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2024 Season Awards and Dedication

Annie Dwyer and Gene Medler

2024 Season Dedication
Sunday, July 7 at 7:30 pm at the top of Made in NC
Reynolds Industries Theater

ADF’s 2024 season is dedicated to Annie Dwyer and Gene Medler, two extraordinary dance educators from the Triangle whose passion and dedication have helped nurture the next generations of artists who continue to break boundaries in dance. “When I have the opportunity to experience dance performances by some of the talented choreographers and dancers who have studied with our honorees, I am reminded how impactful Annie and Gene have been to the North Carolina dance community and the dance field at large,” stated Jodee Nimerichter, ADF’s Executive Director.

This year’s season dedication will take place at the top of the Made in NC program on Sunday, July 7, at 7:30 pm at Reynolds Industries Theater.

Annie Dwyer has always been fascinated by the potential for communication through the body in motion. She has taught dance for over 45 years and trained generations of dancers ages 4–18 in public and private schools throughout North Carolina. During her 32-year tenure at Carolina Friends School, she shaped and facilitated a dance curriculum progressing from preschool through upper school—inspiring students to have a deeper understanding of the form and many to pursue dance professionally in their own careers. To Annie, teaching dance is an art form in and of itself. She taught her students that dance mattered, that they mattered, and that what they created could make a difference.

Gene Medler started dancing at 28 and quickly fell in love with tap dance, its combination of movement, rhythm, and sounds. In 1983, he founded the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble to offer his students more performance opportunities, which allowed him to expand his work as a choreographer and educator. For over forty years, his teaching philosophy has been “to teach them everything I know, open all the doors that I can, and get out of their way.” Medler has taught at schools and festivals worldwide and locally at Elon and Duke University, Meredith College, and The Ballet School of Chapel Hill. He directs The North Carolina Rhythm Tap Festival, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and continues to mentor young dancers.

For more on Annie Dwyer, Gene Medler, and the dedication, click here. 

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar

2024 Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award
Wednesday, July 17 at 7:30 pm
after the performance of Zollar’s SCAT!… The Complex Lives of Al & Dot, Dot & Al Zollar by Urban Bush Women
Reynolds Industries Theater

The American Dance Festival will present Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, dancer, choreographer, and founder and former longtime artistic director of Urban Bush Women, with the 2024 Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement. Established in 1981 by Samuel H. Scripps, the annual award honors choreographers who have dedicated their lives and talents to the creation of modern dance.

Dr. James Frazier, Dean of Florida State University and ADF board member, will present the $50,000 award to Zollar on Wednesday, July 17, after the performance of Zollar’s SCAT!… The Complex Lives of Al & Dot, Dot & Al Zollar by Urban Bush Women.

“Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, the founder of Urban Bush Women, the all-female troupe of beauty and strength, has led the way in transforming and diversifying the field of dance. Her masterful and innovative storytelling that focuses on the importance of cultural identity, equity, and community engagement as well as her careful lifting up and nurturing of women choreographers of color, has had a profound impact on this art form. Her life-long dedication has moved us all forward. I am beyond thrilled that we will honor her this season,” said Jodee Nimerichter, ADF’s Executive Director.

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar grew up in Kansas City, MO, and earned her BA in dance from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and her MFA in dance from Florida State University. In 1980, Zollar moved to New York City to study with Dianne McIntyre at Sounds in Motion, and in 1984, she founded Urban Bush Women, inspired by her desire to create a company that shared values around making work and wanting to look at the folklore, the religious traditions, and the culture of African Americans and the African diaspora. The company became a performance ensemble dedicated to exploring the use of cultural expression as a catalyst for social change. Zollar developed a unique approach to enable artists to strengthen their involvement in cultural organizing and civic engagement, which evolved into the company’s acclaimed Summer Leadership Institute.

In addition to creating over 34 works for Urban Bush Women, Zollar has created works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco, and many universities across the United States. Her collaborations include Compagnie Jant-Bi from Senegal and Nora Chipaumire. She has recently worked as choreographer for Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of American Popular Music and Daniel Fish’s Most Happy in Concert. Zollar directed and choreographed a new Jake Heggie opera, Intelligence, commissioned by Houston Grand Opera in 2023.

Zollar serves as director of the UBW Summer Leadership Institute, founding and visioning partner of Urban Bush Women, and the Nancy Smith Fichter Professor of Dance and Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor at Florida State University. She has been a United States Artists Wynn fellow and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial fellow and holds honorary degrees from Columbia College Chicago, Tufts University, Rutgers University, and Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA.

Zollar has received the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, the Dance Magazine Award, the Dance/USA Honor Award, the “Bessie” Lifetime Achievement in Dance Award for her work in the field, the Dance Teacher Award of Distinction, and the Martha Hill Dance Fund Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2020, The Ford Foundation declared Urban Bush Women one of

America’s Cultural Treasures. Zollar has recently been awarded a 2021 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellow, the 2022 APAP Honors Award of Merit for Achievement in the Performing Arts, and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.

For more on Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and the award, click here.

Ishmael Houston-Jones

2024 Balasaraswati/Joy Anne Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching
Sunday, June 30 at 5 pm
Griffith Film Theater

photo of Ishmael Houston-Jones, photo by Marc Poucher

The 2024 Balasaraswati/Joy Anne Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching, with an honorarium of $5,000, will be presented to renowned educator, performer, and choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones. Dr. James Frazier, Dean of Florida State University and ADF board member, will present the award on Sunday, June 30, at 5 pm at Griffith Film Theater in the lower level of the Bryan Center.

“I am honored to announce Ishmael Houston-Jones as the recipient of this year’s teaching award. As an educator, he pushes students to take risks, allowing them to discover that their abilities to create and find beauty in this world are boundless,” said Nile H. Russell, ADF’s Director of Education. “It becomes evident to any observer of Houston-Jones that he thrives off the energy he receives from teaching, which makes it a vital part of his practice.”

Ishmael Houston-Jones, who taught in the ADF School for many years, is an adjunct professor at The Experimental Theater Wing of NYU/Tisch School of the Arts and a master lecturer at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He has taught at prestigious institutions worldwide, including the California Institute of the Arts, Impulstanz in Vienna, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the New York University Department of Dance/Tisch School of the Arts, and Playwrights Horizons. As an artist and educator, he is an innovator of improvisational practices.

For more on Ishmael Houston-Jones and the award, click here.