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New Works

Synapse Arts - New Works is one of the company's core programs.

Since 2010 the program's structure has evolved, always supporting independent and underrepresented dance makers to develop their creative and producing skills as they create new dance-based work.

The current cycle of New Works will culminate on June 23 & 24, 2023.

Click here to support New Works

About the Program

Synapse Arts invites proposals from choreographers/directors who wish to take part in New Works, a program that supports independent dance-based artists by commissioning them to make original performance pieces.

This Chicago-based program reflects the founding principles of Synapse Arts, connecting artists with one another to share resources and develop their voices through the creation of unique artworks. Since its beginning in 2010, New Works has commissioned 23 original dance-based works.

The 2023 cycle will begin in March, with final performances, screenings, or works-in-progress showings as part of Chicago Dance Month in June 2023.

What Artists Receive

The selected choreographers/directors will receive:

  • A $500 stipend which can be used to pay oneself and/or to pay for costumes, additional rehearsal space, collaborator fees, etc.
  • Free rehearsal space at our Chicago Park District locations (schedules allowing)
  • Mentorship from an outside person selected in collaboration with the artist, who receives a $100 stipend
  • Support from the staff and collaborators of Synapse, including a work-in-progress showing and rehearsal visits, if desired
  • Hands-on experience in performance production
  • A place in a final performance or showing or screening, produced by Synapse Arts with public relations & marketing
  • Professional photos and video of their work in performance

This minimal and flexible structure is intended to organize a process that provides balance and direction without restricting creativity. New Works can be a step in your artistic evolution; we are interested in helping move focused artistry forward.


A recorded information session from a panel of former New Works artists, including Maria Blanco (of LOUD BODIES), Chris Knowlton, Amanda Ramirez, Megan Rhyme, and Nora Sharp is viewable here:

Please email to request a transcript of the closed captioning.

of talented stylists

The New Works 2023 artists

IS/LAND Performance Collaborative

IS/LAND is an interdisciplinary Performance Collaborative composed of AAPIA artists and collaborators. Our performances center movement, storytelling, and aesthetics as processes to explore the extensive and diverse landscape of AAPIA lived experience, including an increased focus on optimizing audience engagement through reflection, education, and dialogue. IS/LAND is currently developing, in collaboration with the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, an untitled work-in-progress piece honoring the stories, poetry, and humanity of Angel Island detention survivors.

Follow them on Instagram @islandperformance

Dancers Catherine Hepler (she/her), Chih-Hsien Lin (she/her)

Visual Designers Okyoung Noh (she/her), Chien-An Yuan (he/him)

Sound Designer Chien-An Yuan

Poet Frances Kai-Hwa Wang


Pictured: Chih Hsien Lin, Catherine Hepler, & J Amber Kao dancing in the collaborative's inaugural piece That We Walk. Photo by Chien-An Yuan

IS/LAND Artist Bios

Catherine “Cat” Hepler (mover) is a Polyblacknesian (aka multiracial Black/Chinese/Hawaiian), Chicago based dance performer and licensed dance/movement therapist. Originally from Oakland, CA, Cat began dancing at age three and gained a rich and varied dance foundation. Her movement background includes ballet, jazz, modern, contemporary, contact improvisation, Bharata Natyam, and Polynesian dance. She is currently an ensemble member with Synapse Arts and a co-founder and mover with IS/LAND Performance Collaborative. Artistically, she is interested in somatic movement as a way to embody concepts, as well as the expression of social messages within dance works.

Chih-Hsien Lin (mover) is a native of Taiwan, a mover, choreographer, improviser, registered dance/movement therapist, and Licensed Professional Counselor. She looks systematically at people’s decision-making process and interaction styles through their established integrated movement patterns. Her movement language reflects a rich cultural bearing from traditional Asian ethnic dances and martial arts to somatic modern integrations: contact improvisation, Alexander Technique, Bartenieff Fundamentals, and the Feldenkrais Method. In addition to the last decade of freelance collaborations throughout Taiwan, Chicago and midwest, Chih-Hsien has been a long-term collaborative artist with Khecari, a Chicago-based dance company, which believes in somatic education, practices integrity and equality with all whom they engage, and works to develop the consent and trust to create safe(r) space for the critique. Chih-Hsien lives to embody and support all integrity, authenticity, creativity, and contemplative whole.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang (writer/poet/reader) is a journalist, essayist, speaker, activist, and poet focused on issues of diversity, race, culture, and the arts. The child of immigrants, she was born in Los Angeles, raised in Silicon Valley, and now divides her time between Michigan and the Big Island of Hawai‘i. Her writing has appeared at NBC News Asian America, PRI Global Nation, New America Media, Pacific Citizen, Angry Asian Man, Cha Asian Literary Journal, Kartika Review, Drunken Boat, and several anthologies, journals, and art exhibitions. She teaches courses on Asian/Pacific Islander American media and civil rights at University of Michigan, and she teaches creative writing at University of Hawaii Hilo and Washtenaw Community College. She co-created a multimedia artwork for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center Indian American Heritage Project online and traveling art exhibition. She is a 2019 Knight Arts Challenge Detroit winner, Marguerite Casey Foundation Equal Voice Journalism Fellow on Poverty, and Keith Center for Civil Rights Detroit Equity Action Lab Race and Justice Reporting Fellow on Arts and Culture.

Chien-An Yuan (sound/visual designer) is an interdisciplinary artist, designer, and educator based in Ann Arbor, MI. Yuan runs 1473, a record label specializing in improvisation, electronics, and collaboration. He is also a founding member of IS/LAND, a performance collaborative comprised of AAPI movers, artists, and collaborators. His work has been featured in The New Yorker, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, NewCity, Salon, ArtSlant, Huffington Post, and WNYC. Past performances and exhibitions include Detroit Institute of Arts, The Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Gene Siskel Film Center, Museum of Chinese in America NYC, Syrup Loft, Zhou B Arts Center, Asian American Cultural Center of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Hyde Park Art Center, and Gallery 312.

Okyoung Noh (visual designer) Okyoung Noh (b. Seoul, South Korea) is an interdisciplinary artist and researcher who has grown up with a pale glimmer of a capitalist ideology and moved to the United States with the delusive American Dream. She studied at Seoul National University and received professional training in visual art, (critical) pedagogy, and qualitative research methodologies; and conducted 4 studies internationally including one national research project commissioned by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA). Currently, Noh is studying art at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) as the Elsie Choy Lee scholar. Now is currently working as a team lead of the Asian Teaching Artist Exchange Workshop and Joint Project supported by the Korean Art & Culture Education Service and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and co-teaching Integrative Project at the University of Michigan.

Jamila Kekulah

Jamila is continuing a work they began as part of Synapse's Mural Dances in 2022.

I’m sitting with the question of “How is it that I make a home of an indeterminate inner landscape?”  This work in progress leaves room for the relationship of emotions and identity.


Follow them on Instagram: @themovingsoul  


Jamila Kekulah is a Somatic Movement Practitioner and the creator of The Moving Soul, a holistic movement practice that bridges the gap between soma, psyche, and soul. Intelligent movement methods (Gyrotonic, Gyrokinesis, Pilates, and yoga) and mindfulness are utilized to guide and assist people in a personal exploration of presence, body, and mindful awareness.

In practice and in life, they are committed to exploring mindful awareness and presence to best uncover the “being with”, finding/maintaining/holding the space for being at home in one’s body. Jamila’s practice is built from their studies and practice as a dancer, movement therapist, energy and body worker, and student of meditation and mindfulness.

Photo by dlo312photo

Reign Drop

Reign Drop is a contemporary dancer investigating liberation and community through movement. "I AM" is a punk display of gender expression that will empower trans audiences through embodied slam poetry and collaboration.

Follow them on Instagram @reigndrop333  

Reign Drop [they/them] is a trans dancer, choreographer, and Co-Founder of We Are Collective. Over the last six years, they have grown roots in the Chicago dance community focusing on creating sustainable and accessible dance spaces for all ages. They research contemporary movements that demonstrate autonomy, liberation, and connection. In the community, they have led an Improvisers’ Jam for Chicago Dancemakers Forum, performed for Alix Shilaci and Erin Killmurray, choreographed for New Dances 2020 and for the iconic Chicago drag queen Shea Coulee’s "Rewind" music video. Reign aims to be heard—to share their story—to honor the stories of all magical trans people.


Content Warning: “I AM” contains themes surrounding transphobia, homophobia, gender dysphoria, depression, and suicidal ideation that could be distressing to some audience members. “I AM” is recommended for viewers 18+ due to the themes and language used.

photo by Peter Serocki