Ballet Ashani provides a platform to promote the artistic excellence and creative innovation of underrepresented peoples within contemporary ballet. We curate, collaborate with, and present the work of artists of color, women, gender non-conforming individuals, and differently-abled creatives who explore intersections between art, technology, and modern life to construct new modalities in contemporary ballet. Our goal is to create experiences in ballet that increase racial and cultural representation while expanding the art form's reach to new audiences.
Iyun Ashani Harrison
Iyun Ashani Harrison (Artistic and Executive Director) is a dance maker, educator, and executive director of Ballet Ashani. Born in Saint Andrew, Jamaica, Iyun first trained in acting, classical ballet, modern technique, and Jamaican folk dance. He graduated from the Juilliard School (BFA) and Hollins University (MFA). Harrison danced with the Dance Theatre of Harlem under the artistic direction of Arthur Mitchell. At the Dance Theatre of Harlem, he developed a love for neo-classical ballet and dancing choreography by George Balanchine, Glen Tetley, Michael Smuin, and Billy Wilson. This experience profoundly influenced Iyun's movement aesthetic and laid Ballet Ashani's foundation. Iyun's professional credits also include Ballet Hispanico, Buglisi Dance Theatre, Ailey II, National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica, and guest appearances with Connecticut Ballet, Flint Institute of Music, Collage Dance Collective, Seattle Dance Project, and St. Louis Black Repertory Theater. With these companies, he danced choreography by Jirí Kylián, José Limón, Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey, Lar Lubovitch, Donald Byrd, Edwaard Liang, Talley Beatty, and George Faison. Iyun's television credits include PBS' Setting the Stage 2007, NBC's 20th Hispanic Heritage Awards, PBS' Who's Dancin' Now? – Arts Education in Your Community and The South Bank Show in England.
A precursor to Ballet Ashani, Iyun founded and served as the executive director and resident choreographer for Ashani Dances (2011 – 2018). The Seattle Times wrote of Harrison, "Ashani Dances showcases an artist of diverse talents with sophisticated musical tastes and an understanding of how to use a bare stage to full effect." Most recently (2019), Iyun moved his company to Durham, NC rebranding it Ballet Ashani – A Contemporary Ballet. Iyun's choreography has been commissioned by the Juilliard Dance Ensemble, Ailey School, Boston Conservatory at Berklee, Collage Dance Collective, Men in Dance, American Dance Festival, Boost Dance Festival, University of Florida, Henderson State University, Pomona College, Goucher College, Webster University, Cornish College of the Arts, Jamaica School of Dance, and University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, Barbados. Iyun has held several academic positions, including professorships with Cornish College of the Arts, Goucher College, Webster University, and Pomona College. In addition, he has taught on the faculties of Pacific Northwest Ballet, Peabody Conservatory, The Ailey School, and Maryland Youth Ballet. Iyun and Dr. Kate Mattingly are the co-editors of Antiracist Ballet Teaching, a forthcoming text for Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. Iyun will premiere Giovanni's Room, a ballet adaptation of James Baldwin's novel, on September 8 & 9, 2023, at Duke University's von der Heyden Studio Theater.
Artistic & Executive Director
Iyun Ashani Harrison is the founder and executive director of Ballet Ashani. He is also the director of undergraduate studies and an associate professor of the practice of dance at Duke University.
Anthony "Otto" Nelson Jr. is a dynamic professional who wears many hats, seamlessly blending his roles as an administrator, artist, and performer. With a rich background in the arts, Otto previously contributed his talents as the Development Assistant for the American Dance Festival for two years. His experience in dance admin laid the foundation for his continued passion in the arts. In the academic realm, Otto showcases his versatility as the Pre and Post Grant-Award Tech. for the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department at North Carolina State University. As an individual artist, Otto's creative endeavors have been recognized with the Artist Support Grant from North Carolina's Durham Arts Council, supporting the premiere of his work at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in 2022, marking a significant milestone in his artistic journey. Otto also takes the stage as the character of Jacques in Ballet Ashani's work of Giovanni's Room, and also serves as the Development Manager for the company. Otto’s multifaceted contributions leave an indelible mark on the worlds of arts administration, academia, and performance in his hometown of Durham, North Carolina.
Company Manager & Rehearsal Director
Lindsay Fisher Viatori is an associate professor of dance at Slippery Rock University, in Western Pennsylvania, where she is the Artistic Director of Slippery Rock University Dance Theatre. She serves on the boards of the American College Dance Association, Ballet Ashani, and Helen Simoneau Danse. In 2015 she co-founded the FORGE Summer Dance Intensive (which she directs) and since its inception, it has grown to include college internships, choreographic residencies, and has hosted international students.
Melina Bezanis has worked in marketing and communications for five years, specializing in social media management, content creation, and event promotion. Melina currently manages Ballet Ashani's online presence, including its website, social media, newsletter, and tour promotion. Melina is the current Marketing and Communications Director for Heights Ironworks LLC. She has experience as the 2021 Advertising, Marketing, and Operations Intern at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, and the 2022 Marketing and Public Relations Assistant for the real estate company, Barcelona Home.
Felecia Baker (Hella) grew up in Chesapeake, VA, and began her dance training at Academie De Ballet, studying the Vaganova Method for ballet technique, tap, jazz, and contemporary dance. She attended The Governor’s School of the Arts in Norfolk, VA, studying ballet under Joni Petre-Scholz, Kathy Brenner Lasakow, and Lorraine Graves and performing principal roles in La Sylphide, Giselle, and Raymonda and soloists roles in La Bayadere and Swan Lake. Felecia also trained at American Ballet Theater, Pointe Park University, and Richmond Ballet summer programs, joining the latter as a trainee. Felecia danced professionally with Charlottesville Ballet and Ballet Memphis, performing the roles of Clara in The Nutcracker, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, George Balanchine's Square Dance, and original choreography by Trey McIntyre. Felecia teaches ballet and pointe technique at Academie de Ballet and the Governor’s School and is a certified GYROTONIC ®Trainer.
Melina Silkai Bezanis (dancer) was raised in Houston, TX, where she attended the High School for Performing and Visual Arts before moving to New York City to attend The Ailey/Fordham program, where she received a BFA in Dance and BA in Political Science. Melina has performed choreography by Martha Graham, David Dorfman, Mark Caserta, Omar Román De Jesús, Jaqueline Buglisi, Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, Janice Rosario, Dwight Rhoden, and Desmond Richardson. She choreographed "New York or Nowhere" for the Chicago Grant Park Music Festival in 2021 and "Urban Jungle" for her 2023 BFA Senior Showcase.
Sarah Bowdoin began her classical ballet training in Houston, Texas. She holds a BFA in Ballet Performance from The University of Oklahoma and a graduate degree in Arts and Cultural Management from The College of Charleston. Sarah has danced professionally with Charlotte Ballet, Palmetto City Ballet, Unbound Ballet Project, Holy City Opera, Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle, and Killian Manning's No Forwarding Address, and has taught for numerous studios and schools in the greater Southeast region. She is also certified in Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga and Progressing Ballet Technique. She is currently the Director of Grants and Development for the American Dance Festival.
Aaron Brown (composer) is an audiovisual artist based in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Since receiving his BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in 2014, he has focused on his sound art project Baron and highlighting his peers' work via his independent cassette label. Aaron has begun to push his compositional work into a more physical direction, mainly composing for contemporary dance.
Lighting & Production Designer
James Clotfelter (lighting & production design) is committed to creating collaborative and socially conscious work for live performance, the built environment, and public space. Working broadly as a designer specializing in light, James maintains an architectural lighting design practice. He is the co-founder of Studio C Projects, a performance-based, collaborative research studio that investigates the intersections of movement, design, and architecture. His work in live performance has been presented throughout the US and internationally with artists that include Rennie Harris, Johannes Wieland, John Jasperse, Reggie Wilson, Bill Shannon, Dan Rothenberg, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Pete Wyer, and Mark DeChiazza. James has a double MFA in Transdisciplinary Design and Lighting Design from the Parsons School of Design in NYC.
Jam Niel Delgado
Jam Niel Delgado (Giovanni) was born in Puerto Rico. He first pursued dancing at 16 at the School of the Arts in Trujillo Alto, PR and later joined the dance team, where he competed in the college Olympics. In 2014, Jam Niel moved to the States and worked with Koffee Dance Company, Winston Salem Festival Ballet, and Gary Taylor Dance. In 2018, he performed in the annual Wake Forest Dance Festival and began teaching with Infinity Ballet Theater and the Academy of Fine Arts. Most recently, Jam Niel has performed in Durham with Shaleigh Dance Works' The In-Between at The Fruit and with Gaspard & Dancers in American Dance Festival's The Stars Are Out event in 2021. Jam Niel is excited to be part of Ballet Ashani under the direction of Iyun Ashani Harrison.
Leah Esemuede (dancer) is a senior at Duke University from Frederick, Maryland, double majoring in Dance and Psychology with a minor in Spanish. She began dancing at the age of 4 and went on to complete her pre-college training at CityDance School and Conservatory in Rockville, MD. Leah has completed programs at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Orsolina 28, where she worked with artists Rena Butler, Jonathan E. Alsberry, Ken Ossola, and Sarah Reynolds. Continuing her training at Duke, Leah has had the opportunity to perform in works within the dance department and explore leadership roles and choreography as a member of Embodiment Contemporary Dance and Outreach Chair of Street Medicine.
Eury German (he/him) is a dancer, choreographer, and dance educator from New York City, NY. A brown, queer, and immigrant artist born in the Dominican Republic, Eury's creative projects focus on the immigrant community, identity, and family. Eury has a Master of Fine Arts in Dance from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and a BA in Dance and Biology from Wesleyan University. He has danced with various New York City companies and choreographers including, but not limited to, Abdul Latif - D2D/T, Jennifer Muller The Works, Nimbus Dance Works, Ballet Hispanico, inDance | Toronto, James Swell Ballet, and more. Eury has taught at multiple universities and training programs in the United States and in Spain, where he completed a Fulbright research arts project from 2022-2023.
Senior Production Technician
Haze Grissett (They/Them) Currently works at Duke University's main campus as a Senior Production Technician for the Venue and Production Management team. They work with all levels of artists, including students, faculty, and world-class traveling performances. Previous professional work highlights include Master Electrician for the American Dance Festival 2019, Lighting Designer for Guilford College's productions of The Revolutionists(2022) and Smell of The Kill(2021), Lighting Designer for the world premiere of Nick and the Prizefighter(2022) at the AMPLIFY Black Voices Theatre Festival. They also hold a BFA in Design and Technical Theatre from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, class of 2021. In their spare time, Haze works with their partner on a Devised Documentary Theatre project called The Gender Gallery, which focuses on uplifting southern gender expansive narratives with a focus on joy and love.
Rayan Lecurieux-Durival, a French Guianese dancer, trained in The EPCC Les 3 Fleuves, the Conservatory of Larivot, and the Association De Danse Artistique Classique Et Modern’Jazz. He moved to Paris and joined the Institut de Formation Rick Odums, and upon completion, Rayan was accepted into the Ailey School on scholarship for three years. Since then, Rayan has performed in the Black Iris Project movie “Wild,” an Emmy-nominated Dance Film series by choreographer Jeremy McQueen. He has also performed with Bill T. Jones at the Park Avenue Armory for the world premiere of “Deep Blue Sea,” along with choreographers such as Ray Mercer, Christopher Huggings, Matthew Rushing, Norbert de La Cruz, Kirven Douthit-Boyd, etc.Rayan has also performed with Le Jeunes Ballet Jazz and Moderne de Rick Odums in Paris, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (as a student in Ailey’s Memoria), Axelrod Contemporary Dance Theater, Jamel Gaines Creative Outlet, Parsons Dance, Collage Dance Collective, Buglisi Dance Theatre, RudduR Dance, Opus Dance Theater, and Jennifer Mullet/The Work.
Anthony "Otto" Nelson Jr.
Anthony "Otto" Nelson Jr. (dancer) is a Durham, NC-Native performer, dance educator, arts-activists, and organizer of healing and "self-work" spaces. Otto’s career has led him to seek training in various styles, building his repertoire in contemporary, ballet, modern, hip-hop, and jazz and refining his focus in a personal style that blends these traditions. With over a decade of dance theatre experience, Otto has performed with renowned choreographers in the Triangle and beyond, has been an artist-in-residence for Carolina Performing Arts, a featured UNC-Wilmington Fellowship Artist, has performed at Jazz at Lincoln Theatre and Dixon Place in NY, and has been awarded the North Carolina Arts Council's Artist Support Grant Award, in support of his work. Otto works as an independent and collaborative performer, making socially conscious work.
Brandon Penn (David) was born and raised in Richmond, VA, where he began his dance training at the Pine Camp Cultural Arts Center, studying with Annette Holt, Rodney Williams, and Willie Hinton. He later enrolled at the School of Richmond Ballet, where he studied under Igor Antanov, Malcolm Burn, and others. After spending three years at the Richmond Ballet, Brandon was accepted as a company trainee while completing high school. After graduating, Brandon studied at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase College Conservatory for Dance with Larry Clark, Taryn Russell, and Ted Kivitt before accepting a position with Atlanta Ballet 2. Brandon has also danced professionally with Columbia City Ballet and as a principal dancer with Fort Wayne Ballet.
Alyssa Shi (dancer) began her dance training at Haiyan International Dance Academy in Portland, Oregon, under Haiyan Wu and Yang Zou. There, she trained primarily in classical ballet, contemporary dance, and Chinese classical dance. Alyssa continued her training at Duke University, where she performed with the Duke University Dance Program, Embodiment Contemporary Dance, and Devils en Pointe (two student-run dance groups). At Duke, Alyssa conducted research in the field of dance medicine and held executive positions with both Devils en Pointe and Embodiment Contemporary Dance.
Scenic Design & Video
William Paul Thomas
William Paul Thomas (scenic design & video) is a Durham-based visual artist and is currently the Visiting Assistant Professor of Painting Foundations at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. His creative practice is centered on highlighting the individuals and moments that are often overlooked in the mainstream projections of Black life. Through collaborative projects such as serving as guest curator for the 2019 MFA Exhibition at the Ackland Museum at UNC-Chapel Hill, he serves as an arts advocate around the Research Triangle.
Dancer & Rehersal Director
LINDSAY FISHER VIATORI spent the bulk of her performing career in New York City dancing with Helen Simoneau Danse (rehearsal director and founding company member), Nathan Trice/RITUALS, Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company, Collective Body/ Dance Lab, Ellen Cornfield, Camille A. Brown, Sidra Bell and VIA Dance Collaborative (founding member). She also had the pleasure of performing works by Twyla Tharp, Jiri Kylian, Ton Simons, Tatiana Baganova, and Miguel Gutierrez among others. She has performed in Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera’s West Side Story and North Shore Music Theatre’s Victor/Victoria. Film credits include Lead Arabian in Robert Lindgren’s The Nutcracker (PBS/UNC-TV), feature film Across the Universe, and the dance film Color Theory directed by Cara Hagen. She also performed for three seasons with The Blanket where she performed works by Lucinda Childs, Christopher Williams and Beth Gill. She excitedly joined Ballet Ashani in 2023 for the world premiere of the contemporary ballet adaptation of James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room.” She holds a BFA from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts where she was the recipient of the prestigious Sarah Graham Kenan Endowed Fellowship of Excellence, and holds an MFA in Choreography from the University of Iowa where she was the first recipient of the Strategic Initiative Fellowship recognizing excellence in her field. She is the co-founder and director of the FORGE Summer Dance Intensive, hosted at Slippery Rock University, where she is an associate professor of dance.