The Joffrey Ballet And Kartemquin Films Announce Film Documenting 2024 'Winning Works' Choreographers

Award-winning, social justice-focused production company Kartemquin Films captures five ALAANA choreographers on their journeys from rehearsals to world premieres.

By: Mar. 28, 2024
The Joffrey Ballet And Kartemquin Films Announce Film Documenting 2024 'Winning Works' Choreographers
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Two Chicago cultural organizations, The Joffrey Ballet and Kartemquin Films, have announced a feature-length film that documents the winners of the 14th annual Winning Works Choreographic Competition-- Jainil Mehta, Martha Nichols, Manoela Gonçalves, Houston Thomas, and Xavier Núñez—from making original works for trainees of the Joffrey Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, to presenting world premieres to sold-out audiences at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in March 2024.

Following the Joffrey's national call for ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American) artists to submit applications for the competition, a film crew led by alums of Kartemquin's Diverse Voices in Docs Fellowship program—Cam Be, Ashley O'Shay, Cai Thomas, and Shuling Yong—captured the journeys of the 2024 winners through a series of interviews, verité footage, and archive film and photography.

The collaboration captures the rise of emerging talent and challenges the perception that classical ballet is an art form only accessible to a specific social stratum. The film is scheduled for release at the end of the year.

Founded in 1966, Kartemquin Films has received four Academy Award nominations, six Emmy awards, and four Peabody awards by producing films that foster a more engaged and just society — turning toward and grappling with the most critical issues of our time. The Winning Works project centers around the journeys of the 2024 cohort of Winning Works choreographers, capturing their passion, drive, and dedication to their extraordinary craft. It explores the influence of the choreographers' lived experiences on their practice and careers, illuminating the intersection of personal narratives and artistic expression. The film, in synergy with the tenets of the Winning Works program, casts a gaze toward the ever-evolving future of ballet and who has access to it, exploring the art form as a shared heritage open and accessible to all.

 "Winning Works is one of the most impactful components of the Joffrey," says The Joffrey Ballet President and CEO Greg Cameron. "Weaving together each branch of the organization, Winning Works manifests Joffrey's commitment to ALAANA choreographers. We are proud to partner with Kartemquin to tell this story more broadly while sharing a deeper look into the inspiring narratives that unfold through programs like this one, encouraging artists from around the world to pursue their passions in dance.”

Betsy Leonard, Executive Director of Kartemquin, says, “We are committed to collaboration and building community for the next generation of artists. Projects like this one with The Joffrey Ballet reflect our deepest purpose.”

Gordon Quinn, Kartemquin Founder and Senior Advisor, says, “We are particularly excited about this production with Joffrey because of how it resonates with the ideals of our Diverse Voices in Docs program.” The Diverse Voices in Docs (DVID) Fellowship supports emerging filmmakers identifying as Black, Indigenous, or another person of color in the Midwest. The program is rooted in the ideals of a collaborative community and welcomes filmmakers committed to unflinching documentary filmmaking rooted in social justice. Quinn continues, “We knew from the start that hiring alumni to crew this project would strongly align with Winning Works.”

"Winning Works propels emerging artists forward, and, in turn, shapes the future of dance," says The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director Ashley Wheater MBE. “Looking back at former winners of the Winning Works competition--Jeffrey Cirio, current Lead Principal Dancer with Boston Ballet; in-demand choreographers Chanel DaSilva, Amy Hall Garner, and Stephanie Martinez; and Claudia Schreier, Ballet Master to Juilliard President Damian Woetzel—we see the impact of Winning Works on the dance industry and who has access to it.”

Cam Be, Director, says, “This film shows the value of perseverance; it speaks to the human struggle in the pursuit of excellence while displaying the connection dance creates within us all. Winning Works and Diverse Voices in Docs create opportunities for artists to share their work, connect with one another, and share a support system that can grow beyond the program itself. The two institutions allow artists to represent themselves and freely tell their stories through their art. Winning Works assembled five choreographers with fascinating talent and even more compelling stories. The connections made through Diverse Voices in Doc forged an extremely gifted team of filmmakers. Together, something groundbreaking is emerging. It's my pleasure to take part in the process.”

ABOUT 2024 WINNING WORKS

Winning Works was presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago's Edlis Neeson Theater from March 8 to 17, 2024. The 2024 cohort is as follows:

Manoela Gonçalves presented Ocean, a work that delves into the complexities of grief and addresses the challenges of saying goodbye to a loved one, a career, a relationship, and even oneself.  Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Gonçalves is a multi-disciplinary artist passionate about collaboration, connecting people, and weaving their unique stories into her work. She attended Maria Olenewa School from Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, and her dance journey has taken her through European ballet companies, including Zurich Ballett, the Bayerisches Staatsballett in Munich, Leipziger Ballett, and Béjart Ballet in Lausanne, where she currently resides in Switzerland. Her work bridges the worlds of dance, film, and music through choreographing music videos for international artists. As a director, Gonçalves's film Lisa was featured at the San Francisco Dance Film Festival and the LA Dance Film Festival in 2021.

Jainil Mehta presented Burning Bread(s), which explores the endless demands to consume, produce, and acquire in everyday modern life inspired by a recent visit with his family in India. With immense power and momentum that cannot be stopped, Mehta's work contemplates whether reaching today's markers of success will ever be “enough.” Originally from Mumbai, India, Mehta is a former company dancer with Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company who is regarded for breaking gender stereotypes within the Indian community. He trained at Shiamak Davar International in Mumbai, India, and the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. He has performed works by William Forsythe, Jiří Kylián, Jodie Gates, Barak Marshall, Alejandro Cerrudo, Dwight Rhoden, and Matthew Neenan, and choreographed music videos for artists such as Big Wild and Falguni Pathak. Mehta has instructed students across the globe and was recently selected as a choreographer at the Playdate Residency, funded by the National Endowment of the Arts. Mehta choreographed and designed four dance productions, Ctrl Alt Delete (2023), DECODED (2018), Alankar (2017), and Chimera (2015).

Martha Nichols presented Carried by Thought, an abstract expression of our thoughts in a thinking process and how they guide us through our experiences. Nichols is the recipient of the 2021 Princess Grace, Brian, and Awmy France Choreography Honor and is an award-winning choreographer, notable dancer, master teacher, and dynamic speaker. Nichols' credits across cultural and commercial industries include Spirited, In The Heights, The Greatest Showman, La La Land, The Louis Armstrong House Museum, The Metropolitan Opera, Khalid, Madonna, Rihanna, Moses Sumney, GAP, XBOX, Fire Island Dance Festival, Cirque Du Soleil, MTV's VMAs, The Oscars, The Grammys, Dancing with the Stars, MJ The Musical on Broadway, and more. One of Dance magazine's “Top 25 to Watch,” Nichols recently wrapped as Associate Choreographer on Disney's newest live-action film, Snow White, to be released in 2024.

Xavier Núñez took inspiration from a large-scale digital artwork installed on State Street during the pandemic to create his new work, Camellia. The work follows the life cycle of a flower and how it grows, blooms, wilts, and leaves nutrients for the next generation. Born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, Núñez became a member of the Joffrey Ballet in 2018, and has performed in lead roles in Yuri Possokhov's Anna Karenina, John Neumeier's The Little Mermaid, and more. Beyond his onstage achievements, Núñez's entrepreneurial drive led him to co-found Action Lines, a progressive video production company, with peers Dylan Gutierrez and Eric Grant. In 2012, he earned the silver medal at the World Ballet Competition, propelling him to join the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company and The Tulsa Ballet in 2013. In 2017, Núñez took part in the Concours de Opera National de Paris, earning him 6th place and a contract for the 2017-2018 season with the Paris Opera Ballet.

Houston Thomas presented The Return Studies II, the next installment of a work he created for the New York Choreographic Institute in 2021 titled The Return Studies. The piece explored notions of homecoming and returning, resonating with the dancers re-entering studios following the pandemic. In The Return Studies II, Thomas delves into his homecoming journey to Chicago, revisiting the pivotal starting point of his dance journey at The Joffrey Ballet. Born and raised in Chicago, Thomas began his dance training with the Joffrey Ballet's Outreach Program under Pierre Locket's direction. He later attended the Joffrey Ballet's Academy of Dance and studied at the Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts). After training with the School of American Ballet, Houston joined the Dresden Semperoper Ballett for ten years. He has created works for the New York Choreographic Institute, Cincinnati Ballet, The Juilliard School, the School of American Ballet, ABT Studio Co., Hamptons Dance Project, Marcelo Gomes, and Ballet San Antonio. In 2022, Thomas premiered Follow the White Rabbit at the Young Emergent Choreographers Contest in Biarritz, France, winning a commission to create his work, Skywatcher, for the Opera National de Bordeaux. Houston Thomas is generously sponsored by Patti S. Eylar.

ABOUT THE KARTEMQUIN TEAM

Cam Be, Director, is an Emmy award-winning film director, photographer, musician, DJ, and music producer. His central passion for filmmaking emerged during his studies at the New York Film Academy (2006) and Columbia College in Chicago (2008-2010). Cam has worked with iconic artists such as Maya Angelou, Lauryn Hill, Common, Theaster Gates, Questlove, and Hebru Brantley. He was a 2017 Kartemquin Films Diverse Voices in Docs Fellow.

Ashley O'Shay, Director of Photography, is a Chicago-based filmmaker and Director of Photography. Her work focuses on illuminating marginalized voices. She specializes in immersive stories and recognizes the societal impact of observing life as is. O'Shay was a 2016 Kartemquin Films Diverse Voices in Docs Fellow.

Cai Thomas, Director of Photography, is a Chicago-based documentary filmmaker and Director of Photography telling vérité stories at the intersection of location, self-determination, and identity about Black youth and elders. Thomas was a 2019 Kartemquin Films Diverse Voices in Docs Fellow

Shuling Yong, Sound Recordist, is a Singapore-born, Chicago-based award-winning documentary filmmaker, DP, and Location Sound Recordist passionate about social change. Yong was selected as a DOCNYC “40 Under 40” honoree, a Newcity Film 50: Chicago Screen Gem, and a Tribeca Film Institute program alum. She was also a Fellow of the first Kartemquin Films Diverse Voices in Docs program in 2013.

ABOUT WINNING WORKS

The Winning Works choreographic competition was created to recognize talented and emerging ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American) artists to provide them with a platform to showcase their original and innovative work. Following a national call for artists, the choreographers will submit work to be performed by the Joffrey Academy Trainees and Studio Company, set to a commissioned score by a composer/collaborator. The winning choreographers are awarded a $5,000 stipend and are given the opportunity to seek guidance from The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director of The Joffrey Ballet Ashley Wheater MBE and Abbott Academy Director Suzanne Lopez. Since the program's inception in 2000, it has grown to become one of the most impactful components of the organization.

ABOUT THE JOFFREY ACADEMY OF DANCE  

Founded in 2010, the Joffrey Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, provides students of all ages, levels, and backgrounds with a world-class education built on a foundation of classical ballet.  

Based in the heart of Chicago's theater district, the 20,000-square-foot Exelon Education Center at Joffrey Tower, home to the Academy, boasts four state-of-the-art studios and facilities. In 2021, The Joffrey Ballet acquired two more state-of-the-art studios in the South Loop of Chicago.   

The Joffrey Academy received the Boeing Game Changer Award in recognition of its efforts to make dance accessible to everyone, and continuously works in collaboration with Joffrey's Community Engagement department to ensure aspiring dancers from all over the Chicago area have access to a first-class dance education.

Located in Chicago, Illinois, the Joffrey Academy is the only school that follows the organizational mission, training syllabi, and artistic vision of The Joffrey Ballet. No other program, including those holding the Joffrey name, is sanctioned by The Joffrey Ballet.  

For more information on the Joffrey Academy of Dance, the Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, and its programs, please visit joffrey.org/academy.




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