The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation renewed their support for a partnership program created in 2020 between the Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU and National Sawdust to foster collaboration between women composers and choreographers

The Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU (CBA) and National Sawdust (NS) today announced six new Toulmin Fellows to be supported by a grant from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation to foster collaboration between women composers and choreographers. 

Since November 2020, the program has supported more than 50 women choreographers and composers to help develop their skills, create and present new work, and build a community of artists with diverse training and perspectives. The program is committed to supporting choreographers and composers who are historically underrepresented in the field, by gender, race, or ethnicity. A majority of the program participants are women of color.

This year, the Center for Ballet and the Arts and National Sawdust have appointed Adji Cissoko, Val Jeanty, Jihye Lee, Tiffany Rea-Fisher, Emily Wells, and Kara Wilkes as fellows. 

“Women composers and choreographers, especially women of color, are underrepresented in the dance and music fields today. We hope our continued collaboration with National Sawdust will serve to help promote equity in the fields of choreography and music composition,” said Jennifer Homans, Founder and Director of the Center for Ballet and the Arts. 

Composer, Co-Founder, and Artistic Director of National Sawdust, Paola Prestini, adds, “Advancing gender and racial equity by increasing opportunities for women composers and choreographers is one of National Sawdust’s most deeply held values. Our partnership with the Center for Ballet and the Arts is exciting because it provides critical resources for women composers and choreographers to deepen their practice through interdisciplinary collaboration and to establish networks of colleagues and mentors who can support them throughout their careers.”

The Toulmin Fellowship will provide these six fellows financial support, time, and space to develop their work, as well as continued programming and infrastructure for the growing Toulmin alumni community. The artists will have access to CBA’s community of fellows and alumni and the broad resources of NYU, immersing them in a community of scholars and a rich, intellectual environment where they can take risks, try new ideas, and receive feedback. National Sawdust’s artistic team will provide expert mentorship to further inform the fellows’ work and feature their works-in-progress and/or performances through its Ideas Zone on-line platform and during its June The Future Is… Festival and Symposium. 

CBA and NS will also provide programming for the growing Toulmin alumni community of artists. The partnership will culminate in a two-day symposium designed for but not limited to composers, choreographers, dancers, and musicians working in multimedia presentation, interdisciplinary work, and multidisciplinary collaboration. The symposium will provide a generative space for these creators to explore how they are navigating the return to the intimacy of in-person art-making and collaboration after the extended pandemic isolation.

About the Fellows

Adji Cissoko, Dancer, Alonzo King LINES Ballet 

Collaborators: Youba Cissokho, Kora player; and Dancers, Babatunji Johnson, and Stefanie Tsabar

Adji Cissoko was born and grew up in Munich, Germany where she trained at the Ballet Academy Munich and graduated with a diploma in dance. Cissoko attended the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre in New York City on full scholarship, before joining the National Ballet of Canada in 2010. In 2012, she was awarded the Patron Award of Merit by the Patrons’ Council Committee of The National Ballet of Canada. Cissoko joined LINES Ballet in 2014. Cissoko has taught around the world as part of the company’s outreach program. In 2020, she became certified in health/life coaching as well as in ABT’s National Training Curriculum, and in 2021, Cissoko created a piece on BalletX called AZIZ.

Val Jeanty, SoundChemist

Collaborator: Jean Appolon Expressions, Haitian Choreographer, Director and Dance Group 

Val Jeanty, also known as Val-Inc, is a Haitian electronic music composer, drummer/turntablist, and professor at Berklee College of Music. Jeanty is a pioneer of the electronic music sub-genre called Afro- Electronica (also called “Vodou-Electro”) incorporating Haitian Vodou rhythms with digital instrumentations and synergistically combining acoustics with electronics, the archaic with the postmodern. Jeanty’s installations have been showcased in New York City at the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and internationally at Saalfelden Music Festival in Austria, Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, and the Biennale Di Venezia in Italy. Jeanty has worked with a diverse array of artists including Geri Allen, Anthony Braxton and Francisco Mora Catlett. She’s a 2017 Van Lier fellow and was commissioned by NYSCA for Roulette’s Intermedium Residency in 2019. 

Jihye Lee, Composer

Collaborator: Songhee Lee, Choreographer and Dancer 

Jihye Lee is a jazz composer and bandleader based in New York, highly regarded for her personal and adventurous storytelling approach to large-ensemble jazz. Her recent album Daring Mind on the Motéma label is getting raved attention from all over the world, covered in New York Times, JazzTimes, DownBeat, Telerama, Le Monde, Jazz Thing, JazzWise, Musica Jazz, Süddeutsche Zeitung and including The Guardian’s best 10 albums in 2021.   Lee has received the 2020 ASCAP Foundation/Symphonic Jazz Orchestra Commissioning Prize and the BMI Foundation’s Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize and Manny Albam Commission in 2018. She has written music for Jazz Education Network, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis as well as Carnegie Hall’s NYO Jazz. Lee graduated from Berklee College of Music and earned a master’s degree at Manhattan School of Music under the guidance of Jim McNeely.

Tiffany Rea-Fisher, Executive Artistic Director of EMERGE125 and Choreographer

Collaborator: Erica “Twelve45” Blunt, Composer, DJ, and Sound Designer

Tiffany Rea-Fisher is a National Dance Project Award winner, 2021 Toulmin Creator, 2022 Toulmin Fellow, a John Brown Spirit award recipient and was awarded a citation from the City of New York for her cultural contributions. As a choreographer, Tiffany has had the pleasure of creating numerous pieces for her company as well as being commissioned by Dance Theater of Harlem, Dallas Black Dance Theater, NYC Department of Transportation, Utah Repertory Theater, The National Gallery of Art in D.C., and having her work performed for the Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg. Her works have been seen on many stages including the Joyce, the Apollo, Joe’s Pub, Aaron Davis Hall, and New York Live Arts. Tiffany was the first Dance Curator at the interdisciplinary arts organization The Tank where she now sits on their Board of Trustees. She also curates the Bryant Park Dance Summer Series providing free art access to thousands while exposing upcoming and established artists to a wider audience.

Emily Wells, Composer

Collaborator: Raja Feather Kelly (CBA ’19), Choreographer 

Forging a bridge between pop and chamber music, composer, producer, and video artist Emily Wells builds songs from deliberate strata of vocals, synths, drums, piano, string and wind instruments. Wells’s latest release, the ten-song album Regards to the End, explores the AIDS crisis, climate change, and her lived experience watching the world burn.

Kara Wilkes, Independent Dance Artist and Educator

Collaborators: Composers – Spencer Aubrey, Kevin Beck, Arianna “Kala” Brame; Dancers – Anielle Gavino, David Harvey (CBA ’22), Myles King, Babatunji Johnson

Kara Wilkes is an interdisciplinary choreographer, educator, dancer, visual artist, and filmmaker. Her expertise in classical and contemporary ballet is extensive and supported by her twenty-year professional dance career. She has performed works by Alonzo King, Alvin Ailey, Twyla Tharp, Nacho Duato, Jacqulyn Buglisi, Dwight Rhoden, George Balanchine, Darrell Grand Moultrie and others. In 2019, she earned her MFA in Dance from Hollins University where she began her choreographic research surrounding inherited trauma, addiction, and healing. Her creative work also focuses heavily on the Digital Age’s impacts on society and our planet. Most recently, she choreographed works for Traverse City Dance Project, the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, Santa Clara University, and Texas Christian University. 

About the Mentors

For over two decades, Alicia Adams has been presenting work from national and international arenas at the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. As Vice President of International Programming and Dance, she produces the distinguished international theater series World Stages each year.  Since 1997, Alicia has curated and produced major international festivals including most recently Artes de Cuba, an unprecedented festival in 2018 that brought together 400 Cuban and Cuban American artists.  She also curates the Center’s Contemporary Dance programming and annual Lunar New Year Celebration. Active in the performing arts community, Alicia has served on numerous boards and planning committees including the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts, the Caine Prize for African Writing (UK), Africa 95 (UK), the All Roads Project of National Geographic, Chair of  the International Society of Performing Arts (ISPA), Executive Committee of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), the National Dance Panel of the New England Foundation on the Arts,  the Advisory Council for Georgetown University’s Laboratory for Global Performance and Circle World Arts.  In 2011 she received the APAP Fan Taylor Distinguished Service Award for exemplary service to the field of presenting. She is also an elected member of the Cosmos Club. In 2013, Adams was awarded the Insignia of Member First Class of the Royal Order of the Polar Star by the Swedish government.  In 2014 Adams was awarded Insignia of Knight, First Class, of the Order of the Lion of Finland by the Finnish government

Darcy James Argue made his mark with his critically acclaimed 2009 debut Infernal Machines. 2013 saw the release of Brooklyn Babylon, which, like Infernal Machines before it, earned the group nominations for both GRAMMY and JUNO Awards. His most recent recording, Real Enemies, released in the fall of 2016, earned a third consecutive GRAMMY nomination and has been praised as “wildly discursive, twitchily allusive, a work of furious ambition… deeply in tune with our present moment” by The New York Times’ Nate Chinen.Proclaimed “a mind-blowing example of truly great, era-defining jazz composition, and a contender for album of the year” by London Jazz News’ John L. Walters, Real Enemies is a 13-chapter exploration of America’s fascination with conspiracy theories and the politics of paranoia. Argue recently collaborated with GRAMMY-winning vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, arranging, orchestrating, and conducting her “macabre, majestically relevant” (New York Music Daily) original song cycle Ogresse. In 2015, Argue was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Music Composition and a Doris Duke Artist Award. He has received commissions from the Fromm Music Foundation, the Jazz Gallery, the Manhattan New Music Project, the Jerome Foundation, and BAM, as well as ensembles including the Danish Radio Big Band, the Hard Rubber Orchestra, the West Point Jazz Knights, and the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos. 

Joe Goode is a choreographer, writer, and director widely known as an innovator in the field of dance for his willingness to collide movement with spoken word, song, and visual imagery. He was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007, and the United States Artists Glover Fellowship in 2008. In 2006 Goode directed the opera Transformations for the San Francisco Opera Center. His play Body Familiar, commissioned by the Magic Theatre in 2003, was met with critical acclaim. The Joe Goode Performance Group, formed in 1986, tours regularly throughout the U.S., and has toured internationally to Canada, Europe, South America, Africa, and the Middle East. Goode is known as a master teacher; his summer workshops in “felt performance” attract participants from around the world, and the company’s teaching residencies on tour are hugely popular. He is a member of the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley in the department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies. Goode and his work have been recognized by numerous awards for excellence including the American Council on the Arts, the New York Dance and Performance Award (Bessie), and Isadora Duncan Dance Awards (Izzies).

Revolutionary art-rock Artists, Nona Hendryx is a vocalist, songwriter, music technologist, a producer of experimental theater, short films and author, a creator of Augmented and Virtual Reality experiences with multiplayer games inspired by Afrofuturism. Tackling social issues, love and politics, Hendryx’s career spans decades of sound and style evolution. She is one of the groundbreaking group Labelle who created the No.1 worldwide hit ‘Lady Marmalade’ (Voulez Vous Coucher Avec Moi C’est Soir?”  The Songwriter, Hendryx, came into her own as a solo artist post Labelle.  Nona’s Solo career has seen her engage with an impressive lineup of collaborators (Prince, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, Terri Lynn Carrington, Esperanza Spalding, Bono, George Clinton, Keith Richards) a short list.  Her music has ranged from soul, funk, and R&B to hard rock, new wave and new-age to uncategorizable. 

Today, Hendryx remains the Queen of Transformation; creating and writing music for experimental and commercial theatre and film, developing AR, VR, MR and Immersive in person and digital projects.  Nona is Ambassador of Artistry in Music at Berklee College of Music, Boston and Boston Conservatory, Resident Artist at Barnard College’s Movement Lab.   Nona pushes the creative boundaries of Music, Art and Technology collaborating with Visual Artists, Theaster Gates, Robert Wilson, Nick Cave, Carrie Mae Weems with Indigenous Visual Artist Virgil Ortiz and Choreographer Francesca Harper for the Limon Dance company.

Alicia Graf Mack began her inaugural season as the Dean and Director of the Dance Division at The Juilliard School in fall 2018. She enjoyed a distinguished career as a leading dancer of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and was a principal dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. She has also danced as a guest performer with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, Beyoncé, John Legend, Andre 3000, Alicia Keys and Jon Batiste. She has appeared in numerous galas and festivals and has performed in honor of such legends as Arthur Mitchell, Jessye Norman, Carmen De Lavallade, Judith Jamison and Masazumi Chaya. Graf Mack graduated magna cum laude with honors in history from Columbia University and holds an MA in nonprofit management from Washington University in St. Louis. In 2016 she was given the honor of the Diversity Business Leaders Award by the St. Louis Business Journal. In 2007, Smithsonian magazine named her an American Innovator of the Arts and Sciences. She is a recipient of the Columbia University Medal of Excellence, an annual award given to an alumnus who has demonstrated excellence in their field of work. In 2008, she delivered the keynote address to the graduates of Columbia University’s School of General Studies. As a dance educator, Graf Mack most recently taught as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Houston and was a visiting assistant professor at Webster University. She is a co-founder of D(n)A Arts Collective, an initiative created to enrich the lives of young dancers through master classes and intensives.

About the Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University

The Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University is an international research institute for scholars and artists of ballet and its related arts and sciences. It exists to inspire new ideas and new dances, expanding the way we think about the art form’s history, practice, and performance in the 21st century. To learn more, please visit

About National Sawdust

National Sawdust is a woman founded and led arts producing and presenting organization, with a significant programmatic commitment to advancing the artistic work of women since inception. The National Sawdust mission is to curate and produce music and artistic works rooted in curiosity, experimentation, innovation, and inclusivity that engages communities of artists and audiences at our state-of-the-art Williamsburg home and on our digital stage. Embedded into the mission is the belief that artistic expression empowers us all to create a more joyful and just world.

About the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation

The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation is the first charitable organization to focus its performing arts grantmaking on promoting emerging female composers, choreographers and playwrights in the fields of opera, symphonic music, ballet and theater and to promoting women of color creators within these fields, focusing its grantmaking on a broad diversity of voices that need to be heard. The Foundation carries on the principles of its founder, Virginia B. Toulmin, a long-time patron of the arts, who believed in equal access and opportunity for women.

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