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The National Center For Choreography-Akron Supports Minnesota-Based Artists Through McKnight Fellowships

McKnight Fellowships for Choreographers provides fellowship awards to mid-career choreographers in Minnesota.

The National Center For Choreography-Akron Supports Minnesota-Based Artists Through McKnight Fellowships

The National Center for Choreography - Akron (NCCAkron) shares updates on recent collaborative residencies with MN-based dance artists, funded by the McKnight Fellowship Program for Choreographers.

As part of this strategic initiative, NCCAkron aggregates resources with the McKnight Fellowship Program to offer development opportunities to mid-career artists awarded the Fellowship. The most recent recipients include Paula Mann (Time Track Productions), Megan Mayer, Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy (Ragamala Dance Company), Ashwini Ramaswamy, Kaz K Sherman, Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder (HIJACK), and Taja Will.

McKnight Fellowships for Choreographers provides fellowship awards to mid-career choreographers in Minnesota. The McKnight Fellowships for Choreographers are designed to enrich and strengthen the Minnesota arts community by acknowledging the accomplishments of individual choreographers and providing for their artistic growth. The Fellowships annually awards three $25,000 fellowships to Minnesota choreographers. The awards are unrestricted and can help an artist set aside periods of time for study, reflection, experimentation, and exploration; take advantage of an opportunity; or work on a new project. The Fellowship Program is housed at the Cowles Center and funded by the McKnight Foundation.

In addition to the unrestricted monetary award, McKnight also connects recent fellows with different kinds of residency partners. The invitation includes an additional $7,500 from McKnight with the expectation of a match from the residency partner. NCCAkron has been a residency partner since 2019.

"Working with and the input we've received from McKnight Choreographers has helped us create adaptive opportunities and facilitated reciprocal experiences to inform all of our other programs. Both artist and organization are changed," NCCAkron Executive/Artistic Director Christy Bolingbroke remarked. "NCCAkron curatorial values commit to operate from abundance and to center experimentation. Practicing the aggregation of resources to ask not only 'what do you want to do?' but 'what can we realize together?' has further grounded these values."

McKnight Fellowship Program Director Dana Kassel agrees, "The Choreography Fellows have diverse needs for their work, and the most productive support can be found in flexible and creative thinking from a residency host site. NCCAkron has been beautifully responsive to these needs, and often helps the choreographer envision and create entirely new paths forward for their work."

The McKnight Fellowships for Choreographers program partnership with NCCAkron comes to a close in 2023-24. "We can't overstate our gratitude for the McKnight Fellowship Program's investment and collaboration," shared NCCAkron Board Member and Development Committee Chair DeMarcus Akeem Suggs (Minneapolis, MN). "NCCAkron is committed to both learning from and building on the success of this collaborative investment. As wonderful as it has been to witness the Twin Cities dance community receive support and amplification, I'm excited that NCCAkron has this model to guide the cultivation of new partnerships that will benefit even more artists and dance communities throughout the country."

Residencies & Artist Activities (in the order of appearance at NCCAkron)

Megan Mayer (2016 McKnight Choreography Fellow) came to NCCAkron in July 2019 to develop (FW) Redux, a dance for four performers, including Mayer, Charles Campbell, Matt Regan, and Greg Waletski, with additional sound design by Matt Regan. (FW) Redux asked: How best to deal with anxiety in such a troubled time? How do we persist when we're all broken? What can we contribute during this time of racial/political/artistic unease? Who gets to claim and define gender? During the residency, NCCAkron organized a national focus group with McKnight representative (at the time) Mary Ellen Childs, dance writer Lauren Warnecke, artist/administrator Sara Juli, and presenter Brian Rogers to explore and discuss shifting contexts for Mayer's work.

Taja Will (2018 McKnight Choreography Fellow) was initially slated to be in creative residence for Blood Language in April 2020. Due to COVID-19, Will instead collaborated and worked with NCCAkron in many different forms. Activities included virtual guest teaching as part of the 21st Century Dance Practices survey series, speaking as a podcast guest on an episode of Inside the Dancer's Studio, and designing choreographic prompts for NCCAkron's Residency in a Box in August 2020. Will also created and developed their feature-length film LÍNEAS de SANGRE, with the filmmaker Sequoia Hauck, over three phases in five months during a Satellite Residency in early 2021.

Paula Mann (2019 McKnight Choreography Fellow) taught University of Akron students as part of 21st Century Dance Practices and was also interviewed by Christy Bolingbroke for the Inside the Dancer's Studio conversation series in 2021.? In May 2022, Mann brought five artists to Akron, including Leila Awadallah, Erika Martin, Carmen Lucia Lincoln, Johnathan Surber, and Roxanne Wallace. While in residence, they developed Towards Utopia, a contemporary dance performance exploring the desire to create a more perfect world, charting the emotional struggles of individualism versus the group dynamic and seeking a common purpose toward an equitable future.

Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder of HIJACK (2020 McKnight Choreography Fellows) were in residence at NCCAkron in August 2022. The artists developed their new work SWAY, collaborating with dancer Jules G. Bither and visual artist Rachel Youn. In an auditorium theater, they explored self-directed light and interacted with 24 animated artificial plant sculptures. They dedicated a day to video documenting the work with video artist Kevin Obsatz. At the residency's close, they shared excerpts of SWAY in a public work-in-process showing, followed by an ice cream social at Chill Artisan Ice Cream with their very own featured flavor.

Ashwini Ramaswamy (2019 McKnight Choreography Fellow) originally came to NCCAkron in October 2019 for a National Dance Project-funded technical residency in support of her work Let the Crows Come. Ramaswamy then chose to return to NCCAkron as part of her McKnight Fellowship, to continue this choreographic inquiry and develop her next dance work, Invisible Cities. In 2021-22, Ramaswamy hosted an early investigative session as a Satellite Residency in the Twin Cities and also participated in 21st Century Dance Practices. She translated Bharatanatyam principles to contemporary dance students at UA and professional company Groundworks Dance Theatre (Cleveland, OH) and contributed to Inside the Dancer's Studio. In September 2022, Ramaswamy brought her lead collaborating artists Kevork Mourad (visual artist), Berit Ahlgren (dancer/choreographer), Alanna Morris (dancer/choreographer), Joseph Tran (dancer/choreographer), and Gemma Isaacson (dancer) to work all together in Akron.

Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy of Ragamala Dance Company (2020 McKnight Choreography Fellows) are the collaborative leadership duo behind Ragamala Dance Company. They are working with NCCAkron to convene domestic and international presenters around the question, "what constitutes American dance?" These focus group conversations will be facilitated by NCCAkron and take place alongside their upcoming tour of Fires of Varanasi in February and March 2023.

Kaz K Sherman (2020 McKnight Choreography Fellow) is working towards an upcoming creative residency in summer/fall 2023, exploring hospital workplace culture and the hospicing of people, animals, and careers.

About the McKnight Foundation Artist Fellowship Program

Founded on the belief that Minnesota thrives when its artists thrive, the McKnight Foundation's arts program is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the country. Support for individual working Minnesota artists has been a cornerstone of the program since it began in 1982. The McKnight Artist Fellowships Program provides annual, unrestricted cash awards to outstanding mid-career Minnesota artists in 15 different creative disciplines. Program partner organizations administer the fellowships and structure them to respond to the unique challenges of different disciplines. Currently the foundation contributes about $2.8 million per year to its statewide fellowships. For more information, visit

The National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron supports the research and development of new work in dance by exploring the full potential of the creative process. In addition to offering studio and technical residencies to make new work, activities focus on catalyzing dialogue and experimentation; creating proximity among artists and dance thinkers; and aggregating resources around dance making. For more information, visit

Photo credit: Ashwini Ramaswamy at NCCAkron; photo by W. TannerYoung.

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