The Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University (CBA), an international research institute for scholars and artists of ballet and its related arts and sciences, today announced the 11 fellows for the 2021-2022 academic year. These distinguished individuals represent a wide range of disciplines including choreography, gender and women’s studies, history, film and media, literature, religious studies, and dance studies.
The 2021-22 fellows cohort includes: scholars Nicholas Chielotam Akas, Kathryn Dickason, Antonia Lant, Paul J. Edwards, Jodie Gates, Whitney Laemmli, Mara Mills, and Laura Quinton; principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre, Herman Cornejo, scholar-choreographer Christopher-Rasheem McMillan, and choreographer Kyle Marshall. Many of the fellows’ projects explore themes of diversity and representation, including research into Nigerian funeral dance performance; medieval European dance from the perspectives of enchantment, race, and colonization; and how the entrance of Black American arts transformed the cultural landscape of Germany between the two World Wars. (See full list of bios and project descriptions below.)
“We are thrilled to welcome and support this terrific cohort of fellows. Our mission to provide a space for artists and scholars to do their work and expand the way we think about dance remains essential as we return and rebuild post-pandemic,” said Jennifer Homans, founder and director of the Center for Ballet and the Arts.
The 2021-22 fellows will be the first ever hybrid cohort, with core offerings, events, and weekly seminars available both in person and online, allowing more significant engagement with and participation by CBA’s 165 alumni fellows around the world. Faculty members from Tisch School of the Arts (Antonia Lant) and Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development (Mara Mills) bring the total number of NYU faculty members supported by a CBA fellowship to 25.
Entering its eighth year, CBA is a place for artists to develop new work—creating new dances and building artistic collaborations—and for scholars to develop new ideas. CBA fellows come from a multitude of disciplines and bring a breadth of experience to the residency. They are not required to be experts in ballet. The program encourages fellows to engage with people and ideas beyond their core disciplines and to take risks in their work without the pressure of a finished product. CBA fellows enjoy access to the extensive scholarly and cultural resources of NYU, in addition to time, studio and office space, and financial support to reimagine their work in a supportive but critical community of peers.
Previous CBA fellows have included art historian Claire Bishop, writer Alma Guillermoprieto, critic Marina Harss, harpist Bridget Kibbey, choreographer Lauren Lovette, designer Jean-Marc Puissant, historian Janice Ross, choreographer Pam Tanowitz, singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega, and filmmaker Frederick Wiseman.
Nicholas Chielotam Akas is a Senior Lecturer at Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Nigeria. Akas formed a dance theatre group, Hopes of The Nation, where he uses dance as a tool to mirror social structures in Nigeria. Since 2017, Akas has served as the head choreographer and ambassador of Nigerian Brewery through their cultural development program, HI-LIFE FEST. Akas has received a B.A. and M.A. in Dance from Nnamdi Azikiwe University and a Ph.D. in Dance, Choreography, and Semiotics from Imo State University Owerri and has choreographed over 40 dances.
Project: Let The Dead Rest: A Study of Apams Undertakers in Anambra State Nigeria
At CBA, Akas will research and interrogate the history of Nigerian funeral dance performance, where dead corpses are tossed for entertainment as a symbol of affluence and social status.
Herman Cornejo has been a Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre since 2003. He has guested for companies including Teatro alla Scala, National Ballet of Japan, Kremlin Ballet, New York City Ballet, Boston Ballet, Hamburg Ballett. Cornejo has received distinctions such as a 2013 Bessie Award presented by the NY Dance & Performance League, the 2014 Prix Benois de la Danse as Outstanding Male Dancer of the Year, Latin Idol by Hispanic Magazine, and Dancer of the Year by The New York Times.
His repertoire consists of more than ninety leading roles in classical and contemporary ballets. He has choreographed Tango y Yo for Dance Open Festival, Two sunsets for Dancers Against Cancer, Transcendence for the Kings of the Dance Tour, Milongón amigo for the Vail International Dance Festival and Momentum with concert pianist Bruce Levingston for “Trio Concert Dance” and a tribute to New York to the score of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for the debut of his new project DANCELIVE in 2020.
Project: Reimagining Nijinsky
The dancer and choreographer, Vaslav Nijinsky spent a significant amount of time in Buenos Aires and became enraptured with Argentinian dances and folklore. He was in the midst of developing a new ballet based on the indigenous legend of the “Urutaú’” with Igor Stravinsky who signed on as composer when his mental illness forced him into psychiatric treatment and stalled the production. At CBA, Herman Cornejo will pick up where he left off and create a new work based on the themes and ethos of Nijinksky’s vision, using the Argentine folkloric Malambo rhythms.
Kathryn Dickason specializes in Western medieval Christianity and has published numerous articles on medieval dance, religion, performance, iconography, gender, Dante, and sign theory. She holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Stanford University and was previously a postdoctoral fellow and visiting scholar at the University of Southern California. Her first book, Ringleaders of Redemption: How Medieval Dance Became Sacred, was published by Oxford University Press in 2021.
Project: Medieval Dance: Treasures from the Morgan and Beyond
At CBA, Kathryn Dickason will pursue her second book, a study on Western medieval dance iconography tentatively entitled Medieval Dance: Treasures from the Morgan and Beyond. She will also work on smaller-scale projects that analyze medieval European dance from the perspectives of enchantment, race, and colonization.
Paul J. Edwards is an Assistant Professor of English at Southern Methodist University and a book review editor for The Black Scholar. His research and teaching span across the fields of African American literature, gender and sexuality studies, and media studies. Paul’s article “Staging the Great Migration: The Chocolate Kiddies and the German Experience of the New Negro Renaissance” was recently published on Modernism/modernity‘s Print Plus platform. Edwards’ work has also appeared, or is scheduled to appear, in German Studies Review, Modern Drama, The Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, The Black Power Encyclopedia: From “Black is Beautiful” to Urban Uprisings, and The Drama Review.
Project: The Black Wave: The New Negro Renaissance in Interwar Germany
Paul Edwards’s CBA project, The Black Wave, examines how the entrance of Black American arts transformed the cultural landscape of German society between the two World Wars. Central to Edwards’s project is the Black director, choreographer, and dancer Louis Douglas, arguably the most influential representative of the Renaissance in Germany.
Jodie Gates is a woman leader who has established a career as an artistic director, educator, choreographer, stager, curator and dancer. Her most recent work has been as facilitator for the “Artistic Directors Coalition for Ballet in America”, a group of leaders who are addressing systemic racism and inequities within the culture of ballet. She is formerly a principal ballerina with the Joffrey Ballet, Frankfurt Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, and Complexions. She has choreographed over sixty original dance works for stage and screen, with commissions performed at the Kennedy Center, New York’s City Center Theater, Staatsballett Berlin, and the Vail International Dance Festival, among others. She has also choreographed for companies including Ballet West, Cincinnati Ballet, Colorado Ballet, Complexions, Kansas City Ballet, and BalletX. Gates represents William Forsythe Productions as a stager, and has taught and coached productions at The Paris Opera Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Prague National Theater, Zurich Opera Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Houston Ballet, Scottish Ballet and Teatro La Scala, among others. She is an American Ballet Theater/Altria Choreography Fellow and a recipient of the Jerome Robbins Foundation New Essential Works Program and the American Association of University Women. Currently, she is Artistic Director of the Laguna Dance Festival and is the Founding Director of the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at the University of Southern California, where she is also a Professor of Dance. She received a Psychology of Leadership Certificate from Cornell University SC Johnson College of Business and studied at the Higher Education Leadership Program for Women at Bryn Mawr College.
Project: Embracing a Broader Vision of Cultural Inclusion in Classical Ballet
At CBA, Gates plans to document the ways in which ballet can move forward as an inventive and relevant movement model for cultural inclusion and artistic liberation. Gates’s research examines her lived experience as a professional ballet dancer and female leader, while exploring multi-cultural models for classical ballet. At the core of the research is common humanity and how individual experience captures different cultures and epochs and brings this information into the creative dance space. She will work with a small group of dance artists whose cultural experiences, shared through ballet vocabulary, explore the “image” of ballet that evokes a deep universal response. The research will examine, celebrate, and unite the nuanced, critically differentiated approaches to the art form.
Whitney Laemmli is a historian of science and technology and Assistant Professor of History at Carnegie Mellon University. Her scholarship focuses on the scientific and technological construction of the human body in the modern United States and Europe, and her work has appeared in Technology and Culture, History of the Human Sciences, Osiris, and Information and Culture. Laemmli received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and, prior to arriving at Carnegie Mellon, she was a member of the Columbia University Society of Fellows in the Humanities. Her research has been supported by the Social Science Research Council, the American Council of Learned Societies and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and the Institute for Advanced Study. Laemmli received the 2018 Abbott Payson Usher Prize from the Society for the History of Technology.
Project: Measured Movements
During her CBA fellowship, Laemmli will focus on her current book project. Titled Measured Movements, the book is a history of how and why human bodily movement became a central object of scientific, political, and popular concern over the course of the twentieth century. The project uses Labanotation to uncover how human movement came to be documented and rationalized in new ways, in service of a vision of modernity in which expression and control, pleasure and productivity, were no longer in conflict.
Antonia Lant is Professor of Cinema Studies at New York University. A specialist in silent cinema, women’s work in filmmaking, and the intersection of theories of film and art history, she is the author of Blackout: Reinventing Women for Wartime British Cinema (1991), and Red Velvet Seat: Women’s Writings on the First Fifty Years of Cinema (2007). Lant was a Founding Director of NYU’s Masters’ in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation; and a member of the National Film Preservation Board. She was international advisor for “Texture Matters,” a media research project based at Vienna University. Lant has recently held fellowships at the IKKM, Weimar; and at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard, where she was writing her forthcoming book, The Race Machine: When Cinema Claimed Ancient Egypt. She trained in Fine Arts (undergraduate) at Leeds University, and still paints.
Project: Generative Images in Visual and Performance Art of the 1970s
At CBA, Lant will investigate film, performance, photographs, and installations of the 1970s in order to see how, and if, post-World War II procreative transformations and their machines (the contraceptive pill; the lasting illegality of abortion; the beginnings of IVF; the arrival of obstetric ultrasound; the first “test-tube baby”; and the worldwide impact of Nilssen’s portrait of an 18-week-old fetus on Life’s 1965 cover) reshaped our perceptions of the body as well the materials and concerns of art-making. Lant will bring figures of the pair and pas de deux into dialog with the science of reproduction. The result will be a book chapter describing how the dancing body was being newly conceived in the 1970s.
Kyle Marshall recently received the 2020 Dance Magazine Harkness Promise Award and a Bessie Award nomination for the production Colored. His dance company, Kyle Marshall Choreography (KMC) has performed at venues including: BAM Next Wave Festival, Jacob’s Pillow Inside/Out, Joe’s Pub at the Public, Actors Fund Arts Center, NJPAC, NYC Summerstage, and Roulette. He has also received commissions from “Dance On The Lawn: Montclair’s Dance Festival” and Harlem Stage. Marshall has been in residence at the 92nd Street Y, Center for Performance Research and the Jamaica Performing Arts Center, and is currently a Resident Performance Artist at MANA Contemporary. As a teacher, Marshall conducts dance masterclasses and creative workshops at schools including American Dance Festival, Montclair State University, Ailey/Fordham, County Prep High School and Bloomfield College. Kyle is a member of the Trisha Brown Dance Company. He also danced with Doug Elkins Choreography, Etc. and Tiffany Mills Company. Kyle graduated from Rutgers University with a BFA in Dance and resides in Jersey City.
Project: Julius Eastman Project
Kyle Marshall’s CBA Fellowship project is focused on his research of the late composer, conductor, singer, pianist, and choreographer, Julius Eastman (1940-1990). During his life, Eastman became a pillar in NYC’s downtown music scene. As Eastman left few tangible scores or recordings, until recently, his contributions to the field have been overlooked. Eastman’s work dissidently centers Blackness, masculinity, and queerness within a eurocentric artform. By bringing Eastman’s music into his body of work, Marshall will explore how Black and queer embodiment exists in, complicates, and veers away from post-modern and ballet’s eurocentric ideology.
Christopher-Rasheem McMillan is a performance-related artist and scholar. He has a joint appointment between Dance and Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies at the University of Iowa. McMillan received his BA from Hampshire College, his MFA in Experimental Choreography from the Laban Conservatoire, London, and his PhD in Theology and Religious Studies from King’s College, London. He was a Five College Fellow and the recipient of the McGregor-Girand Dissertation Fellowship. Mcmillan is currently a Fellow of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.
Project: The Sacred in Motion: Tactics for Remaking and Reimagining New Worlds
At CBA, McMillan will endeavor to complete his book, Performance Criticism: Scripture, Sex and the Sacred, which questions how beliefs function through the performative. He will also work on a new dance work titled “Sacred.” Mcmillan seeks to understand both the meaning of the religious body in performance and the arrangements of the religious bodies in space as central parts of both lived experience and enactments of spiritual practices.
Mara Mills is Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University and co-director of the NYU Center for Disability Studies (CDS). She works at the intersection of sound studies and disability studies, and programs disability arts events at CDS. Mills is a founding editor of the journal Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience. Most recently, she co-edited the book Testing Hearing: The Making of Modern Aurality (Oxford University Press, 2020) with Viktoria Tkaczyk and Alexandra Hui. She has published articles in Grey Room, differences, Social Text, PMLA, and Technology & Culture, among others. Mills received B.A. degrees in Biology and Literature from the University of California at Santa Cruz and an M.A. in Biology and Ph.D. in History of Science from Harvard University. Mills’ public arts and humanities writing can be found at sites like Triple Canopy, Artforum, Public Books, Somatosphere, and AVIDLY—a channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Project: Description for Dance Accessibility
In 2018–19, Mills collaborated with writer Georgina Kleege on a “crowd-sourced description” of the pas de deux in George Balanchine’s Agon for an installment of Netta Yerushalmy’s Paramodernities. Mills and Kleege also worked with venues that staged Paramodernities—including Jacob’s Pillow and New York Live Arts—to hire audio describers to make performances accessible to blind and low vision audiences. At CBA, Mills plans to document her working process with Kleege as well as write an article about description in dance (access as an aesthetic practice) and description for dance (access as a matter of justice).
Laura Quinton is a historian of dance and modern Europe. She will receive her PhD in History from NYU in 2021. Her current book project, Ballet Imperial: Dance and the New British Empire, explores the unexpected entanglements of ballet and British politics from the early twentieth century to the present. Her work has been supported by Fellowships from the NYU Center for the Humanities, the Council on Library and Information Resources, and the Alumnae Association of Barnard College. Her writing has appeared in The Historical Journal, Twentieth Century British History, and the Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism.
Project: Ballet Imperial: Dance and the New British Empire
At CBA, Quinton will work on her first book Ballet Imperial: Dance and the New British Empire, conducting new research on and writing about British ballet from the 1970s through the 2016 Brexit vote. She will explore ballet’s relationship to broader artistic developments in Britain, as well as how the art in this period was shaped by neoliberalism, the AIDS crisis, immigration and globalization, and Commonwealth and European Union partnerships.
The Center is made possible by founding and ongoing support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and New York University and additional support from The Charles H. Revson Foundation, The Doris & Stanley Tananbaum Foundation, Fishman Family Fund, an advised fund of the Brooklyn Community Foundation, Ford Foundation, and the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. We also extend a special thanks to individual members of CBA’s Center Circle for their essential support.