Harlem Stage Unleashes A Creative Torrent: Meet The Aquatic All-Stars of 2024 WaterWorks Emerging Artists!

January 25, 2024

Harlem Stage, Artistic Director and CEO Patricia Cruz, today announced the five artists selected as 2024 WaterWorks Emerging Artists.

The artists include a dancer, vocalist, choreographer, and writer Marie Lloyd Paspe; kathak dancer, choreographer, and educator Barkha Patel; actor, author, podcaster, playwright, and storyteller Christopher Rivas; writer, independent producer, and director Marie Thomas; and saxophonist and composer Immanuel Wilkins.

The Emerging Artists program — part of Harlem Stage’s signature commissioning initiative, WaterWorks — is designed to support a small group of promising multidisciplinary artists of color as they develop new aspects of their artistic practice.

Over the course of the year, Harlem Stage will provide this new cohort of WaterWorks Emerging Artists with essential resources and a creative home. The artists will receive mentorship and critical feedback from leaders in the industry, professional development workshops led by Harlem Stage staff, and production guidance. True to the mission of Harlem Stage, which is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary, the program encourages artists to continue to push boundaries, expanding their chosen art forms and creative instincts. During their experience, each Emerging Artist will develop an original performance piece to be presented as part of a work-in-progress showcase at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse in December 2024.

For more than 30 years, the WaterWorks Emerging Artists program, formerly Fund for New Work (FFNW), has provided commissioning grants to early-career artists of color, shining a light on these artists and lighting the path on their road to artistic achievement. Through the years, the program’s impact has been expansive, with artists whose works were developed and premiered at Harlem Stage going on to be presented at national and international venues and festivals, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Danspace Project, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, New York Live Arts, and more. Previous award recipients include choreographers Camille A. Brown and Kyle Abraham, musicians Craig Harris and Deidre Murray, poet Carlos Andrés Gómez, and multidisciplinary artists Derrick Hodge, Maija Garcia, and Sekou Sundiata.


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“We are so excited to be working with a new cohort of WaterWorks Emerging Artists,” said Cruz. “Providing transformative support to a new generation of innovators, nurturing their careers, and amplifying their art epitomizes our mission at Harlem Stage. We can’t wait to see what they present at the end of this year — and in years to come.”

Harlem Stage’s 2024 WaterWorks Emerging Artists and Their Projects

Marie Lloyd Paspe, in the belly of the crocodile (working title)

Marie Lloyd Paspe (she/her) is a Filipina American dancer, vocalist, choreographer, and writer. Her work re-roots the diasporic Asian body through memory and empathetic belonging in kapwa (“shared one-ness”) within foreign environments. She won a Bessie for Outstanding Choreography for her contributions to Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s Deep Blue Sea and has performed with that company since 2018. Paspe was a 2022 A4 Jadin Wong Fellow and a 2023 Gallim Moving Artist Resident, and is a 2024 TMT Institute Fellow. She has premiered work in the Philippines, China, Israel, and Germany as well as the U.S.

Taking place in the cavernous gorges of the two-chambered belly of the crocodile, Paspe’s curiosity of imagined memory, embodied herstories, and erased lineages reveals itself into the re-membering of the Philippine “babaylan” – a Filipinx shaman of pre-colonial Philippines. in the belly of the crocodile is a treatise, expansion, and demarcation of the “babaylan” spirit reincarnated into the mother migrants of today’s Philippine overseas labor force and the feminist spirit that leads movements calling for the end of genocide (Palestine, Congo, Sudan) and the end of U.S. war machines (Philippines, Israel). In pre-colonial Philippine hxstory, the “babaylans” were female and transgender shamans who healed and led the village from deeply integrated connections with the earth and the cosmos, living on the outskirts of town in huts surrounded by the skulls of their enemies. Feared by such power, Spanish colonizers, in ignorance, cut our babaylans’ bodies and fed them to the crocodiles – not knowing the sacred safe-keeping the throttled crocodile belly would have for our magic and wisdom to survive.

The theatrical dance alter-musical will include Paspe’s research of fascial archiving, postmodern choreography, pole and rope climbing, singing as a dancing body, and vocal scoring and found-sound music composition.

Barkha Patel, ramti aave – her playful arrival

Barkha Patel (she/her) is a kathak dancer, choreographer, educator, and the Artistic Director of Barkha Dance Company based in New York City. Patel has performed solo and ensemble works at dance festivals in India and the U.S. at institutions including Dance Theatre of Harlem, Jacob’s Pillow Inside/Out, the Joyce Theatre and Little Island Dance Festival, 92Y, and Chelsea Factory among others. Patel was a Dance/USA Institute for Leadership mentee, fellow with Forge NYC consulting, and was a Jerome Hill Artist Finalist 2023 (Jerome Foundation). She was named a 2022-2023 fellow with the National Arts Club and currently is in residency with Movement Research in NYC, and was recently awarded the 2023 Juried Bessie Award.

During her time as a WaterWorks Emerging Artist, Patel will develop ramti aave – her playful arrival, a work that explores surrendering to the Hindu goddess Kali’s playfully destructive power to access the erotic. Incorporating Audre Lorde’s insights, Patel’s work will emphasize that the erotic transcends explicit sexuality, celebrating its profound and limitless strength in everyday experiences. Weaving Lorde’s ideas with Kali’s symbolism, the performance aims to convey the importance of harnessing the erotic for personal and collective liberation.

Christopher Rivas, ROUGH MAGIC: An Operatic Ritual

Christopher Rivas (he/him) is an actor, author, podcaster, playwright, and storyteller. His critically acclaimed debut book, Brown Enough, is part memoir and part social commentary, exploring what it means to be Brown in America. He is the host and executive producer of two podcasts with SiriusXM’s Stitcher: Brown Enough, which explores the parallel themes of his book through interview-style episodes; and Rubirosa, a 10-episode documentary-style investigation of Porfirio Rubirosa, a Dominican diplomat, race car driver, soldier, and polo player believed to be the inspiration for James Bond. On screen, Rivas is known for his work on the Fox series Call Me Kat, opposite Mayim Bialik.

ROUGH MAGIC, the project Rivas will be working on during his time as an Emerging Artist, is a three-act operatic ritual that leads the audience through three distinct immersive configurations, revealing how our contemporary lives bear striking parallels to the enduring curses of the Greek mythological figures Sisyphus, Tantalus, and Narcissus.

Marie Thomas, Untitled Project

Marie Thomas (she/her) is a published writer, independent producer, and director who often uses a contemporary style, humor, and bold and playful aesthetic in her creations. A Black and Chicanisma woman from Denver, Colorado, with a Bachelor of Arts in Women’s Studies from Spelman College, her personal artistic ethos centers cultural awareness through Afro-surrealism, ancestral thought, and magical realism. She has shown her original theater production The Noir Door in Denver and New York City to sold-out crowds in both cities, and has appeared on New York Magazine’s The Cut podcast and CNN’s Head Line News as an advocate of women’s rights and against sexual abuse.

Thomas’s as-yet-untitled project is one of reflective dialogue. She intends to create a piece where a father and daughter discuss their differences and similarities. In recent years, terms like “Girl Dad,” “Narcissism,” and “Childhood Trauma” have come to the forefront; Thomas’s work will explore these concepts and what they look like applied to a theatrical interpersonal interaction.

Immanuel Wilkins, FLESH

Alto saxophonist, composer, and bandleader Immanuel Wilkins (he/him) released his critically acclaimed debut album Omega at just 22 years old, and his sophomore album, The 7th Hand, released in 2022 on Blue Note Records with the album release performance presented as part of Harlem Stage’s Uptown Nights music series in the spring of 2022, earned similar accolades from top press. He has received numerous commissions/grants including: The Kimmel Center Artist in Residence Commission, The Roulette Emerging Artist Commission, The South Arts Creativity Residency Grant, and the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage Grant. His quartet has toured throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, and South America. In 2023, Wilkins was awarded with three Downbeat Critics Poll Awards: Best Alto Saxophonist, Best Rising Star Composer, and Best Rising Star Group. Wilkins has a bachelor’s degree in jazz studies from the Juilliard School.

Wilkins will develop a piece for saxophone, synthesizer, percussion, guitar, and voice entitled FLESH during his Emerging Artist tenure. FLESH is a study on the black body, and the remix; repurposing the skin as a symbol and tool for unification. The performance explores the body as an instrument, with skin contact, movement, and music that deals with modalities, dense orchestration, and improvisation. FLESH is about the aesthetics of the body, and how the patterns in flesh resemble a map, or a score. The performers will use bronze castings that were made to be read as a score. Referencing bronze’s use as a material of vessels, FLESH is in proximity to a larger preoccupation of Wilkins’ with the idea of the body as a vessel in music, exploring how musicians on stage become a conduit or channel for a higher power.

Harlem Stage

Harlem Stage is the performing arts center that bridges Harlem’s cultural legacy to contemporary artists of color and dares to provide the artistic freedom that gives birth to new ideas. For 40 years, the organization’s singular mission has been to perpetuate and celebrate the unique and diverse artistic legacy of Harlem and the indelible impression it has made on American culture. Harlem Stage provides opportunity, commissioning, and support for visionary artists of color, makes performances easily accessible to all audiences, and introduces children to the rich diversity, excitement, and inspiration of the performing arts.

Harlem Stage fulfills its mission through commissioning, incubating, and presenting innovative and vital work that responds to the historical and contemporary conditions that shape our lives and the communities the organization serves.

With a long-standing tradition of supporting artists and organizations around the corner and across the globe, Harlem Stage boasts such legendary artists as Harry Belafonte, Max Roach, Sekou Sundiata, Abbey Lincoln, Sonia Sanchez, Eddie Palmieri, Maya Angelou, and Tito Puente, as well as contemporary artists like Mumu Fresh, Jason “Timbuktu” Diakité, Xian aTunde Adjuah, Tamar-kali, Vijay Iyer, Mike Ladd, Meshell Ndegeocello, Jason Moran, José James, Nona Hendryx, Bill T. Jones, and more. Harlem Stage’s education programs serve over 2,300 New York City school children each year.

The New York Times has saluted Harlem Stage as “an invaluable incubator of talent” and it has been hailed as an organization still unafraid to take risks. Harlem Stage’s investment in this visionary talent is often awarded in the early stages of many artists’ careers, and the organization proudly celebrates their increasing success. Five members of its artist family have joined the ranks of MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship awardees: Kyle Abraham (2013), Vijay Iyer (2013), Jason Moran (2010), Bill T. Jones (1994), and Cecil Taylor (1991).

Harlem Stage is a winner of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals’ William Dawson Award for Programming Excellence and Sustained Achievement in Programming.

Harlem Stage, 150 Convent Ave, New York, NY 10031, 212.281.9240, https://www.harlemstage.org/

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