The Merce Cunningham Trust just released the names of two dancers who are the recipients of the 2023 Barbara Ensley Award: Arielle François and Nyah Malone.  Each will receive a grant of $10,000 to support improving or enhancing their dance talents and abilities as they aspire to further their professional careers. The selection committee consisted of Shayla-Vie Jenkins, Rashaun Mitchell, Bebe Miller, Michael Cole, and Patricia Lent; facilitated by Andrea Weber. This is the second year that the Barbara Ensley Award has been given out. The Cunningham Trust states that it will be given annually and run for a six-month period. The Barbara Ensley Award “aims to expand opportunities for BIPOC dance artists to engage with and benefit from the legacy of Merce Cunningham, and to provide the resources and stability to explore and participate in the broader New York City dance community.” – Merce Cunningham Trust

In its long history, Barbara Ensley (1936-2021) was sadly the only Black woman to ever be on the faculty of the Merce Cunningham Dance School in New York. Ensley taught the Fundamentals class at the studio and was known for always being welcoming and encouraging to new students. This was very important because Ensley was often the first teacher of the Cunningham technique that many students encountered. In honor of Ensley’s contribution to the Cunningham legacy it seems only fitting that this award carry her name. You may read more about Ensley by clicking on her name at the beginning of this paragraph.

In addition to the financial support provided by this award, the recipients will be paired with a mentor for periodic discussion and reflection as well as ongoing training. They will receive unlimited free access to the Trust’s daily Cunningham Technique classes and encouraged to expand their dance training by studying at other venues. Each recipient is also given the chance to learn one of the Cunningham solos as taught by an authorized Merce Cunningham Trust stager.

The Recipients

Nyah Malone - Photo courtesy of the MCT

Nyah Malone – Photo courtesy of the MCT.

A native of Akron, Ohio, Nyah Malone (they/she) studied at Nan Klinger’s Excellence Dance under the tutelage of Mia Klinger. Malone has performed in premiere works by Gregory Dawson, Dexandro Montalvo, Liv Schaffer, Jay Carlon, and Elijah Labay. She also enjoys choreographing and compositional work, creating her piece entitled who and how much? as a part of their senior thesis, which is set to premiere in 2023. Malone has also performed as a guest artist in amalgam! by FACT/SF in Yerba Buena Gardens ChoreoFest and slow dark dances by tinypistol, a durational installation that sought to decolonize the invisible whiteness of museum spaces. She is currently completing her degree at Dominican University in San Francisco and plans to begin her six-month award period in June. Malone wrote that she is “extremely excited and honored to be a recipient of the Barbara Ensley Award. She plans to utilize this opportunity to further their journey as a dancer and artist and integrate into the New York City dance community.”

Arielle François - Photo courtesy of the MCT.

Arielle François – Photo courtesy of the MCT.

Arielle François is a multidisciplinary performance artist originally from Poinciana, Florida. François trained in dance at the Osceola County School for the Arts (2011-2018) under the direction of Nealya Brunson and the New World School of the Arts (2022) where she graduated summa cum lade with a BFA in Dance Performance. As a concert dancer she has performed works by Ron Brown, Liony Garcia, and Peter London. In 2018 she was awarded Florida Dance Education NHSDA Artist Merit, Leadership and Academic Achievement Award for her solo SLEEP. She has created work for Beautiful Chorus, Miami Design District and Valentino. François is currently living in Miami and plans to begin her six-month award period in April or May.

For more information about the Barbara Ensley Award and how to apply, please click HERE.

For more information about the Merce Cunningham Trust, please visit their website.

Written for LA Dance Chronicle from information provided by the Merce Cunningham Trust.

Featured image: Barbara Ensley (front) performing in a work by Judith Dunn – Photo courtesy of the MCT