward to continuing. We try to keep it evolving to stay relevant for the artists and the audience. Spanning two weekends instead of one is a big difference this year. We both now have 15 month old toddlers, so that's a pretty big difference for us personally, from year one to six.

Aerial Dance Chicago by Kristie Kahns Photography.

TDE: Please complete the following sentence: “Contemporary dance in Chicago flourishes because…


NG: ...of the Chicago Dance Community! I've found there is a lot of support and encouragement along the way. There are opportunities for artists at every stage of their career. You see different groups of friends working and growing together and continuing to inspire one another. There's a mutual sense of respect and support for each other. People don't just walk in, do their thing, and walk out.

We also want Chicago dance artists to see what's being created in their home town and around the country. If they can't afford a ticket or if they need college credit for working backstage, we have many volunteer opportunities in exchange to see the show. 

TDE: With over 30 years of combined experience in organizing dance festivals, what advice might you have given your “younger  producer selves”?

NG: Well, I love working with Melissa because we each excel in different areas. We both take on different jobs and have grown in these areas over the years. If you have someone whom you respect and trust and have fun with, you will enjoy figuring it out together.

MM: I would have told myself to trust myself as a leader, and to always appreciate the openness and positivity that Nicole  brings to the process. Dance, like all the arts, is a gift. A gift only means something when it is shared with a full and open heart. Seeing it, sharing it, and producing it is an honor. 


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