The Harper Theater Dance Festival Collection

19 06 2012

Well, it’s week three of my stint down at the American Dance Festival and I thought I’d take the opportunity to acquaint you with the collection that I am working on – that of the Harper Theater Dance Festival, donated by Judith Sagan.

Named after the Harper Theater (purchased by Mrs. Sagan and her husband, Bruce), the Harper Theater Dance Festival (1965-1975) presented Chicago audiences with a solid decade of annual performance seasons from a variety of celebrated touring dance companies. A reprisal of the festival came in 1978-1979 before it finally bowed to financial and other pressures. Favorite performers included Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais, and Paul Taylor. Other, one-time performing companies included Erick Hawkins, Alvin Ailey, the Boston Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet, Lotte Goslar, Bella Lewitzky, Wendy Perron, and Viola Farber.

Harper Theater Blue Print – Courtesy of the American Dance Festival, Harper Theater Collection

This collection is one that, as a Chicagoan, is close to my heart as an example of what “every day people” can do with their passion for dance. The Sagans, at least when they began the festival, weren’t experts in modern dance. They simply had the passion for the performing arts and were willing to stake a good amount of financial resources against it. The records and artifacts included in the collection chronicle the story of the Sagans, their efforts to bring modern dance to Chicago, and how they developed programs to both entertain and educate their audiences. Records in the collection include a vast amount of reviews of Festival performances (as well as reviews of “their” companies’ performances outside of the Harper Theater Dance Festival), programs, photos, correspondence, financial documents, and technical production notes. In a future post, I’ll share some of the most unique items – especially the advertising materials and correspondence, but thought I’d start with an image of the original blue print of the theater.

The Harper Theater Today, Hyde Park

To compare, here are images of the theater today. As you can see, the theater is currently somewhat run down, but local investors are seeking opportunities to revitalize the area and – one can only hope – that they bring the theater back to its former glory and continue on with the efforts of the Sagans.


SO much more to come…




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