‘It just always felt like my field’: NU alumna Jacinda Ratcliffe talks dance career, from Chicago to Sundance


Photo courtesy of Michelle Reid

Jacinda Ratcliffe (Communication ’15) dances in a recent production with the Winifred Haun & Dancers company.

Alyce Brown, Reporter

When imagining her future as a young girl, Jacinda Ratcliffe (Communication ’15) saw dance.

Long before she was performing in venues across the country, the 28-year-old Virginia native fell in love with the art form from a young age — and had the talent to back up her passion. 

“My first ballet teacher, when I was maybe eight or nine, one day (told me) after class, ‘You could do this professionally,’” Ratcliffe said. 

After graduating from Northwestern, Ratcliffe trained on scholarship at the now-closed Lou Conte Dance Studio, out of which the renowned Hubbard Street Dance Chicago company originally grew.

While she said finding her footing in the industry both during and after her training was difficult at times, her passion pulled her through.

“It just always felt like my field and where I was meant to be,” Ratcliffe said. “And I think that’s what kept me going through those years of rejection.”

One of her most notable successes was her performance at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018. There, she performed a piece titled “Frankenstein AI: A Monster Made by Many,” which was an installation in Sundance’s “New Frontier” exhibition category. 

In the piece, Ratcliffe played the role of artificial intelligence discovering human emotion. An AI formulated movement directions for her by combining surveyed audience emotions, feeding them into her ear to make her dance reflect the AI processing the emotions.

Now, Ratcliffe dances as an ensemble member at the Chicago-based dance-theatre company Lucky Plush Productions and as a dancer at Winifred Haun & Dancers modern dance company. 

Lucky Plush, a company that blends dance, theatre and comedy, allows her to combine her love for both theatre and dance. 

“We’re allowed to play, and that makes it fun and unique,” Ratcliffe said. “Every show is slightly different, and that’s okay and celebrated.”

Meghann Wilkinson (Communication ’03), who dances alongside Ratcliffe at Lucky Plush, said that in an environment where members continually have to rely on each other, Ratcliffe’s dependability and creativity shine through. 

“We need each other to show up, and Jacinda really shows up in her energy and in her willingness to take risks and be creative,” Wilkinson said. “(She) has a great creative brain, and she has a great sensibility for play. She’s not afraid to try things out.”

In addition to her work at both dance companies, Ratcliffe’s creative schedule also includes serving as a faculty member at the Actors Gymnasium, the manager of the Chicago Movement Collective and  an occasional gig choreographer for shows and music videos. 

Nothing in the performing arts industry comes easily, however. There were years after graduation when Ratcliffe said she slept through the day to be able to both dance and bartend to make ends meet.

Her kindness has played a role in her success in the industry, according to Collin Quinn Rice (Communication ’15), a college friend and occasional postgraduate collaborator of Ratcliffe’s. 

“Specifically in Chicago, there is a lot to be said about just being a very nice person and being pleasant to work with,” they said. “Jacinda fits the bill of just being an amazing person to collaborate with.”

Looking to the future, Ratcliffe will tour the country with Lucky Plush intermittently throughout the winter, spring and early summer, and she also hopes to build her acting portfolio. 

Her main goal, however, is to simply be onstage. 

“In terms of the future, I’m open,” Ratcliffe said. “As long as I get to keep performing.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @alycebrownn

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