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New Works 2023

Engaging our bodies, honoring our humanity,
empowering each other

A dancer is on stage in a black box theatre, standing on a chair in the bright light, facing audience. They are in a white top, white pants and pink jacket  Their Hands are placed firmly on their hips. Three other dancers are standing in front of the image facing the back of the stage, with their feet wide looking to the right. They are wearing dark blue, dark green and blue jackets and dark gray pants.

New Works 2019 LOUD BODIES by Matthew Gregory Hollis

Synapse Arts - New Works 2023

Dances by IS/LAND Performance Collaborative, Reign Drop, and Jamila Kekulah


Tickets for Synapse Arts New Works 2023 are no longer available.
To support Synapse Arts or New Works artists, please visit synapsearts/support to make a donation.

For questions, please contact
Thank you!


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Silhouettes of 2 dancers are leaning on each other in a studio with wooden floors and white walls. Their hands are stretching up. Third dancer is pointing light on them with a projector in their hands from the left side of the studio.

Why New Works?

In 2023, we know that the future remains uncertain and many are feeling an economic pinch. But if the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that to survive uncertain times we need to stick together, think long term, and focus on what’s most important. That’s why New Works prioritizes new artists and helps them develop not just artworks but careers that support their communities.

The New Works 2023 artists embrace Synapse’s values of accessibility, creativity, and respect. They build collective power, liberation, and joy for their communities of origin and for the entire city of Chicago. Help us reach our goal of $2000 and provide these artists with the tools they need to create their unique works and develop their voices.

Because when artists thrive, we all thrive.

New Works 2019 Synapse Arts by Mathew Gregory Hollis

Every other year, Synapse Arts invites choreographers to apply for the New Works program. Up to three artists or groups are selected to create original pieces that reflect their unique voices. In addition to a stipend, New Works artists receive mentoring, free rehearsal space, professional photos and videos, and more. Culminating in a final show for the public, participants also gain invaluable experience in performance production from planning and fundraising to marketing and ticket sales. Since its beginning in 2010, New Works has supported 23 premieres by emerging and underrepresented artists.

How does the program work?

A photo with 5 dancers on stage in a blackbox theatre wearing black costumes are creating a tableaux. 2 dancers are standing on their feet, facing each other, with their arms reaching out to each other. 2 dancers are sitting on the right side of the photo. one dancer is on his fours on the left side of the photo.

New Works 2019 Nora Sharp by Matthew Gregory Hollis

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

Three dancers are moving in on a ground level stage. The floor is a red hue and there is a blue water reflection on the dancers and wall. Chih-Hsien, in the left backside, wears a blue and white dress and is in mid-jump with her back slightly arched, face toward the ceiling, one arm extended in front of her and the other extended behind her, one leg is bent toward the back wall almost hidden behind her dress skirt, and the other is extended down and back. Her body cast a large shadow on the wall that is central in the picture. In the right foreground, Catherine wears a large, blue and white flower print top with a white skirt, and leans to the right, upright against Amber, with her eyes downcast to the floor. Amber, in a light blue no sleeve top and wide pants that look black with the lighting, leans left into Catherine on a lower level, with head and arms reaching to the right.

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.

Jamila Kekulah by dlo312photo

A Black person with medium brown skin wearing a yellow headpiece, an olive green bodysuit and off white dress is photographed dancing in mid-turn, standing on the right foot, left foot in the air, right hand is stretching up high, open left palm is resting on the chest.

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  

A transmasculine non binary person is wearing a black chest binder and black shorts with chin length blond hair. They are on a black stage floor in front of a white backdrop with a clothesline of numbers hanging behind them. They are on the floor on one hand and one knee thrashing their other limbs out to create one long line.

Reign Drop by Peter Serocki

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.

The New Works 2023 mentors

A photo of Rebecca Kling, a smiling woman with short brown hair and glasses, looking at the camera. She is wearing a gray blazer and blue top.

Rebecca Kling

Mentor to: Reign Drop

Rebecca’s art and advocacy work is rooted in a multidisciplinary approach to changing the world, with the understanding that there’s no one ‘right way to communicate’ that will land with everyone. For over a decade, she has worked with hundreds of community organizations, civil rights groups, and elected representatives to elevate the experiences of transgender people, and to bring transgender issues into discussions of public education and policy. Rebecca firmly believes that understanding combats bigotry, and that everyone has the ability to push for a more just and equitable world.

Rebecca began her career working as a touring educator and performance artist, exploring gender and identity through solo stage pieces and interactive workshops. Her genre-bending productions - which incorporated conversational storytelling, personal narrative, comedic vignettes, and the world’s first Strip Q&A - took her all across the United States to interact with a wide variety of audiences.

When Rebecca is not working as a public advocate, she is on the leadership team for Camp Aranu’tiq, a summer camp for transgender and gender-variant youth. At camp, Rebecca does everything from organizing variety shows to canoeing with campers, and from writing silly songs to helping campers imagine a future in which they can thrive.In 2013, Rebecca was recognized for her artistic work when she was named as part of the inaugural Trans 100, a list celebrating excellence in the transgender community.

From 2016 through 2019, Rebecca worked with the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) in Washington D.C., first serving as their Community Storytelling Advocate, before becoming the organization's Education Program Director. From 2019 through early 2022, Rebecca was part of the Beyond Coal campaign at the Sierra Club, working to transition the United States from fossil fuels to clean energy.

Rebecca Kling by Erika McKeehan

A woman with light brown skin, green eyes, and short pink hair looks directly at the camera. Her bare shoulders are in the frame, and the background is black. She wears pink lipstick and a golden bindi.

Surinder Martignetti

Mentor to: IS/LAND

Surinder Martignetti holds a BA in Dance and Theater and a Graduate Diploma in Education from Western Sydney University in Australia. She also holds a Masters Degree in Arts, Entertainment, and Media Management from Columbia College Chicago. Surinder has deep knowledge of the Chicago arts community and has served as part of See Chicago Dance in various program management capacities. Other career highlights include roles with the Chicago Dancing Festival, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Ideas Week, The International Music Foundation, and The Gateway Foundation. Along with her life as an arts administrator, she is a dancer, jewelry maker, poet, and storyteller and also performs under the alias Miss Mittens.

Instagrams @themissmittens @misssassypants @anomalousterritories

Surinder Martignetti self portrait

A person named Darling dances in front of purple background. They have brown skin and are wearing a yellow headwrap. The person’s right arm reaches up and back while the left arm folds across the torso. They balance on the right foot as the left bends to the left side of the frame.

Darling Shear

Mentor to: Jamila Kekulah

Kinetic Linguist, Guerrilla Anthropologist

Instagram @empressdarlingshear

Darling Shear by Lisa Predko


Help us reach our goal of $2000!

  • $500 provides supplies to an artist such as costumes, collaborator stipends, and specialized props and lights
  • $200 provides accessibility resources such as ASL interpretation and audio description to ensure that final showings can be enjoyed by all
  • $100 provides an artist a paid mentor to build professional relationships and develop their artistic practice
  • A donation of any size provides motivating support and reinforces the importance of art and artists in our community

Past New Works Artists
and ways to see what they're doing now



Maggie Bridger Instagram Twitter
Rahila Coats 20% Theatre Company University of Minnesota "Body Language" Instagram Facebook


LOUD BODIES Website Instagram
Nora Sharp Facebook Instagram
Amanda Ramirez Website Instagram


Chrissy Martin Facebook Instagram
Anjal Chande Website Instagram
Michelle Modrzejewski LinkedIn


Ni'ja Whitson Facebook Instagram
Megan Rhyme Website Twitter
Chris Knowlton Vimeo Instagram


Suzy Grant not using social media, like a boss
Sammy Spriggs Website Instagram


Lauren Warnecke Website  Instagram
Rachel Damon Facebook Website (it's this website! You nailed it) Instagram

Acerca New Works

¡El popular programa de mentoría de Synapse Arts llamado "New Works" vuelve a ser presencial para el año 2023!

Desde 2010, nuestro programa bienal de New Works ha comisionado coreógrafos emergentes y subrepresentados, apoyando hasta ahora 26 proyectos emocionantes. Cada año, un distinguido panel se encarga de seleccionar a dos artistas entre una multitud de solicitantes; como muestra representativa de la red de Synapse, el panel de 2023 estuvo compuesto por 8 miembros. El 50% de estos experimentados artistas, defensores y administradores se identifican como BIPOC, el 62% como womxn y el 50% como LGBTQIA+. Este año, Synapse se complace en presentar proyectos de danza de los artistas seleccionados de New Works 2023, Reign Drop y el Colaborativo de Actuación IS/LAND, así como la artista invitada Jamila Kekulah, cuyo proyecto comenzó como parte de nuestra serie "Mural Dances" en el año 2022.

El programa New Works apoya a artistas independientes basados en la danza, ayudándolos a desarrollar sus habilidades y ofreciéndoles herramientas de desarrollo profesional mientras crean piezas de actuación originales. Cada artista recibe un mentor dedicado, un espacio de ensayo gratuito y un presupuesto para ayudarlos en el proceso creativo, que culmina en presentaciones producidas profesionalmente. El programa refleja los principios fundadores de Synapse Arts, con el objetivo de conectar a los artistas entre sí para compartir recursos y desarrollar sus voces únicas.

Nos complace presentar estas obras en progreso. Las piezas de este programa representan de 4 a 5 meses de ensayos en estudio, improvisaciones, discusiones grupales y conversaciones con los mentores. Si deseas conocer más sobre los procesos de los artistas, esperamos que te unas a nosotros en la discusión posterior al espectáculo el sábado 24 de junio como parte un grupo de expertos cuidadosamente seleccionados, con conversaciones dirigidas por los mentores Rebecca Kling, Surinder Martignetti y Darling Shear.