Participants in the Chicago Dance History Project Interview Marathon
Participants in the Chicago Dance History Project Interview Marathon Credit: Courtesy Chicago Dance History Project

Chicago Dance History Project commemorates five years of collecting oral histories with icons of theatrical dance in Chicago with an interview marathon on January 31, recently designated Chicago Dance History Project Day in a proclamation by Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “The City of Chicago is thrilled to celebrate our diverse and legendary local dance community. The seven-hour Interview Marathon represents decades of dance history personified in more than 40 interview subjects—presented by the critically important Chicago Dance History Project, which investigates, documents, and presents the histories of dance in Chicago,” says Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Mark Kelly, who will be speaking at the event.

“We just started plans to have a traditional gala fundraiser party to celebrate our fifth year and had gathered some folks around to help us plan that, when it became clear it wasn’t going to be possible because of the pandemic,” says CDHP executive and artistic director Jenai Cutcher, who will personally conduct the interviews over the course of the day. “It occurred to me we could keep the same spirit of gathering folks around to celebrate but put our content at the forefront [with] this Interview Marathon.”

The program features local dance leaders as well as several interviewees from other states—and even other countries, including flamenco legend Carmela Greco from Spain and Hamburg Ballet’s artistic director John Neumeier, calling in from Germany. In addition to 15-minute one-on-one interviews with Cutcher, the event will contain panel discussions on a variety of topics including artistic director legacies with current and former directors of River North Dance Chicago, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, and Luna Negra Dance Theater; presenting dance in Chicago with speakers from the Harris Theater, the Auditorium Theatre, and the Museum of Contemporary Art; and dance education on the south side with dance educator Cris Carole, who began her dance studies at the Sammy Dyer School of the Theatre, Pierre Lockett, founder and executive director of Forward Momentum Chicago, Peggy Sutton, director of Mayfair Academy of Fine Arts, and August Tye, founding artistic director of Hyde Park School of Dance.

The Interview Marathon “is a microcosm of what the CDHP is overall, condensed into one day,” says Cutcher. “We want to convey the scope of the project as a whole. CDHP is for, by, and about everybody. We’re trying to be as inclusive and egalitarian as possible, one interview at a time. As we all are adapting to a more digital format for presenting our work, it opened our possibilities up beyond the city limits of Chicago. So we did try to give room for folks that don’t live in Chicago who have Chicago connections. When we started this project, we weren’t sure what we would find. But it’s become clear to us that Chicago dance history is rich and deep and varied. The connections really extend way out . . .  what is Twyla Tharp’s connection to Chicago dance? What does Mark Morris have to do with Chicago dance? Tune into the interview marathon, and you’ll find out!”

“The project is generative,” she says. “When I started five years ago, I was handed a list with 225 names on it, and now it’s 2000. I’m hoping we can make the Interview Marathon a repeatable thing. My sense is that even when we’re able to gather again physically, some element will always exist online.” As for this first attempt, Cutcher says, “I have a feeling a lot of connections will present themselves throughout the day, serendipitous connections that no one can anticipate. I’m hoping certain themes will surface and repeat themselves through the day. What those themes are, we’ll all find out together.”