Choreographer Zollar wins Guggenheim

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar

A 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship has been awarded to internationally renowned choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, the founder and artistic director of the Brooklyn-based, all-female dance troupe Urban Bush Women, and the distinguished Nancy Smith Fichter Professor of Dance at The Florida State University.

Guggenheim fellowships are bestowed annually on a select cadre of mid-career professionals with records of stellar achievement and great promise for more of the same in the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and creative arts. This year, Zollar’s fellowship is one of just 180 awarded to U.S and Canadian artists, scientists and scholars — chosen after rigorous review from nearly 3,000 applicants — and one of only five awarded to choreographers.

"The Guggenheim Foundation recognizes a select few artists who have demonstrated extraordinary ability, and our honored alumna Jawole certainly fits that description," said Sally McRorie, dean of Florida State’s College of Visual Arts, Theatre and Dance. "From her inspired choreography to her energetic mentoring of dancers and passionate engagement with building community through the arts, one would be hard pressed to find a better example of exceptional creative talent, professional dedication, and sheer love of life. Her story is one of the best to ever flower on this campus, and we feel fortunate to have that story as part of our own."

"I am thrilled and most grateful to be recognized and awarded support from the Guggenheim Foundation," Zollar said. "Every artist has profound doubts and questions about their own work, but such awards help us to continue to move forward."

With her $35,000 Guggenheim fellowship, Zollar plans to complete research and development for a new work currently titled "visible/invisible" for which she’ll serve as the conceptual and choreographic director.

"The work will explore themes of the Great Migration of African Americans who left the South after the Civil War, as well as other documented and undocumented immigrants whose intersection in America’s urban centers birthed new cultural art forms," Zollar said. "I’ll be posing questions such as, ‘Why did these immigrants leave their homes and what did they find? What new forms of expression developed in the urban centers to which they migrated? How did and does society view workers occupying America’s lower working classes?’"

Zollar points to Toni Morrison’s "Jazz," Edward P. Jones’ "All Aunt Hagar’s Children," and Jacob Lawrence’s "Migration Series" as her inspiration for the thematic and conceptual design of the emerging production.

"All of these works share stories and images of people who moved from the South to the North with high hopes, and express the mixed emotions of the struggle of creating new communities," she said. "The resulting piece will be an abstract visual narrative that weaves these themes into the work. Collaborating with artists of various mediums, we will create a work that is rich and multilayered with elements of movement, sound and visual design."

With the receipt of her Guggenheim award, the past academic year has become an especially winning one for Zollar, who divides her time between directing Urban Bush Women and teaching in the Department of Dance at Florida State. Last November, she was named a 2008 USA Wynn Fellow in dance by the philanthropic nonprofit organization United States Artists (USA). That prestigious honor included a $50,000 unrestricted grant in recognition of her exceptional contributions to her field. In addition, "Les écailles de la memoire" (The Scales of Memory), Zollar’s latest dance production with Senegal’s all-male Compagnie JANT-BI, completed a widely praised international tour.

Like much of the acclaimed body of work choreographed by Zollar and performed worldwide, "Les écailles de la memoire" was developed at FSU’s Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC, pronounced man-see), a dance and choreographic research center that is part of one of the premier facilities for dance in the United States. To learn more about MANCC and dance at Florida State University, visit the Web sites at and

The 2009 Guggenheim competition is the 85th annual contest sponsored by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for U.S. and Canadian citizens and permanent residents (a second annual contest names Fellows in Latin America and the Caribbean). For additional information, go to