JAN. 31, 2024

Remi Harris, Program Specialist

Mentor Maria Bauman (l) with 2023 NYSCI Recipient Kris Seto (r)


Twelve upstate New York-based choreographers have been selected for the 2024 NYS Choreographers Initiative (NYSCI), a funding opportunity administered by The New York State DanceForce and the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA). For more information go to www.danceforce.org.

The NYS Choreographers Initiative is designed to help choreographers develop their skills by providing them with resources to advance their creative practice. The awardees each receive a $2,500 stipend, access to a mentor, and support for 20 hours of creative time with dancers and other collaborators of their choice. Each project is essentially a mini-residency, designed to fit the specific needs of each artist. Originally targeted at the Western New York region, the Choreographers Initiative expanded in 2022 to include the 55 upstate counties of New York State, and now serves choreographers who reside in the regions of Western NY, Central NY, Capital District/North Country, and Hudson Valley/Long Island.

“This extraordinary opportunity allows emerging choreographers to work in their own communities across Upstate New York,” said Erika Mallin, Executive Director of the New York State Council on the Arts.  “Congratulations to all the grantees, I hope each of your projects yields an exploration of your artistry and an expansion of your practice.”

KJ Holmes, a 2023 NYSCI Recipient, wrote: “NYSCI encouraged me to constantly remember I was in process, that this grant was not towards a finished product nor a performance. That it could be the seeds of something for the future, and that, during the time of the grant, I could try out many things. I appreciated that so much as it helped me to navigate from work I have made before and find what may be waiting for expression in new ways without discounting the many years I have accumulated as a dance artist.”

Another 2023 NYSCI Recipient, Kris Seto, commented: “This program has been a joy and a blessing. The time, space, resources, and support allowed me to meaningfully examine my practice and how/what I want to create—at a pivotal moment for me. My mentorship with Maria Bauman was an invaluable experience that gave me new tools, strategies, and a strengthened sense of self that will continue to feed me.”

The 2024 NYS Choreographers Initiative awardees are:

Central NY / Capital District / North Country
Mandy Caughey (mentor: Karen Fuhrman)
Christy Funsch (mentor: Julie Mayo)
Brian Lawson (mentor: Jason Ohlberg)
Sara Senecal (mentor: Rachel Lampert)

Hudson Valley / Long Island
Sondra Loring (mentor: Ann Carlson)
Jodi Melnick (mentor: Sarah Michelson)
Skyla Schreter (mentor: Adam Weinert)
Laura Victoria Ward (mentor: Paul Lazar)

Western NY
Jacqueline Cherry (mentor: Sakina Ibrahim)
Neyda Colon-DiMaria (mentor: Alison Clancy)
Natalia Lisina (mentor: Emma Scholl)
Angela Lopez (mentor: Alaina Olivieri)

Selection Committees 

Central NY / Capital District / North Country
Sukanya Burman
Margarita Espada
Joan Finkelstein
Norton Owen
Ivan Sygoda

Hudson Valley / Long Island
Sukanya Burman
Kim Engel
Elaine Gardner
James Lemons
Edisa Weeks

 Western NY
Hettie Barnhill
Kim Engel
Jeanne Goddard
Kris Seto
Ivan Sygoda

Photo by Jari Poulin
Mandy Caughey (mentor: Karen Fuhrman)

MeeAe Caughey is a Butoh-inspired Dancer, Choreographer and Video Artist. She graduated from Bard College in 2000 with a BA in Drama & Dance and moved to New York City in 2001, where she was awarded full scholarship to train at Peridance.Center. In 2004 she launched her performance career with Vangeline Theater, Big Art Group, Proto-type Theater, Jenni Hong, Abigail Levine, and Malinda Allen. She has worked with musicians Mike Gordon (Phish), Theo Kogan (Lunachicks), Jamie Lidell, and Dana Schechter (Swans) and video artists Rob Roth and Timothy Saccenti. She has performed in venues such as P.S.122, Dance Theater Workshop, Abrons Arts Center, The Kitchen, Joyce SoHo, HERE Arts Center, Dixon Place, Chashama, Theater for the New City, and Triskelion Arts. She has also performed throughout Europe, Canada, and the U.S. in theaters, festivals, clubs, museums and music videos.

MeeAe moved to Ithaca, NY in 2009 where she began to develop her choreography and collaborated with painters, musicians and photographers. She also produced numerous dance events and taught movement both locally and non-locally (Bard College and Auburn Correctional Facility via Cornell Prison Education Program). She has been featured in the New York Times, and has received funding from Community Arts Partnership and NYS DanceForce. MeeAe utilizes dance as an engine to empower and bring visibility to marginalized communities.
Jacqueline Cherry (mentor: Sakina Ibrahim)

Jacqueline Cherry is a versatile artist with a diverse background spanning dance, graphic design, and event organization. She earned her Master of Fine Arts in Dance from the University at Buffalo, specializing in Ballet, Modern, Contemporary, and Jazz styles, from 2019 to 2022. Her journey into the arts began at Buffalo State College, where she completed her
Bachelor of Arts in Arts and Letters, majoring in Dance and Theater, mastering a wide array of dance genres.

Jacqueline's dedication to her craft has been recognized through various awards and fellowships, including the Second Place Pitch for the Cause Award and the Celebration of Student Academic Excellence Award. She also participated in the SCoRE-CMBM 100k Acts of Solidarity Fellowship Program.

With a passion for dance and arts management, Jacqueline has organized events, such as Embodiology, Space Artist Workshops, and Center Dance Youth Performance Workshops, showcasing her ability to connect artists and secure funding.

Currently serving as the Executive Assistant for the MahataMmoho Collective, she manages marketing, social media, and website content. Jacqueline also directed the Modern and Contemporary Dance department at the African American Cultural Center.

As a performer, Jacqueline has graced stages with her acting, dancing, and singing talents, appearing in productions like "Passing Strange" and "Gospel at Colonus." Her contributions as a dance instructor, choreographer, and liturgical dancer demonstrate her commitment to the arts. Jacqueline Cherry's multidimensional expertise continues to enrich the artistic landscape. You can find her work by visiting linktr.ee/jacqwae.

Photo by Bryant Mercedes
Neyda Colón-DiMaria (mentor: Alison Clancy)

Neyda Colón-DiMaria is a freelance Teaching, Performing, and Creating Artist from Rochester, New York. As a student she trained at the Rochester School of The Arts and Puerto Rican based group Borinquen Dance Theatre. Neyda also had the privilege of teaching at both places for master classes and as a lead teacher. She has been teaching students of all ages modern and latin/afro-caribbean dance styles for about 6 years now and leads a bilingual poetry class in the summers to middle school students. Beyond the ‘classroom’, Neyda has choreographed for many local dance festivals and performances including the Rochester Fringe Festival in 2017, 2022, and 2023. Her work ranges from modern to latin to hip hop, often fusing spoken word with movement. No matter the style, she aims to tell stories and to connect with the audience and community through her work.

Photo by Noah Lewis
Christy Funsch (mentor: Julie Mayo)

Christy Funsch founded Funsch Dance in 2002 and has since presented thirteen full-length concerts. FD has been presented in New York City, Amsterdam, Portland, OR; Chicago, Lisbon, London, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Richmond, Tempe, Toronto, and throughout California. Her choreographic trajectory has evolved from emotionally driven narrative pieces (Daisy, 2002), to genre-blending theatrical works (Boy Blue, 2004; To Mifune, 2007), to somatic improvisation (Box Elder, 2009), to a process wherein questions drive the creative process (This is the Girl, 2014; Le Grand Spectacle, 2016). Christy received her BA from Hamilton College where she was the first student in Hamilton College history to be awarded a Senior Fellowship in Dance. Christy later earned an MFA from Arizona State University where she studied with Daniel Nagrin. Christy has been awarded residencies at Djerassi, U Cross, Yaddo, and Subcircle. Christy was a participating member of the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company’s cross national CHIME (Choreographers in Mentorship Exchange) program with mentor Tere O’Connor in 2013. In 2014, she was named one of “25 to Watch” by Dance Magazine. In 2015, she became the first woman to be granted permission to learn and perform Daniel Nagrin’s iconic solo from 1965, Path. She regularly hosts Wrecking sessions, based on Susan Rethorst's model for re-imagining dance, and she developed a 100 Days Score to support individual home practice. Christy was a Fulbright Scholar at the Escola Superior de Dança in Lisbon, Portugal in 2019. Her ground-breaking 12-hour EPOCH premiered in 2021.

Photo by Maria Baranova
Brian Lawson (mentor: Jason Ohlberg)

BRIAN LAWSON is a dance performer and educator who began dancing in Toronto, Canada. In 2005, he spent a year at Codarts in Rotterdam and subsequently began his degree at SUNY Purchase. While studying, he performed with Douglas Dunn and Dancers and as a supplemental dancer for the Mark Morris Dance Group. He graduated summa cum laude from
Purchase in 2010 with a B.F.A. in dance performance and received the President's Award in Modern Dance. He became a member of the Mark Morris Dance Group in 2011 and had the great pleasure of touring the United States and the world performing Morris' dances. Brian left MMDG to earn his M.F.A. from the University of Washington, where he graduated in 2020. Since graduating he has been on faculty at Cornish College of the Arts.

Lawson enjoys teaching dance to diverse populations and has given masterclasses at Purchase College, NYU Tisch, and the American Dance Festival among others. Recently he partook in the Merce Cunningham Trust's event, Night of 100 Solos, and subsequently became a certified teacher of the Cunningham technique. Currently he is a member of Pam Tanowitz Dance and acts as a visiting assistant professor at Skidmore College.

Working as a both a solo and collaborative choreographer, Lawson’s dances have been presented at Skidmore College, Sam Houston State University and Match Theater in Houston, TX. His ongoing research with Adele Nickel queers ballet’s forms in an effort to redefine who belongs to ballet.

Photo by Masha Bogdanova
Natalia Lisina (mentor: Emma Scholl)

Natalia Lisina is a choreographer, performer, dance educator and Pilates instructor.

Natalia Lisina was born in Kazan, Russia. She received her bachelor’s degree in dance at Kazan State University of Culture and the Arts. In addition to the American Dance Festival, with a subsequent performance at the Joyce SoHo in New York, Lisina has participated in training workshops and festivals internationally (Paris, Moscow, Vilnius). Lisina continued her dance education at North Karelia College, in Outokumpu, Finland, subsequently spending a year in the United States in an intensive English language program. In 2014 Lisina completed the three-year Professional Training Program at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre, working with teachers and choreographers such as Johanna Bergfelt, Susanna Hood, Patricia Miner, Sharon B. Moore, Darryl Tracy, and others, receiving the Kathryn Ash Scholarship during her final year. A post-graduation solo was created on her by choreographer Sharon B. Moore. She received her MFA in dance in 2022 from SUNY Brockport, NY, for which she completed the thesis study (with a live performance), From Dead Spaces to Live Places: The Transforming Power of Dialogue in Site-Specific Dance, supported by the Distinguished Professors Award for Grad Student Research.

From 2014-2015 she danced as a member of the chamber ballet Pantera under artistic director Nail Ibragimov, in Kazan, Russia, where she met guest choreographer Shawn Womack, Professor of Dance from Colorado College. During this year, as a member of Pantera Lisina danced in three shows (with multiple performances) in Kazan as well as in Saransk.
Currently Lisina resides in Rochester, New York, where she is a member of BIODANCE company under the artistic direction of Missy Pfohl Smith. With BIODANCE, since 2016 she has performed in numerous works, including Anomaly (2016), The Fragile Corridor (2019), Pilgrimage (2020), among others.

In addition to her work with BIODANCE, Lisina is busy in collaborations with various independent artists, such as Ann Wilcox, Rose Pasquarello Beauchamp, Laurie MacFarlane (a past recipient of the NYS Choreographers Initiative award), Nanako Horikawa Mandrino, and Ruben Ornelas. She choreographed and co-produced the full-length dance show “Fables and Histories” with Nanako Horikawa Mandrino for the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival 2017.

As well, Lisina choreographs her own works, involving both student and professional artists (dancers, musicians) from the local community. Among these, works for the stage include About What is the Current Silent? (2015), Sacre Coeur (2015), and Disquieted Choices (2018). Works for film, completed primarily during the global pandemic, include Russian Tea in Absentia, and Lullaby (both in 2020). Building on her recent research, she continues to explore new possibilities in the field of site-specific dance. In the Fall 2022 she choreographed the full length, site-specific work If These Walls Could Speak… in the ruins of St. Joseph Church, now converted to a park under the care of the Landmark Society of Western New York.

Lisina serves as an occasional adjunct instructor in the Theater and Dance Program at Nazareth College in Rochester. Most recently, Lisina completed training and certification as a Pilates instructor, at Evolution Pilates, under the direction of Michelle Pritchard.

Photo by Annette Dragon
Angela Lopez (mentor: Alaina Olivieri)

an0th3r.l0p3z is an interdisciplinary performing artist active in Western New York, who navigates a choreographic and performance practice that embraces an inclusive, post-genre movement vocabulary. This approach is manifested through generative, devised, and improvisational works, reflecting their commitment to diverse and genre-defying expression.

Collaborating with artists Laurie MacFarlane, Ruben Ornelas, and Daystar Rosalie Jones, they contribute to both Commotion Dance Theater and Daystar Contemporary Dance Company. Additionally they are a member of The Others, a queer performance group directed by Charlie Finan, and have toured in Kyla Kegler's MOUNTAINS project. In co-creating with Nancy Hughes of CenterDance across various mediums, including dance on film, site-specific performance, and contact improvisation, they extend their practice as an instructor, collaborator, director and performer.

This year, they took on the role of primary facilitator for TangleLAB - a movement laboratory focused on devising interactive dance performances; generating conceptual work centered around the theme of entanglements—ecological, quantum, and social.

They also extend their collaborative endeavors to include live music, frequently joining the experimental music group Plant Water and collaborating with pianist Yosihiko Arahata, among others.

Through kinetic expression and embodied exploration they hope to locate the role of dance within metamodernity.
Sondra Loring (mentor: Ann Carlson)

Sondra Loring has been part of the New York dance scene since 1982, earning a Bessie (NY Dance and Performance Award) in 1996 for her work as an improviser, writer, teacher, and performer, particularly in her work with David Rousseve and Neil Greenberg, as well as other notable choreographers. Her own dance productions have been featured in NYC at venues like Danspace Project, DTW, BAM, Movement Research at the Judson Church, Joyce Soho, and PS122, as well as in Mexico, Venezuela, Nova Scotia, and various locations across the United States. Notably, she secured the Meet the Composer commission and a grant from the US/Mexico Fund for Culture for her piece El Puente/The Bridge.

In 1992, Loring co-founded the annual Improvisation Festival/NY, a two-week program comprising workshops, classes, 'jams,' and performances by national and international improvisers. She also founded and edited JUICE, an underground dance journal in NYC.

Upon relocating to the Hudson Valley, Loring has been actively involved in the local dance scene, organizing performances and educational events for the community. She has directed site-specific events at locations such as the Pocketbook Factory, Basilica Industria, Olana State Historic Site, and the Saugerties Lighthouse. Her choreography has been featured in several Bard concert performances, showcasing her ongoing collaborations with artists from diverse disciplines, including music, film, spoken word, and visual art.

Amid the challenges of the pandemic, Sondra ventured into dance filmmaking with her debut, Threshold, and organized two community outdoor dance events at Hudson Riverfront Park as part of Waterfront Wednesdays.

Beyond dance, Sondra serves as the director of the Sadhana Center for Yoga and Meditation, and founded MovingPotential, bringing yoga to correctional facilities, local jails, and recovery centers.

Photo by Doris Reyes
Jodi Melnick (mentor: Sarah Michelson)

The profound expression of the dancing body and lucid performing instincts drive my creative process. I’m deeply invested in how dance can be akin to a living text and how the work is transformed through the phenomenon of dancing.

My work has been presented at Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Little Island, The Joyce Theater, City Center, the Kitchen, New York Live Arts, The Guggenheim Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Spoleto Festival, Jacobs Pillow, The Dublin Dance Festival, Bard College, throughout Ireland, Estonia, Russia, and Japan. Most recently, 2023, I premiered new works at Hudson Hall, Hudson, NY, The Al Held Foundation, Boiceville, NY, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, the University of Chicago, and at the Belltable. Limerick, Ireland.

Since May 2020, I have spent most of my time living in Dutchess County, enthralled with the landscape of the Hudson Valley, connecting to the dance community, making work, not only for the proscenium stage but in quarries, beaches, driveways, and salt sheds to name a few.

I’ve danced in the Twyla Tharp Dance Company (90’-94’,09’), with Mikhail Baryshnikov (2005-08’), creating a trio with Donna Uchizono, and continue creative experiences with Sara Rudner, David Neumann, Liz Roche, Maya Lee-Parrtiz, Beth Gill, Yoshiko Chuma, Rashaun Mitchell, Silas Reiner, Claudia La Rocca, Jon Kinzel, Charles Atlas, and playwriter Sibyl Kempston. I spent a significant time assisting Trisha Brown and had the privilege collaborating and performing our solo work. Conversations and studio time will all these dance luminaries has shaped my career and I continue to pass on the importance of maintaining this practice, keeping the studio culture verdant.

With this rich history of dancing, collaborating, and freelancing, I’ve garnered the importance of inclusion in my own work, pushing my post -modern sensibilities and engagement with other dance disciplines, and backgrounds including middle school and high school movement programs and creating work on dancers Sara Mearns, Taylor Stanley, Lauren Lovett, Jared Angle (NYCBallet principals ), and Devon Tuescher (American Ballet Theater principal). Honors include, Doris Duke Impact Award, Guggenheim Fellow, Jerome Robbins New Essential Works Grant, Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grant, two Bessie Awards, Gibney’s DIP Residency Grant, Lower Manhattan Cultural Center 2 -year extended Life Grant, and Center for Ballet Arts Fellow.

Currently, I teach at Barnard College, Sarah Lawrence College, and guest at The Trevor Day School.

Photo by Meghan Spiro
Skyla Schreter (mentor: Adam Weinert)

Skyla Schreter is a New-York based choreographer and multi-disciplinary artist, formerly a dancer with San Francisco Ballet for six seasons, where she created original roles in works by contemporary ballet choreographers including William Forsythe, Justin Peck, Cathy Marston and David Dawson, to name a few. Now recognized as a promising emerging choreographer with a distinctive voice, Skyla has created several original commissions including for the Fire Island Dance Festival and the Hudson Valley Dance Festival, as well an evening-length work for the Hudson Eye Festival, a contemporary art festival located in Hudson, NY. Skyla has also been recognized for her work in directing and choreographing dance films. Her 2019 film, titled “A Flower” which she produced, directed and choreographed, was nominated for several film festivals and won an Audience Choice Award at the Utah Dance Film Festival in 2020. Skyla's choreographic style is rooted in the form of ballet, yet it synthesizes elements from various genres of dance, art and culture - often incorporating new media, visual art and soundscape. In 2023, Skyla founded Skyla Schreter Dance, a grassroots collective of dancers and artists that uses dance as a platform to create and share innovative, multi-disciplinary works. In addition to her choreography, Skyla is an Adjunct Professor of Dance at Vassar College, and a Co-Founder of LotusWorks Gallery, a community art space serving local artists in Beacon, NY.

Photo by Gary Gold
Sara Senecal (mentor: Rachel Lampert)

SARA SENECAL holds an MFA in Choreography from Jacksonville University where she graduated with distinction as a member of Phi Kappa Phi in advanced research in choreography with a focus in non-representational methodologies with regard to subjectivity and objectivity. Sara also holds a BA in Dance and a minor in Education from the University at Buffalo. She has presented choreography at many locations across NYS such as The Poet’s Den in Harlem, Cohoes Music Hall, Byrdcliffe Theatre in Woodstock, The Carrier Theater in Syracuse, and The Egg PAC. She was commissioned in 2024 by the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company to create a new work. In 2018, she was the winner of Nacre’s “So You Think You Can Choreograph” Showcase in Saratoga Springs. She has been presenting solo choreographic works with an emphasis on performer/audience dynamics, most recently at Art Society Kingston. Sara joined the faculty of Russell Sage College in 2018 and is full time faculty and the coordinator of dance programming. She is originally from Schenectady, NY where she studied at Merritt Dance Center under Mara and Marlene Merritt. Sara has been with the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company since 2010 and is an Arts in Education Coordinator for the company. She and her husband celebrated their son’s second birthday this past October.

Photo by Deep Tanks
Laura Victoria Ward (mentor: Paul Lazar)

Laura Victoria Ward is the artistic director of Octavia Cup Dance Theatre, a maximalist, multi-disciplinary, multi-generational, company. She has been creating dance theater and performing in the Hudson Valley, New York City, and internationally for over 30 years. Works include Dances for the Goddess at WAX, Bkln, L’Aigle Noir, Enredaderas: Entanglements, Merce Cunningham, L’Eau d’Europe, Secret Theatre, Queens, NY, The Dreaming, NYC Fringe, Candy Warhol and the Nest of Troubles, MAPS and Warp Lake, MMAC, Echo and Shadow, Edinburgh Fringe, L’Aigle Noir, Avignon, France, Dance on the Rocks, Tubby’s, Kingston, NY. The company participates yearly in Earth Celebrations Eco Pageant in the East Village, NYC, and works with Tonus Maximus and the Glam Rock Cabaret performing at music venues and festivals in the Hudson Valley. In 2022 Laura collaborated with the Scottish group OceanAllOver, performing at Theatre for the New City in New York and Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Art (2023).

Laura has choreographed for Ramapo College, NJ, credits include Ride the Cyclone, Miss Julie (KCACTF Award for Choreography), Twelfth Night, Spring Awakening, Urinetown, and Church (KCACTF Award for Choreography).

In 2023 Laura directed movement for the The Goddess Party, at O+Postitive in Kingston, NY and Opus 40 in Saugerties, NY, and made dance for Dutchess Community College and Sinterklaas in Rhinebeck. In 2022 she played Columbia in R’Ville Stage Creations Rocky Horror Picture Show.

About the New York State Council on the Arts

The mission of the New York State Council on the Arts is to foster and advance the full breadth of New York State’s arts, culture, and creativity for all. To support the ongoing recovery of the arts across New York State, the Council on the Arts will award $127 million in FY 2024, serving over 2,000 arts organizations and artists across all 10 state regions. The Council on the Arts further advances New York’s creative culture by convening leaders in the field and providing organizational and professional development opportunities and informational resources. Created by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1960 and continued with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature, the Council is an agency that is part of the Executive Branch. For more information on NYSCA, please visit www.arts.ny.gov, and follow NYSCA’s Facebook page, on X @NYSCArts and Instagram @NYSCouncilontheArts.