Introducing Our 2022 “25 to Watch”

December 20, 2021

What’s next? Our annual list of dancers, choreographers and companies on the verge of breaking through offers several answers to the question of where our field is headed. We’re betting we’ll be seeing—and hearing—more from these 25 artists not just this year, but for many more to come.

Ogemdi Ude

If there’s a throughline to the genre-bending work of choreographer Ogemdi Ude, it’s how Black folks’ experiences—especially their grief—lives in their bodies. 

Ogemdi Ude directs a closed mouth smile to the camera. She stands lightly on one foot, the other hidden behind her calf, hands loose in front of her torso. She wears a pink shirt with fuzzy long sleeves over loose white trousers. Her black hair is in a natural halo around her head. She wears chunky green earrings.
Ogemdi Ude. Photo by Jayme Thornton

It shows up in Living Relics, a collaboration with visual artist Sydney Mieko King that asks participants to locate grief in their own bodies and then physicalize it by making plaster molds of those places, and in her tour-de-force solo Nothing Like That Is Ever Going to Happen to Me Again, where she searches for memories of those she’s lost, desperately piecing together bits of movement and text.

But there’s also joy to be found in Ude’s work: Though she claims she isn’t tech-savvy, she’s been playfully exploring video and multimedia since long before virtual work became the norm, and she often sources memories from her Atlanta upbringing, where her first exposure to dance was majorettes. Ude works as a doula, as well, which she sees as deeply interconnected to her dance practice—especially in the form of AfroPeach, a collaboration with fellow dancer/doula Rochelle Jamila Wilbun that offers postpartum dance workshops.

Through a pandemic defined by collective grief, Ude has been prolific—and she’s gotten her due notice. In addition to continuing to perform with choreographers like iele paloumpis and Marion Spencer, her 2022 and 2023 are stacked with commissions and residencies, including at Abrons Arts Center, Gibney, Danspace Project, The Watermill Center and BRIC, plus more to be announced.

Lauren Wingenroth

Adriana Pierce

Adriana Pierce demonstrates at the front of a studio for five women on pointe. She moves through fifth position on relevé with her back foot raised, downstage arm overhead, with a slight arch in her upper back. She wears worn white converse, black leggings, and a grey shirt. Her dirty blonde hair is worn loose.
Adriana Pierce participated in New York Choreographic Institute’s fall 2019 season. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy Pierce

Adriana Pierce’s career thus far looks like a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-many laundry list of dream gigs: dancing in Miami City Ballet, the 2018 Broadway revival of Carousel, FX’s “Fosse/Verdon” and the new West Side Story movie, plus choreographic opportunities that continue to grow in scale. Though she came out while a student at the School of American Ballet, it wasn’t until she gathered a group of fellow queer women and nonbinary dancers over Zoom in 2020 that “I really felt a sense of community about my identity and sexuality through ballet,” she says. Pierce doesn’t want the next generation of queer dancers to have to compartmentalize their identities as she did. Enter #QueerTheBallet, an ambitious producing and education initiative she launched last year to get more queer stories onstage.  

Pierce’s own choreography interrogates what equitable partnering looks like and how pointe work might be divorced from its gendered history, research she put into practice in 2021 with a piece for American Ballet Theatre dancers and a virtual commission for The Joyce Theater, both duets for two women. Next up is a Carolina Ballet commission in the spring. Odds are, Pierce will continue pushing ballet forward in ever more eclectic ways—her bucket list items include creating immersive ballet work, directing and choreographing on Broadway, and creating a full-length queer narrative ballet: “I want people to feel as used to seeing queer stories on a ballet stage as they are used to seeing Giselle.” —Lauren Wingenroth


There was something special about the Odalisque pas de trois that Ballet22 performed in its summer 2021 digital season. It wasn’t the crisp pointe work, the crystalline turns or the vibrant musicality, all of which were abundant. It was that the Ballet22 dancers in the traditionally all-female variation from Le Corsaire were male—and not men in drag hamming it up for laughs, but, quite simply, male dancers expressing their artistry on pointe. 

Founded as a pandemic project by artistic director Roberto­ Vega Ortiz and executive director Theresa Knudson, Ballet22 invites male, mxn, transgender and nonbinary dancers to train and perform on pointe in their authentic gender identity. The company grew out of Zoom classes offered by Vega Ortiz and his close friend Carlos Hopuy of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in early 2020, and gained an international following so quickly that Vega Ortiz and Knudson were able to launch the performing company in December 2020. Ballet22 has drawn dancers like New York City Ballet’s Gilbert Bolden III, Boston Ballet’s Daniel R. Durrett, San Francisco Ballet soloist Diego Cruz, and the Trocks’ Duane Gosa, and commissions by choreographers like Myles Thatcher, Ramón Oller and Ben Needham-Wood. As the greater cultural conversation around gender goes on, Ballet22 is overturning ballet’s rules about who gets to dance, what they get to dance and how they get to dance. 

—Claudia Bauer

Carlos Hopuy, in pointe shoes, a white classical tutu and black turtleneck, poses in an open attitude back on pointe. Diego Cruz supports him with an arm around his waist, the other mirroring Carlos' high fifth; he wears more traditional white tights. Opulent paintings and classical pillars are visible beyond the grey marley floor.
Carlos Hopuy and Diego Cruz in Grand Pas Classique. Photo by Rob Suguitan, Courtesy Ballet22

Christina Carminucci

Although the pandemic limited the in-person audience to just 25 people, when Christina Carminucci improvised to Thelonius Monk’s “Bemsha Swing” last summer as part of The Solidarity Series, she performed with as much energy as if inside a packed theater. There’s no doubt that everyone livestreaming the show also felt the joy she radiated while mimicking pianist Michael King’s playful licks or executing tight turns on a narrow tap board. But her unbridled glee wasn’t just a result of her rhythm-making: She had produced the event herself. It was the second iteration of The Solidarity Series, an evening of live tap dance and jazz music that Carminucci, 27, conceived during the pandemic. 

Christina Carminucci, dark hair slicked back from her face, grins and looks down as her white tap shoes blur with motion. She wears black and white check trousers over a red leotard. Tall buildings are visible through the windows behind her in the studio.
Christina Carminucci. Photo by Raina Brie, Courtesy Carminucci

The New Jersey native has also performed with Dorrance Dance and Christopher Erk’s Tap Factor, and in Tap Family Reunion at The Joyce Theater. Her burgeoning popularity comes as no surprise to those who have seen how she comes alive when the first notes of a jazz tune begin to play, dancing with the ease and control of a mature practitioner. She’s as comfortable with a sinuous, sultry Latin groove full of heel drops as she is with a rhythm time-step sequence garnished with multiple turns. There’s always an infectious grin on her face, and after a challenging year in which she still managed to find new opportunities for producing and performing, she certainly has many reasons to keep smiling. —Ryan P. Casey

Courtney Nitting

Courtney Nitting wears an opulent dusty purple and black dress over pink tights and pointe shoes, as well as black elbow length gloves. She poses in a low, off-center arabesque, arms in high fifth, supported from behind by a male dancer in an old-fashioned black suit. In the background are similarly costumed dancers.
Courtney Nitting with Enrico Hipolito in Val Caniparoli’s Lady of the Camellias. Photo by Ali Fleming, Courtesy Kansas City Ballet

Courtney Nitting attacks choreography with catlike quickness. In Kansas City Ballet artistic director Devon Carney’s 2021 work Sandhur, her rapid-paced turns and leaps electrified. “I love speed,” she says. “Petit allégro is my favorite, and I feel it can never be fast enough.”

The 24-year-old speed demon was born in Lafayette, New Jersey, and began her training at New Jersey School of Ballet. She then attended School of American Ballet before joining Pennsylvania Ballet II in 2017 and Kansas City Ballet a year later. “Courtney is a force to be reckoned with,” says Carney. “She has a diverse dynamic range with spectacularly fast footwork. Every time she enters the stage, she lights it up with intensity and joie de vivre.”

Having already danced featured roles in Sandhur and in William Forsythe’s In the middle, somewhat elevated, Nitting’s career, which has also included choreographing for Kansas City Ballet, is beginning to switch into high gear. —Steve Sucato 

Maxfield Haynes

Illuminating possibility comes naturally to Maxfield Haynes. The nonbinary phenom has carved out a brilliant career for themself, demolishing machismo stereotypes while blitzing across the stage in pointe shoes or heels, and playfully partnering their fellow dancers with aplomb.

Haynes learned to embrace their multifaceted identity early on and came to reject the binary gender presentations they encountered during their classical ballet training. This “do-everything” spirit helped them juggle apprenticing with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo while studying at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. It continued to serve them well as they performed soloist roles with Complexions Contemporary Ballet—both on pointe and off—dispatched crisp batterie as the bird in Isaac Mizrahi’s Peter & the Wolf, and, this fall, made a triumphant return to the Trocks. But the Kentucky native had a true awakening this past summer as part of Ballez’s Giselle of Loneliness. Their solo blended bursts of traditionally feminine sweetness with soaring leaps, all while illustrating that dance is love—regardless of one’s race or gender presentation. —Juan Michael Porter II

Against a grey backdrop, Maxfield Haynes, wearing tight-fitting shorts and pointe shoes that match their skin tone, poses in a forced arch second position plié on pointe. They look over their right shoulder and shift their ribcage away, opposite arm stretching side with a flexed palm.
Maxfield Haynes. Photo by Steven Vandervelden, Courtesy Haynes

Adriana Wagenveld

Grace, grit, athleticism and versatility are what garnered Adriana Wagenveld soloist roles in Trey McIntyre’s Wild Sweet Love and Alejandro Cerrudo’s Extremely Close in her first season as a full company member at Grand Rapids Ballet. They are also what have the 22-year-old on the cusp of company stardom.

Adriana Wagenveld, in a bright yellow leotard and flesh-tone pointe shoes, is caught mid-air against a grey backdrop. She is shown in profile, one leg hyperextended front and the other kicking up in parallel behind. Her arms curve behind her torso, overhead and to the side.
Adriana Wagenveld. Photo by Ray Nard Imagemaker, Courtesy Grand Rapids Ballet

Originally from Puerto Rico, Wagenveld began her dance training in Crete, Illinois. After attending Grand Rapids Ballet’s 2015 summer intensive on scholarship, she was asked to join the company as a trainee. She became a main company member in 2019. “There is a lot of emotion behind her eyes, and she takes on roles with verve and determination,” says artistic director James Sofranko.

Wagenveld has hypermobility in her joints from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which leads to exaggerated lines that she says are both a blessing and a curse. Countering that hypermobility with strength, she says, has made her project “more of a powerhouse-dancer vibe than a princess one.” —Steve Sucato

Imre and Marne van Opstal

Individually, siblings Imre and Marne van Opstal have accrued­ impressive performance resumés: Both danced with Nederlands Dans Theater 2, and Imre also performed with NDT1, Norwegian company Carte Blanche and Batsheva Dance Company. United, they’re an exciting brother–sister choreographic duo, creating work that is at once virtuosic and thought-provoking.

In a black and white image, Imre and Marne van Opstal share a chair. Imre, in black, looks contentedly at the camera, head tipped back against her brother's shoulder and holds one of his hands. Marne, in white, wraps his arms around her, smiling widely.
Imre and Marne van Opstal. Photo by Rahi Rezvani, Courtesy the van Opstals

Having developed several works for NDT’s main stage, including Take Root (2019), which was nominated for a Dutch “Zwaan” award for most impressive dance production, it wasn’t until last year that the duo received their first commission from outside of the Netherlands. A piece about the politics of nudity created for London’s Rambert Dance Company, Eye Candy features eight dancers dressed in synthetic breastplates that make them look like Greco-Roman sculptures. Performing a mixture of fluid and rigid mechanical motions, the performers often look more akin to dolls, dummies or clones than thinking, feeling individuals, making a powerful statement about the paralyzing pressures of contemporary beauty standards.

The duo’s choreography is the perfect marriage of elements from the van Opstals’ respective performance careers: Notes of Ohad Naharin’s luscious Gaga movement language are infused with the classical lines and technical prowess for which NDT is known, all sprinkled with the siblings’ unique perspective and artistic flair. —Emily May

Arielle Smith

Arielle Smith stands at the front of a studio, smiling encouragingly as she raises both fists to chest height, eyes fixed on the dancers in the space. In the background, individuals sit with laptops and water bottles at a long table.
Arielle Smith. Photo by Johan Persson, Courtesy Curtis Brown

Whoops of joy greeted Arielle Smith’s Jolly Folly when it closed English National Ballet’s return to live performance in London last spring. The ballet bounced giddily along to classical pops remixed by a Cuban big-band, its tilting, tumbling ensemble dressed in black tie and tails. It was an absolute blast, delivering a genuine jolt of delight.

The Havana-born Smith, 25, previously honed a storyteller’s instinct under the mentorship of Matthew Bourne, who made her associate choreographer on his 2019 Romeo + Juliet. Smith’s early work has emerged with life-enhancing wit and assurance. Her voice is already distinctive—who knows how it will develop and where it will take her? She’s more than just a fistful of fun. —David Jays

Sienna Lalau

Sienna Lalau poses against a pink backdrop. She throws an intense look over her sunglasses as she hunches forward, one arm dangling in front of her purposefully turned in knees. She wears all black, except for a pair of worn white sneakers.
Sienna Lalau. Photo by Joe Toreno

Sienna Lalau just turned 21, yet her “25 to Watch” nomination sparked some debate among the Dance Magazine editors: Did she qualify for this list of emerging talents? Was she already too…established?

Reasonable questions, given Lalau’s abundant choreographic credits. Born in Hawaii, she first earned national notice for her work with the Los Angeles–based creative arts studio The Lab, helping lead its junior team to victory on the TV show “World of Dance” in 2018. Since then, she has made internet-melting dances for Jennifer Lopez, Missy Elliott and Ciara, and become one of the K-pop world’s go-to choreographers. Her work for BTS’ “On” video, with its punk spin on the drumline, earned a 2020 MTV Video Music Award.

Lalau is also the first person you see in “On.” As gifted a mover as she is a maker, she often ends up sharing the stage or the screen with her famous collaborators, bringing a scene-stealing mixture of complete control and complete abandon to her own choreography. From both behind and in front of the camera, Lalau is shaping the look of the entertainment world. —Margaret Fuhrer

Bo Park

On a dark stage, Bo Park moves through a wide stance, arms lightly extended to either side with palms flexed, eyes downcast. She wears red converse, ripped black skinny jeans, and a cartoonish, colorful t-shirt.
Bo Park in Hideaway Circus’ SLUMBER, choreographed by Keone and Mari Madrid. Photo by Kate Pardey, Courtesy Park

Bo Park is challenging the dichotomy between “masculine” and “feminine” with her hip-hop–inspired choreography. “What I experienced was that ‘female’ should be a certain way,” Park says. “I couldn’t really book jobs if I wasn’t giving ‘femininity,’ and I wanted to change that.” In 2017, she founded her own company to provide dancers with a safe space to express their authentic selves, unhindered by gender-­based­ expectations. The company’s name, SHINSA, is a play on Korean words. It means “gentleman” but also references the famous 16th-century artist Shin Saimdang, who left a lasting cultural legacy despite the restrictive gender roles of her time.

Pairing full-bodied and intricate movements with meticulous musicality, Park’s imaginative choreography resonates across diverse platforms. In 2019, SHINSA’s electrifying Mulan-themed number earned first place at the hip-hop competition ELEMENTS XIX. In 2020, its immersive production DAYDREAMERS was extended to a four-week run after selling out its first five shows. Park has also worked with pop music artists, such as LANKS and Loona, and choreographed theatrical productions, including Hideaway Circus’ 2021 show Stars Above. In every project, Park’s nuanced yet powerful choreography highlights the individuality of her performers—however they choose to express themselves. —Kristi Yeung

Ashley Green

Ashley Green, wearing white and lit purple, gazes intently down at another dancer as she supports her with an arm around her waist. Green's downstage leg crosses her partner's torso in a parallel attitude; her upper arm creates a right angle behind her, palm splayed.
Ashley Green (above) with Whim W’Him’s Jane Cracovaner. Photo by Jim Kent, Courtesy Whim W’Him

Ashley Green was a standout dancer—and actor—throughout Whim W’Him’s all-digital 2020–21 season, her first with the company. Artistic director Olivier Wevers, who discovered her soon after her graduation from Point Park University, says her vitality is “a rare gift. She’s a creative soul, radiating joy, an extraordinary collaborator with an innate­ way of approaching movement that pulls you in.” The 23-year-old picked up a 2021 Princess Grace Award last summer, and shortly thereafter moved across the country to join Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. “Explosive, in a word,” describes Ailey artistic director Robert Battle. “She’s not trying on the movement, she’s living it. Even in a little Instagram improvisation, she jumps through the screen.” This unpretentious, passionate dancer has staying power, predicts Battle. “She’ll continue to grow.” —Gigi Berardi

Carter Williams

Carter Williams, dressed all in black with a pair of gold chains at his waistcoat, levels an intense look off camera as he strikes a pose in a wide stance, arms by his sides. A crowd and other dancers dressed for ballroom are blurry in the background.
Carter Williams. Photo by Christie Gibson/Beyond the Darkroom, Courtesy Williams

Ballroom phenom Carter Williams’ fluidity and striking stage presence have landed him accolades you don’t expect to see on a 19-year-old college student’s resumé. He’s already been a four-time World Latin Dance Finalist and a two-time National DanceSport Latin Dance Champion. On screen, his credits include the first two seasons of NBC’s “World of Dance” and three seasons of “America’s Got Talent.” His longtime private coach Afton Wilson says it’s not just Williams’ extreme versatility, but also his super-sensitive partnering and precision turns that make him stand out on a crowded floor. He’s racking up even more wins as a member of Utah Valley University’s dance team as he works towards a degree in marketing and aims for a professional career. With his easy, self-assured air and clean, quick moves, he already dances like a pro. —Gigi Berardi

Ilya Vidrin and Jessi Stegall

A close-up shot of a male wearing a white, collarless button down shirt and a female dancer in a sparkling gold sleeveless dress face each other against a cloudy blue sky. The woman's hair is short and black with a buzz fade, the man's hair is brown and wavy and he has stubble on his face. Their foreheads are touching, and they are grasping each others' arms right below the elbows.
Jessi Stegall and Ilya Vidrin. Photo by Olivia Moon Photography/halfasianlens, Courtesy Vidrin

Ilya Vidrin and Jessi Stegall are experts both in the practice and theory of partnering. Vidrin has a doctorate in the ethics of care in relation to partnering; Stegall is an applied ethicist who works with performing arts organizations to facilitate healthy relationships among artists, directors and educators. The two collaborate frequently through the Partnering Lab, an applied research initiative that investigates emerging technologies of motion capture, art and public health projects, and creative pedagogies. The outcomes of this work range from the development of novel choreographic methods to writing in support of ethical practice. They also have individual careers: Vidrin was recently commissioned to create a new work for Ballet Des Moines, and Stegall’s dance film, Salty Dog, premiered at the Motion State Dance Film Series in the fall. Vidrin and Stegall’s shared, careful consideration of partnering seems apt for our COVID moment, wherein the relationship of our bodies to those around us is particularly fraught and tangible. Their work suggests that partnership is not an abstraction, but the embodiment of care performed repeatedly. —Sydney Skybetter

PARA.MAR Dance Theatre

Two dancers in black pants, long sleeved white shirts, and white frilly collars are seen on a red carpet. In the foreground, a dancer jumps, legs extended below, arms lifting to her sides, face turned to the front of the performing space. In the background, the second stands in second position plié, hands splayed against his knees as he leans slightly forward.
PARA.MAR Dance Theatre’s Ching Ching Wong and Nathaniel Hunt in Stephanie Martinez’s kiss. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy PARA.MAR Dance Theatre

PARA.MAR Dance Theatre bolted out of the gate fully ready to steamroll the status quo. Stephanie Martinez’s new contemporary ballet company debuted with performances of her fierce kiss. atop a red carpet in a Chicago parking lot in October 2020. With a cast of fearless dancers, the piece captured the restless angst of isolation and the languishing sensuality of pure explosive action, along with a hard to define quirky charm.

Martinez, who has created works for The Joffrey Ballet, Ballet Hispánico and Nashville Ballet, among others, formed her troupe in the midst of a pandemic when dancers desperately needed to work and the field desperately needed to diversify. With the motto “together, with, and for,” Martinez’s mission includes elevating BIPOC voices in contemporary ballet. PARA.MAR premiered works by Jennifer Archibald and Lucas Crandall in Chicago last spring and performed them at the inaugural Carmel Dance Festival last summer; next up are commissions by Robyn Mineko Williams and Keerati Jinakunwiphat, among others, along with a new work by Martinez. —Nancy Wozny

Baye & Asa

Amadi Baye Washington pulls a wide-eyed, open mouthed face just past the camera as he presses a hand into Sam Asa Pratt's curly hair. Pratt sits on a bench, elbows on his knees and fingers splayed as he looks intensely in the same direction. Pratt wears camo pants and a black sporty long sleeved shirt; Washington wears light grey athletic pants and a bright coral jacket.
Baye & Asa’s The Bank. Photo by Umi Akiyoshi, Courtesy Baye & Asa

Dance duo Baye & Asa know how to land a surprise. It might be a droll little hip shimmy or a gentle moment of eye contact amid a whirlwind of propulsive, full-bodied movement. Using African forms and hip hop in an expansive view of “contemporary” dance theater, the pair’s choreography avoids falling into any predictable pattern.

Sam “Asa” Pratt and Amadi “Baye” Washington were both introduced to dance in their New York City grade school when African dance was offered as an alternative to gym class. They began collaborating professionally in 2015 in between jobs that have included touring with Akram Khan (Pratt), dancing with Gallim (Washington) and performing in Sleep No More (both).

Second Seed—a project responding to the 1915 silent film The Birth of a Nation and interrogating America’s white supremacist lineage—blossomed over six years from a duet into a group performance and, in 2020, a bone-chilling 15-minute film. The pandemic gave them time to delve even deeper into their partnership; now, their 2022 calendar includes commissions for BODYTRAFFIC, Martha Graham Dance Company and BlackLight Summit, plus a residency and a main-stage production at 92nd Street Y, a duet presented by Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, and more.

Jennifer Stahl

Sierra Armstrong

In black tights and pointe shoes and an off-white leotard, Sierra Armstrong poses in a tendu side, standing leg in plié. Her hands hug her upper arms as she gazes serenely away from her working leg. Grass and trees are visible beyond the marley on which she dances.
Sierra Armstrong in James Whiteside’s City of Women. Photo by Alex DiMattia, Courtesy ABT.

Back in her ABT Studio Company days, Sierra Armstrong’s luxuriant lines and keen emotional intelligence piqued the interest of ballet fans. But after joining American Ballet Theatre’s main company in 2017, Armstrong had few chances to develop those gifts, tasked with a slate of ensemble parts that kept her both busy and in the background. 

When the pandemic shut down the ABT machine, Armstrong found space for self-discovery. “I was in the studio a lot by myself, dancing by myself, doing all these things by myself,” says Armstrong, now 22. “It was a lonely time, but a time where I really came into my own, too.”

Featured roles in a series of small-scale, COVID-friendly projects showcased that growth. Last February, she brought a new depth of artistry to Adriana Pierce’s Overlook, a tender pas de deux with fellow female ABT corps member Remy Young. Armstrong became a particular muse to ABT star and choreographer James Whiteside, originating a lead in his bubble-residency premiere City of Women, and taking on a principal part in his New American Romance during an outdoor performance at Rockefeller Center. Here’s hoping those opportunities will lead to more, at ABT and beyond it, as the world reopens. —Margaret Fuhrer

Brianna Mims

Brianna Mims poses against a black backdrop. Her gaze is cast down towards the graceful curve of her right arm, which she leans away from.
Brianna Mims. Photo by Susan Michal, Courtesy Mims

During her sophomore year at University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, Brianna Mims found herself at the intersection of dance and abolition. She was part of the JusticeLA Creative Action team, led by Cecilia Sweet-Coll and Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrice Cullors, where an installation work called “#jailbeddrop” was created in protest of an L.A. County jail expansion plan. Mims felt so passionately about the work that she decided to expand “#jailbeddrop” into a performance piece and interactive installation as her senior project—and it became a guiding light for her career, too. In the nearly five years since “#jailbeddrop” started, she’s presented it in venues across L.A. and moved the project online following lockdowns.

“I learned so much from my body about how to do abolition work, and so much around abolition informs the dances I’m making,” Mims says. She recently finished a Toulmin Fellowship with the NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts & National Sawdust Partnership, where she began developing a world-building game focused on abolition and community activation. Her other recent work includes a dance film called TriKe and Letters from the Etui, a digital platform and accompanying series of workshops that support abolitionist frameworks, from personal to political practice. —Sophie Bress

Simone Stevens

Against a grey backdrop, Simone Stevens, wearing a yellow gold jumpsuit, smiles joyfully as she moves through a deep plié, almost lunging. Her right arm curves to match her extended leg, while the left bends gently overhead. She arches right and back.
Simone Stevens. Photo by Frank Ishman, Courtesy Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago rarely hires from the Windy City’s freelance circuit. But former freelancer Simone Stevens made her company debut at Dance for Life last August, three years after moving to Chicago with her sights set on the company. Stevens grew up dancing in the Atlanta suburbs and began working with various choreographers in Chicago after graduating from Kennesaw State University. She has it all: flawless technique, impassioned emotional sensitivity and brazen versatility, the latter developed as she floated between wildly diverse projects. Katlin Bourgeois’­ contorted choreographic cryptograms suited her just as well as the full-throttled, jazzy style of Monique Haley, who created a feverish solo on her during a brief stint with Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre. Now, Stevens has gotten what she came for, and it’s Hubbard Street’s gain. 

Lauren Warnecke

Darvensky Louis

Darvensky Louis gazes upward as he arches back, resisting gravity as he bends over the top of his front foot. He is on an outdoor staircase, wearing white sneakers, brown pants, and a loose black vest that leaves much of his chest exposed.
Darvensky Louis. Photo by Christina Massad, Courtesy Louis

Every move Darvensky Louis makes is multilayered and arresting. In Omar Román De Jesús’ Muerte Cotidiana, he breathes into a leisurely open stance, arms spreading as if yielding into the expansive feel of a sunset. Suddenly, he drops into rumba-flavored weight shifts, then spills to the floor and springs weightlessly to his feet. His legs restlessly turn in and out, hands wiping down his face and chest, torso rippling, as if simultaneously hating and enjoying the skin he’s in.

It’s this smoldering inner drive and visceral intelligence that have helped him secure roles in works by several of Atlanta’s leading contemporary dance groups, including staibdance, Fly on a Wall and Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre, within a year and a half of his graduation from Kennesaw State University.

The long-limbed, Haitian-born artist recently brought his electric blend of contemporary and hip hop to creating the dance movement for Bob Cratchit’s solo in Terminus’ Marley Was Dead, To Begin With. Terminus artistic director John Welker says Louis’ solo was so extraordinary they don’t know of anyone else who could perform it. “It was on another level,” Welker says. “It just blew us all away.” Louis is also creating his own company, Sequence One, intended to provide recent college graduates opportunities to perform and tour. —Cynthia Bond Perry

Johnathon Hart

Johnathon Hart lunges, bare chested and barefoot, against a black background. His front arm curves to match the arch of his torso, while his other arm extends parallel to his extended leg. He gazes over his front shoulder proudly.
Johnathon Hart. Photo by Nathan Carlson, Courtesy BalletMet

“Naturally gifted” best describes Johnathon Hart. After being­ accepted to the Chicago High School for the Arts at age 15 with no formal dance training, he attended San Francisco Ballet School’s summer intensive on full scholarship, followed by two years full time at the school before joining BalletMet in 2020. “He is a huge talent,” says BalletMet­ artistic director Edwaard Liang of the 21-year-old. 

In Karen Wing’s 2021 Verbena, Hart coupled his enviable facility and squeaky-clean technique with a bold stage presence. He soared in leaps that devoured the space and swirled his body in artistic brushstrokes to riveting effect. While most at home in contemporary works, the versatile Hart says he is looking forward to dancing more classical roles in 2022. —Steve Sucato

Joya Jackson

Joya Jackson poses in heels and a skintight red bodysuit. One hand cradles her head as she gazes at the camera. Chest facing the floor, her torso is lifted by her forearms; her hips lift as well, supported knee to shin by her downstage leg; her upstage foot is popped.
Joya Jackson. Photo by Ally Green, Courtesy Jackson

Joya Jackson doesn’t hold back. She infuses each movement with texture and shading, never sparing a note of music. At only 21, Jackson has been featured in several performances that have made a big impact on recent pop culture conversations, including the music videos for Cardi B’s “Up” and Ariana Grande’s “34+35,” as well as the Savage X Fenty shows in 2020 and 2021. “In no way did I imagine that during the pandemic, I would receive the opportunities I did,” she says.

Her buzziest breakthrough came last summer, when Jackson was chosen to be Normani’s­ double, dancing alongside her in the music video for “Wild Side.” Appearing as an ensemble dancer in the rest of the video, Jackson shifted effortlessly between Sean Bankhead’s sleek, jazz-infused choreography and sharp, dynamic movement, her ability to absorb nuances while adding her own flavor making her a standout. —Lydia Murray

Darian Kane

Darian Kane hadn’t planned to choreograph. But when the pandemic hit, and Atlanta Ballet artistic director Gennadi Nedvigin called for company members to create works on fellow dancers, Kane stepped up and choreographed her first piece, Dr. Rainbow’s Infinity Mirror. She discovered what she lightly dubs an “indie-pop contemporary” style that’s worlds away from her regal classical ballet persona.

To nostalgic piano and eerie melodies reminiscent of early sci-fi movies, dancer Sujin Han appears in black tuxedo tails and rainbow toe socks—think Charlie Chaplin meets The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. With elastic développés,­ ­Han takes exaggerated strides forward and steps through an invisible frame. She whirls, leaps and moonwalks, her arms striking lines through the space around her as if painting a more vivid realm. Though light on the surface, Dr. Rainbow expresses a full range of human­ experience—especially struggles with mental health. 

Darian Kane poses in profile in pointe shoes and a red bodysuit against a grey backdrop. She balances on pointe, one knee hooked over the other, arching back slightly as her arms sculpt the air around her face. Her head tips sideways so she can gaze at the camera.
Darian Kane. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet

Dr. Rainbow was so well received last spring that Atlanta Ballet is producing an expanded version, set for a February premiere. And Kane, now 25, has fallen in love with choreographing: “It’s the first time I’ve had a voice in my own industry.” —Cynthia Bond Perry

Mthuthuzeli November

In a large, grungy space, Mthuthuzeli November opens his arms to either side of his head, elbows bent. He is bare-chested and wears white sweatpants. His gaze is lifted above the camera. He mostly hides a similarly outfitted dancer, walking up behind him.
Mthuthuzeli November in his collaboration with his brother Siphesihle November, My Mother’s Son. Photo by Skye Weiss, Courtesy November

Mthuthuzeli November is pushing the boundaries of whose stories are given a voice in ballet. Born and raised in Cape Town, he moved to the UK to join Ballet Black in 2015, creating his first piece for the company in 2016. The same year, he established M22 Movement Lab, his own choreographic platform, and devised Point of Collapse, an emotive solo performed by Precious Adams for English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer Competition. It wasn’t until 2019, however, with the Olivier and Black British Theatre Award–winning work Ingoma, that November really started to attract international attention. 

Inspired by the paintings of South Africa’s Gerard Sekoto, Ingoma imagines the struggles of Black miners and their families in 1946, when 60,000 of them went on strike. Wearing a mix of wellies and pointe shoes, the dancers create percussive rhythms that drive the piece forward, their powerful motions poetically juxtaposed with moments of pleading, anxiety and vulnerability. Fusing ballet with African dance and singing, the work saw November develop a distinctive, gesture-filled movement language that is entirely his own. 

November has since been in increasing demand, even during the darkest days of the pandemic: He created an online version of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater for Cape Town Opera and a dance film for Northern Ballet. Ballet Black also returned to live performance in October with the premiere of his work The Waiting Game. With November’s unwavering motivation, abundant talent and timely topics, audiences shouldn’t have to wait long to see more from him. —Emily May

Genevieve Penn Nabity

Genevieve Penn Nabity, in pointe shoes, bare legs, and a simple tunic, balances on pointe with one leg extended long in front of her. She arches back, head parallel to the floor and arms extended in front of her. Another dancer lunges beneath her, balancing her with an arm wrapped around her back to her working side hip.
Genevieve Penn Nabity with Christopher Gerty in Robert Binet’s The Dreamers Ever Leave You. Photo by Karolina Kuras, Courtesy NBoC

National Ballet of Canada artistic staff, choreographers and fellow dancers alike heap praise on 21-year-old second soloist Genevieve Penn Nabity. “The joy she finds in movement is translated through every fiber of her being,” says choreographic associate Robert Binet, who has been casting her in his works ever since her days at Canada’s National Ballet School. Her full-bodied performance style and versatility have also been showcased in Skylar Campbell’s eponymous collective. He adds, “Her quality of movement, and ability to mold into any style thrown her way, is a constant source of inspiration.”

Penn Nabity joined NBoC as an apprentice in 2018, and was promoted to the corps de ballet and received the RBC Emerging Artist Award in 2019. Associate artistic director Christopher Stowell fast-tracked her career after seeing how she took possession of even minor roles in ballets like The Dream and The Nutcracker. “Genevieve connects movement with articulation and finesse while bringing a seamless ease to even the most challenging technical hurdles,” he says.

Penn Nabity has since danced in The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Études and, just before the lockdowns, Crystal Pite’s Angels’ Atlas. During the pandemic, she performed in the digital premiere of Binet’s The Dreamers Ever Leave You, reprising­ her role outdoors for a live audience last summer shortly after her promotion to second soloist. Next up is a new ballet by principal dancer Siphesihle November, set to debut in March. “I feel the stars have aligned,” Penn Nabity says. “Nothing is holding me back.”

Deirdre Kelly

Header photo credits, left to right, top to bottom: Raina Brie, Courtesy Carminucci; Umi Akiyoshi, Courtesy Baye & Asa; Ray Nard Imagemaker, Courtesy Grand Rapids Ballet; Courtesy Mims; Kaylee Wong, Courtesy Green; Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy BalletMet; Alexander Irwin, Courtesy Ballet22; Christina Massad, Courtesy Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre; Elizabeth Snell, Courtesy Kansas City Ballet; Brian Wallenberg, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet; Tom Clark, Courtesy English National Ballet; Frank Ishman, Courtesy Hubbard Street Dance Chicago; Sue Murad, Courtesy Vidrin; Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy PARA.MAR Dance Theatre; Banvoa, Courtesy Jackson; Skye Weiss, Courtesy November; Karolina Kuras, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada; Rose Lu, Courtesy Park; Chidozie Ekwensi, Courtesy Ude; Steven Vandervelden, Courtesy Haynes; Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy Pierce; Alex DiMattia, Courtesy ABT; Rahi Rezvani, Courtesy the van Opstals; 24 Seven Dance Convention, Courtesy Williams; Joe Toreno