Category Academy

Includes the addition of a first-ever Chicago-based choreographer, March 8 - 10, 15-17 at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Edlis Neeson Theater.

The Joffrey Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, presents five world premieres in the culmination of Joffrey's national call for ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American) artists to submit applications for the Joffrey Academy's Winning Works Choreographic Competition. In addition to an added weekend of performances, new to this year's program is the selection of a first-ever Chicago-based choreographer as a fifth candidate, set on the students of the Joffrey Conservatory Program, a preliminary training program for aspiring Trainee dancers ages 14 to 18. This year's Competition winners— Jainil Mehta, Martha Nichols, Manoela Gonçalves, Houston Thomas, and Chicago-based winner Xavier Núñez (Recipient of the Zach Lazar Winning Works Fellowship), each will choreograph an original work created for the Joffrey Academy Trainees and Studio Company, to a commissioned score by a chosen composer collaborator.

"In my first year at the helm, it's a privilege to lead the Academy through a new era of innovation, and Winning Works is steadfast in its advancement. This year especially, with the addition of a Chicago-based fifth choreographer," says Abbott Academy Director Suzanne Lopez. "Jainil, Martha, Manoela, Houston, and Xavier each possess unique backgrounds with exceptional artistic talent. With its track record of launching professional dance careers, Winning Works embodies the Joffrey Academy's commitment to propelling the next generation of choreographers, and I look forward to sharing their inspiring works.”

"Our commitment to Winning Works celebrates emerging voices, which has been an initiative of monumental importance over the last fourteen years,” said The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director Ashley Wheater MBE. "Suzanne has beautifully curated a program that allows these cutting-edge choreographers to push boundaries and explore uncharted territories in their art forms while working alongside Academy students on world premieres. Each choreographer's impressive storytelling and vision will undoubtedly further the legacy of this program as a driving force for ingenuity in dance."

"The impact of Winning Works continues to amplify our ongoing commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion in Chicago's vibrant arts community, which the Joffrey has called home for almost 30 years," says President and CEO Greg Cameron. "This season, we are particularly excited to add a Chicago-based fifth choreographer, furthering our dedication to artists, students, and institutions that make our city stronger. Similarly, we are on a parallel track toward expanding our partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art by adding a second week of performances, deepening and enriching our roots in Chicago through our organization's collective missions."

Due to popular demand, a second weekend of performances has been added this year. Winning Works will be presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s Edlis Neeson Theater (220 E. Chicago Avenue) on Friday, March 8 at 7:30 PM, Saturday, March 9 at 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM and Sunday, March 10, at 2:00 PM; and Friday, March 15 at 7:30 PM, Saturday, March 16 at 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM, and Sunday, March 17 at 2:00 PM. for Winning Works are $30 and are currently on sale at The world premiere works will also be available to view virtually following the in-person performances.   

About the Program 

Manoela Gonçalves, born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, is a multi-disciplinary artist passionate about collaboration, connecting people, and weaving their unique stories into her work. After graduating from Maria Olenewa School from Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, a scholarship was her gateway to London. During her time with the Zurich Ballett as a dancer, she created her first piece with Esther Pérez, Frida, for Young Choreographers, performed at the Zurich Opera House, where she received the Tanzpreis der Freunde des Balletts Zürich (Friends of the Ballet Zurich Award) that same year. 

Last year, Gonçalves created Benteveo for the soloist Alessandro Cavallo, which received international recognition after being performed in Italy. Her work bridges the worlds of dance, film, and music through choreographing music videos for international artists, including Nightbell and Maria for Kerala Dust, in collaboration with artists from the Nederlands Dans Theater, Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal, Bayerisches Staatsballet, Ballett Zürich and many more. As a director, Gonçalves’s film Lisa was featured at the San Francisco Dance Film Festival and the LA Dance Film Festival in 2021. Gonçalves’s dance journey has taken her through European ballet companies, including the Bayerisches Staatsballett in Munich, Leipziger Ballett, and Béjart Ballet in Lausanne, where she currently resides in Switzerland.

Jainil Mehta, originally from Mumbai, India, is a former company dancer with Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company. He trained at Shiamak Davar International in Mumbai, India, for thirteen years and graduated Summa Cum Laude with his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance from the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance with a Discovery Scholars Distinction. He has learned and performed works by esteemed choreographers like William Forsythe, Jiří Kylián, Jodie Gates, Barak Marshall, Alejandro Cerrudo, Dwight Rhoden, and Matthew Neenan. He has been featured in national press, including BBC News, Good Morning America, India Times, Brut India, Elle India, Hindustan Times, Official Humans of Bombay, and Quint, on his confidence and courage to break gender stereotypes within the Indian community. Mehta has choreographed music videos for artists such as Big Wild’s 6’s to 9’s and Falguni Pathak’s Jode Rahejo Raaj, in addition to teaching dance classes online and in person across India, Pakistan, China, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, and the United States. Mehta was recently selected as a choreographer at the Playdate Residency, funded by the National Endowment of the Arts, and has choreographed and designed four dance productions, Ctrl Alt Delete (2023), DECODED (2018), Alankar (2017), and Chimera (2015).

Martha Nichols, recipient of the 2021 Princess Grace, Brian, and Amy France Choreography Honor, is an award-winning choreographer, notable dancer, master teacher, dynamic speaker, and multifaceted artist who believes dance is an experience. Her credits include Spirited (Apple TV+), In The Heights the movie, 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 Broadway, and more.

In addition to her work in the commercial industry, Nichols has been commissioned by Point Park University, Boston Conservatory, and Pace University, as well as directing and choreographing her first full-length evening work, The Wider Sun, with her project-based company, Martha Nichols Dance. She is the 2016 Capezio A.C.E. Award winner for choreographic excellence, one of Dance magazine’s Top 25 to Watch, and can be found in numerous dance publications. Recently, Nichols wrapped as Associate Choreographer on Disney’s newest live-action film, Snow White, to be released in 2024.

Xavier Núñez (Recipient of the Zach Lazar Winning Works Fellowship), born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, embarked on his dance journey at age ten at The Hartt Community Dance Division in Hartford, Connecticut, becoming the first dancer in his family. He continued training at the International Ballet Academy in Cary, NC, under Miguel Campaneria in 2010. In 2012, he earned the silver medal at the World Ballet Competition, propelling him to join the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company under the guidance of Kevin McKenzie and Franco De Vita. He performed in international galas in Italy and France, performing George Balanchine’s Tarantella and Alexei Ratmansky’s Le Carnaval Des AnimauxNúñez's path led him to The Tulsa Ballet in 2013, where he performed in productions including The Sleeping Beauty, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Cinderella. 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.

In 2018, Núñez proudly became a member of the Joffrey Ballet, a momentous step in his career. Since then, he has been privileged to grace the stage in lead roles, performing in acclaimed productions such as 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 video production company, with talented peers Dylan Gutierrez and Eric Grant.

Houston Thomas, born and raised in Chicago, 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 while also studying at the Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts) under the direction of Lisa Johnson-Willingham. In 2011, Houston enrolled as a full-time student at the School of American Ballet, and after completing his training at SAB in 2013, Thomas joined the Dresden Semperoper Ballett, rising to the ranking of second soloist. After ten years with the company, Thomas decided to focus on choreography entirely, and in 2018, Thomas created his first work, Moonlit Variants, for the Semperoper Ballett's Young Choreographers evening. 

In his first work for the New York Choreographic Institute in 2020, Thomas collaborated with NYCB Dancers in the film An Afternoon of Angelic Voices. Thomas created his second work with NYCI, The Return Studies, for its 2021 Fall Session, featuring NYCB dancers and SAB students. Thomas has since created works for Cincinnati Ballet, The Juilliard School, the School of American Ballet, ABT Studio Co., Hamptons Dance Project, Marcelo Gomes, and Ballet San Antonio. In July of 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. 

Former winners of the Winning Works competition include Jeffrey Cirio (2016), current Lead Principal Dancer with Boston Ballet, Chanel DaSilva (2020), who choreographed a critically acclaimed world premiere for Joffrey’s 2022-23 season opener Beyond Borders, Amy Hall Garner (2011), the choreographer of the free touring work for families Rita Finds Home co-produced by Joffrey and the Miami City Ballet, Stephanie Martinez (2015), a featured choreographer on the Joffrey’s winter program The Times Are Racing, and Claudia Schreier (2018), Ballet Master to Juilliard President Damian Woetzel.   

The Joffrey Ballet gratefully acknowledges the generous support of Winning Works Sponsors Wilson Garling Foundation, and William Blair with Joffrey Board Member Rita Spitz. William Blair is the premier global boutique with expertise in investment banking, investment management, and private wealth management.  

Generously sponsored by Patti Eylar.

Ticket Information  

Tickets for Winning Works at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s Edlis Neeson Theater are $30 and can be purchased at Performances take place on Friday, March 8 at 7:30 PM, Saturday, March 9 at 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM and Sunday, March 10, at 2:00 PM; and Friday, March 15 at 7:30 PM, Saturday, March 16 at 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM, and Sunday, March 17 at 2:00 PM.

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 distinguished honor of being named four-time Outstanding School by the Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest international student ballet competition, and the Boeing Game Changer Award in recognition of its efforts to make dance accessible to everyone.  

The Joffrey Academy, located in Chicago, Illinois, 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 Connect with the Joffrey on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.