New York University: The Center for Ballet and the Arts and National Sawdust Welcome Six New Fellows in Toulmin Foundation Partnership Program

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 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.
About the Fellows
Adji Cissoko, Dancer, Alonzo King LINES Ballet
Collaborators: Youba Cissokho, Kora player; and Dancers, Babatunji Johnson, and Stefanie Tsabar

Adji Cissoko by Karolina Kuras

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.

Val Jeantyn by Richard Louissaint

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 by Michael Yu

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.

Tiffany Rea-Fisher by Ayodele Casel

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

Emily Wells by Rachel Stern

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.

Kara Wilkes by Quinn B. Wharton

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.

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