These Fellows, like the Lab family they join, have chosen performance as the most vital means to address the most pressing issues of their lives and in the world. Deeply rooted in their communities, some have returned to their home countries after or amidst hardship, some are lifelong locals, while others are living as refugees. They teach, perform, produce, and make community in their places of birth and their places of work in Armenia, Lebanon, Mexico, Palestine, the Philippines, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Venezuela, and more.
Meet the 2021-2023 Cohort
Fidaa Ataya is a storyteller. Her grandmother, forcibly expelled from her home and homeland in Al Bourj Palestine in 1948, would tell her stories. As she listened, Fidaa would fly with her imagination across borders, across the occupation, to freedom. Traditionally, women in Palestine told stories in private, not in public. But Fidaa tells stories in public, using them as a tool for survival, to pass on the anthropology of her people, to prove their existence and resistance. She holds a bachelor’s degree in education and psychology, diplomas in drama and education and playback theatre, and an MEd in Integrated Arts from Plymouth State University (NH). Fidaa has produced and performed shows in Palestine, Europe, America, and the Arab world and performed in numerous festivals across the globe. Fidaa has founded or co-founded a number of groups including the Art and Activism Residency, Hakaya Group to revive traditional Palestinian storytelling, Arabic School of Playback, Women’s Theatre at Burj Al-Barajna refugee camp, The Rain Singer Theatre at Tulkarm refugee camp, and the Palestinian American Children’s Theatre (PACT). She is a Drama in Education Specialist and Faculty Member at the Arab School of Playback Theatre, a member of ITC4 in New York, as well as a puppeteer, filmmaker, and director. She has directed several short films which have been shown in Palestine, within the United States, and in Italy. With Seraj Libraries, she is helping to open the National Storytelling Center in Palestine.
Sonya Armaghanyan was born in Yerevan, Armenia. Despite an early childhood influenced by regional instability and war, Sonya’s parents introduced her and her brother to a world that stretched far beyond the borders of Armenia through literature, music, circus, and theatre. For Sonya, theatre became a place of magic and deep emotions. She experienced how the creative process of theatre reveals and reimagines one’s identity, sense of belonging, feelings, and perceptions individually, and in relation to others. These notions are deeply rooted in Sonya’s work as a cultural producer, theatre practitioner, and community engagement specialist. Her artistic practice focuses on creating spaces of encounter between the individual and the collective, and where a shared collective dreaming becomes possible. In her work Sonya sees and listens to stories of people who experience destruction and loss and believes that in a time of crisis, there is a need for kindness, hope, empathy, and humanizing ‘the other.’ Sonya is a producer and facilitator of numerous performative workshops and projects in Armenia, Nepal, Switzerland, Greece, and Kenya. She currently works with the International Organization for Migration, where she uses art-based approaches for social reintegration and psychosocial wellbeing of persons affected by conflict in Somalia. She is the recipient of the Swiss Humanitarian Award 2018 for her research paper “Theatre as Psychosocial Approach in Humanitarian Settings.” Sonya is in love with love and believes that it is the stories of each one of us that collide and create our Universe.
Abner Torres Delina Jr. is the third of five children raised by parents who were both community leaders from the coastal areas of Cadiz City, Negros Occidental, Philippines. At twelve, he started living independently, studying Theater Arts at the Philippine High School for the Arts. He graduated AB Arts Management at De La Salle-College of St. Benilde. Today, Abner identifies as a posthuman artivist, post-dramatic performance-maker, post-disciplinary cultural weaver, and founding leader-artistic director (MaPa) of BLACK CANVAS collective, nurturing care culture, global justice, and ecological healing. He partners with the Cultural Center of the Philippines, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and the Department of Education’s arts therapy, arts education, and climate action programs. His current projects focus on the intersections of mental health, human rights, and climate crisis. As an actor, he top-billed in award-winning Filipino productions and international films. He hosted as “Kuya Fidel” in Batibot children’s television show, “Kuya Art” in Arts Online, and starred in Sirena, a queer viral music video. He represented the Philippines at Kuandu Arts Festival (Taiwan), Asian Performing Arts Forum (Japan), and is the recipient of an Asian Cultural Council Grant (USA). He joined International Interdisciplinary Artists Consortium residency and introduced KAMALAYAAN practice in Moving Arts Lab. Abner (meaning: father of light) lives to liberate the world through embodied, posthuman, queer, eco-feminist, and intersectional perspectives.
Kiyo Gutiérrez was born in Guadalajara. She is a Mexican artist with Japanese, Bolivian, Indigenous, and Spanish ancestors. She studied history because she wanted to understand where she was standing. But she couldn’t find any answers in heteropatriarchal narratives. Then she discovered her path was in the body. She started doing performance art as a reaction against the brutal Mexican reality, which is a violent one full of femicides, disappearances, and constant and insatiable looting towards nature. She draws on multiple mediums including video, dance, poetry, sculpture, and sound. Ecofeminist, provocative, earthy, political, her performance pieces question established order and power, and explore the ties between female oppression and the destructive exploitation of Planet Earth. Kiyo performs often in public spaces and has participated in International Performance Festivals and events in Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, Spain, and the United States. She also participated in Debates, an editorial project for Colección Cisneros, and was part of the EmergeNYC 2021 alumni cohort. She believes it is essential to place the body into the ruptures opened up by instability, precarity, and pollution. To put it there is to resist, but it is also to plant a seed with ideas powerful enough to rekindle debates and to transform the collective imaginary. She is currently exploring the possibility of multispecies alliances and is working in collaboration with more than 40 thousand honey bees and other pollinators.
Caroline Hatem was born in Beirut in 1976 when the Lebanese civil war erupted. Her father taught philosophy, and her mother, dance. She found out quite early how to face turmoil with art and books. She learned philosophy (a Masters’s in France), theatre (a BA at the University of Arizona), and dance. She taught dance and movement for actors for years. She truly found her calling though when she started directing: Al Beyt, by Lebanese author Arzé Khodr, which toured all over Lebanon and in Tunisia, then Al Zifaf (an adaptation from Brecht’s “A Respectable Wedding”) which represented Germany at the European Theatre Festival in Beirut. She co-founded in 2018 the cultural association YAZAN which brings together artists around transmitting, creating, and touring in the field of performing arts, film, and music. In times of greatest catastrophe, Caroline knows that it is crucial not to lose hope. She believes in capacity building, creation, production, and making work opportunities. She continues to tackle great texts, adapt them to the current reality, and bring together young and less young artists to fulfill a dream of professional and personal development. Rejecting neo-colonial depictions of Arab bodies and narratives, she aims at producing works that can tour worldwide for their intrinsic qualities, their original take on universal texts, and their insight and impact in regard to their region of origin.
Aganza Kisaka hails from a strong line of artisans who have made their mark on the Ugandan soil through music, visual art, and drama. Born and bred in the bustling hills of Kampala, Uganda, Aganza is the only girl amongst three boys from whom she learned the life lessons of push and pull. She received her training as an actress from NYU Abu Dhabi and completed a Masters in Education from Unicaf University. She would later represent Uganda as best actress at the PIFF awards and best-supporting actress at the UFF awards. She is also a published author, pointedly addressing issues close to her heart. Her short story about depression, “Operation: Mother’s Bruises,” appeared in “The Different Shades of the feminine Mind” (2017) as part of the ARFRIWOWRI Literary Project. Aganza made her debut as a playwright at the Kampala International Theatre Festival in 2016 with “Black” which tackles issues of race, blackness, and identity. Since then she has continued to write and conjure new work. She is drawn to topics that deal with the politics of identity, home, race, and belonging to bring people together to laugh, cry, heal, and learn. Aganza founded the Yenze Theatre Conservatoire, training performing artists in acting, movement, and voice while providing artist management and production services to artists in Kampala, Uganda.
Ifrah Mansour is a Muslim Somali refugee who was born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Somalia, Kenya, and the United States. She experienced civil wars, famine, displacement, droughts, and refugee camps before coming to America. Now, she uses her lived experiences to create artworks that reimagine people’s connection to one another beyond borders, faith, race, class, and sexual orientation. Ifrah’s artwork explores trauma through the eyes of children to uncover the resiliencies of blacks, Muslims, and refugees. She interweaves poetry, puppetry, films, and installations to unearth the stories we are too afraid to share or too broken up to name. She’s been featured in Middle East Eye, BBC, Vice, OkayAfrica, Star Tribune, and City Pages. Her critically-acclaimed works include, “How to Have Fun in a Civil War” “Can I touch it”, “Somalis Balloon”, “I am a Refugee”, “My Aqal” series, and “Halima, the puppet.” She believes great art comes from truth-telling and that our world is in desperate need of truth-telling. Because in truth-telling, we see the cracks of humanity as well as the innate strength of it. Art is a window to our soul. Art can move us to march, to shout, and to demand more equitable, kinder, and caring communities. When she’s not transporting crazy art things on public transportation, Ifrah enjoys teaching elders and allegedly hiking by the many lakes in Minnesota.
Nwabisa Plaatjie was born in Cala, a small town in Eastern Cape, South Africa. NgumaNtsundu, uMngxongo, uSophitsho, Yem-yem, Ngqolomsila, uMadiba, uHala (clan name). She is a Theatre-maker, Producer, and Leader in South Africa, where people have long used performance to protest, advocate for change, educate, and entertain. She comes to the theatre embracing this history, holding the baton, until it is time to pass it on. Her craft constantly intersects with her activism so her career has revolved around five key objectives; developing professionalization in the Theatre and Dance industry, creating new plays, offering mentorship, establishing professional affiliations, and encouraging cross-sector collaborations. She serves as a trustee for the Denis Goldberg House of Hope, is a Mandela Washington Fellow, a member of the National Steering Committee of the newly formed Theatre and Dance Alliance, a member of ASSITEJ SA, and also a member of the newly-formed Theatre and Dance Employers Association of South Africa. She holds a Master’s degree in Theatre and Performance from the University of Cape Town. She is a full-time employee of the Baxter Theatre at the University of Cape Town, where she coordinates and curates their Masambe Theatre, driving its relaunch as a space for performance, collaboration, mentorship, and networking. She is working to devise ways for Intsomi, the oral storytelling form of the amaXhosa people, to teach cultural policy, critically reflect on existing policies, carve out new policies, and share useful insights for reimagining a creative world post covid.
Wesley Ruzibiza is a dancer, actor, choreographer, and director. Raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he moved to Rwanda, his country of origin, in 1999. He was studying financial management at the National University of Rwanda when he encountered the world of contemporary arts. While observing a dance workshop, the choreographer surprisingly invited him to join the group. He took off his shoes and since that day never left. It was through a dance performance that he finally fully understood what had happened in his country, Rwanda, in 1994 and how he could tell his own people’s story to the rest of the world. Ruzibiza holds an African Contemporary Dance and Germaine Acogny diploma. From 2002-2010 he took over the direction of the Dance Department at the University Center of Arts and Drama. Today, he is the Artistic Director of the Amizero Kompagnie that he co-founded in 2005 with the National University of Rwanda UCAD, with which he won multiple international awards. He founded the East African Night of Tolerance international festival (EANT), co-founded the Africa Mashariki Dance network (AMDA), and in 2020 co-founded with his partner Dida Nibagwire, Rwandan actress and producer, the first Rwandan private theater based in Kigali named “L’ESPACE.” He is the co-artistic Director of l’Ecole des Sables in Dakar, an Associate Professor at the Dance and Research Center (CPARC) in Bordeaux, France, and at the Muda Africa Dance School in Tanzania, among others.
Sebastián Torres is an actor, writer, producer, and director born in Caracas, Venezuela. He is the son of forced migration and welcoming arms in a land that he now calls home. He studied performing arts with the internationally acclaimed Elia K. Schneider at the Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theater in L.A. and in 2007 co-founded Grupo Teatral Emergente de Caracas, devoted to social and political productions. The company earned acclaim in Caracas, but due to the precarious living conditions in Venezuela, Sebastián and his theater group were exiled to Mexico. This move gave his devotion to social topics a new focus: speaking up about the Venezuelan diaspora, the largest in the American continent. In Mexico, he produced and performed the leading role in “Hamlet in Caracas,” about a young actor forced to leave his country. His latest production “Emigrants,” by Slawomir Mrozek, won second place at the International Latino Festival in Chicago 2021 and is sponsored by the Polish Embassy in Mexico and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He has learned from experience that giving a little can be so much to others. He has seen it when a person leaves the theater knowing that they are not alone, that someone else is going through the same thing they are living. He plans to tour “Emigrants” to countries hosting Venezuelan refugees.