Category Academy

Includes the addition of a first-ever Chicago-based choreographer and three added performances from previous years

CHICAGO – February 12, 2024 – The Joffrey Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, presents four world premieres for the 14th annual Winning Works Choreographic Competition. Following the Joffrey’s national call for ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American) artists to submit applications for the competition, this year’s winners include— 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 for the Joffrey Academy Trainees and Studio Company, featuring a commissioned score by a chosen composer collaborator. With three additional performances added this year due to popular demand, Winning Works will be presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s Edlis Neeson Theater (220 E. Chicago Avenue) on March 8-10 and March 15-17, 2024. Tickets for Winning Works are $30 and are currently on sale at

"Winning Works, now in its 14th year, 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 and uplifts the next generation of artists. We are especially grateful to Zach Lazar, for his stellar leadership as previous Chair of the Board and are honored to name Xavier Núñez as the Zach Lazar fellow. We also look forward to extending our stay at the MCA for an additional weekend due to the competition's growing popularity among Chicago audiences."

"Winning Works propels emerging artists forward, and, in turn, shapes the future of dance," says The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director Ashley Wheater MBE. "One of this year's winners, Houston, personifies the pipeline we have developed for artists, having started with outreach classes in our Community Engagement program, moving through our Joffrey Academy, and now presenting a world premiere for Winning Works. It is a delight to welcome Houston back to the Joffrey, in addition to working in this new capacity with Xavier, Joffrey Company Artist, while introducing Jainil, Martha, and Manoela to Chicago audiences."

"This year's program of choreographers brings an abundance of experience to the Academy students, who gain the opportunity of a lifetime to collaborate on five world premieres," adds Abbott Academy Director Suzanne Lopez. "We are incredibly fortunate to host this year's selected artists, as they collectively hold a broad spectrum of professional and academic backgrounds, individually bringing their distinct styles and artistry into the studio. Houston, Jainil, Martha, Manoela, and Xavier will unveil unique pieces at the Museum of Contemporary Art, each conveying complex ideas that speak to the concerns of our time."


Manoela Gonçalves will present Ocean, a work that delves into the complexities of grief, addressing the challenges of saying goodbye to a loved one, a career, a relationship, and even oneself. The piece takes inspiration from personal experiences, Alice Phoebe Lou's lyrics, and the wisdom of Buddhist teachings on the cyclical nature of life and the metaphor of the ocean, where waves signify both the ending of life and a return to the vast, collective essence. The healing process is experienced by diving into your emotions in a transformative and, sometimes surprisingly, beautiful journey.

Jainil Mehta’s new work, Burning Bread(s), explores the endless demands to consume, produce, and acquire in everyday modern life. During a recent visit with his family in India, Mehta observed the effects of striving for future material wealth on his loved ones’ quality of life in the present, questioning the external factors that put pressure on their traditional way of life. With immense power and a feeling of momentum that cannot be stopped, Mehta’s work contemplates whether reaching today’s markers of success will ever be “enough.”

Martha Nichols presents Carried by Thought, an abstract expression of our thoughts in a thinking process and how they guide us through our experiences. The work explores how thought triggers the partnership of memory and emotion, which then leads to processing, rationalizing and ends with the acceptance of both what is understood and unknown.

Xavier Núñez (Recipient of the Zach Lazar Winning Works Fellowship) takes inspiration from a large-scale digital artwork installed on State Street during the pandemic, Camellia. The work follows the life cycle of a flower and how it grows, blooms, wilts, and leaves nutrients for the next generation. For Winning Works, Núñez translates Camellia into a live piece made in close collaboration with the dancers of the Joffrey Conservatory, exploring the links between community, beauty, and sustainability.

Houston Thomas presents 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 thematic core of the piece revolved around notions of homecoming and returning, resonating with the dancers who were re-entering studios following an 18-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For Thomas, the first installment symbolized a personal return to his artistic roots at New York City’s Lincoln Center, marking his reconnection after nine years of working in Europe. 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.

Houston Thomas is generously sponsored by Patti S. Eylar.

Learn more about the 2024 Winning Works choreographers here.

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 2024 Winning Works Sponsors Wilson Garling Foundation, William Blair with Joffrey Board Director Rita Spitz, Bill and Orli Staley Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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.