“Last week, I, along with members of our team, had the opportunity to sit down with all of our Innovative 1970 choreographers as we were thinking of the importance of Black History Month and Charlotte Ballet’s continued commitment to supporting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I am grateful for the time Rena, Ja’ Malik and Andrés gave us to share about their experiences and express their own ideas about progressing the dance world.

During this conversation, Ja’ Malik spoke about why he joined North Carolina Dance Theatre and the inspiration he found in former Principal Dancer, Dr. Mel A. Tomlinson. It’s individuals like Mel and Ja’ Malik, among so many others, who have expanded Charlotte Ballet and paved the way for our Company and the dance community as a whole. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to each of our Innovative 1970 choreographers for their commitment, dedication and passion to not only the work they have done here at Charlotte Ballet but to the whole dance community.

Charlotte Ballet would like to take this time to celebrate some of the most influential individuals from our history, past and present.” – Christopher Stuart, interim artistic director.


Former North Carolina Dance Theatre Principal Dancer

Mel Tomlinson began his professional dance training at Agnes de Mille Heritage Dance Theater, founded at North Carolina School of the Arts where Charlotte Ballet was also established. He graduated with a degree in dance in only three years and moved to NYC to perform with Dance Theatre of Harlem. He later became a principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, New York City Ballet, Charlotte Ballet under the direction of Salvatore Aiello, and Boston Ballet. Often, Mel was the first or only African-American dancer in the company. He found a second career as a ballet teacher, as well as earning his Master’s Degree and Doctorate in Christian Counseling. He was diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-1990’s, but made a slow recovery and lived an additional 20 years, teaching ballet to the next generation. Mel passed away on February 5, 2019, but his legacy lives on. He is a shining light in the history of dance and an inspiration to many young dancers. We are grateful for the impact he made at Charlotte Ballet.


Former North Carolina Dance Theatre Dancer

Principal dancer and soloist, choreographer, and faculty member, Jeffery Bullock is a renowned member of the dance world. He attended UNC School of the Arts and began his professional dance career with North Carolina Dance Theatre, now Charlotte Ballet. He later performed with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Sharir + Bustamante DanceWorks. His choreography has earned accolades. Jeffery serves as a mentor to aspiring dancers in his work with schools and festivals nationally and internationally. He earned his M.F.A. in choreography from the University of Iowa and has taught at several renowned universities. Jeffery currently serves at Hollins University as associate professor, chair of Hollins’ dance program, and director of the M.F.A. program. His influence at Charlotte Ballet continues through the work of Sarah Ingel, choreographer and production staff member, and Audrey Baran, choreographer and Academy instructor, who both attended Hollins and received instruction from him. Sarah says, “Jeffery Bullock has been influential in my journey as an artist! As a teacher, he encourages his students to push the boundaries of how we see and experience ballet as an art form. From teaching excerpts of Balanchine to leading challenging and inspiring discussions, I have so much respect for his knowledge, curiosity, and generosity. Thank you for your artistry, Jeffery!” On how Jeffery influences her work, Audrey says, “The hard work and accomplishments that bolstered Jeffery throughout his career definitely come through in his teaching and mentorship. He challenged all of us to constantly re-emerge as the best artist, maker, collaborator, and researcher possible through stern encouragement and underlying compassion. In my experience, Jeffery works tirelessly to actively shape a dance world where equity, representation, and innovation are not the exception, but the standard.”


Principal Dancer,  New York City Ballet
Founder and Artistic Director of Dance Theatre of Harlem 

A trailblazer in the dance world, Arthur Mitchell was born in Harlem, NY, in 1934. He was accepted to the High School of Performing Arts and began working toward a career in ballet. He then attended the School of American Ballet and became the first Black principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, as well as a protégé of George Balanchine. In 1969, in the midst of the civil rights movement, Arthur founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem, where several Charlotte Ballet dancers trained, including current artist Raven Barkley. Arthur once said, “There were always black classical dancers in America—they just never got on stage!” Now his legacy is carried on in dancers and companies around the world. We are grateful for his impact at Charlotte Ballet.

Photo taken after a performance of Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes at President Kennedy’s Birthday celebration. From left to right: Arthur Mitchell, Gloria Govrin, Allegra Kent, George Balanchine, Charlotte Ballet’s Patricia McBride, and Edward Villella. Photo by Martha Swope.


Charlotte Ballet Academy Director and Former Company Artist

Ayisha spent five seasons with Charlotte Ballet and was the first African American woman to play a principal role in the company’s Nutcracker. Her time at Charlotte Ballet also included a memorable role as Tinker Bell in Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s Peter Pan, as well as being featured in Alvin Ailey’s The River and in George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. After retiring as a professional dancer in 2007, Ayisha joined Charlotte Ballet’s marketing department. In 2011, at the invitation of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, she became principal of the Charlotte Ballet Academy.

When asked about who has inspired her throughout her career, Ayisha McMillan Cravotta cited ballerina Janet Collins, the first black artist to perform on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1951. Ayisha recalled “I first learned about Ms. Collins when I was about 11 years old, and my mother brought me and my sister to an exhibit based on the book, I Dream a World. I was a very serious ballet student by that age, and I was mesmerized by Ms. Collins’ photo and her stories about persevering despite the racism she repeatedly faced in ballet. In one instance, she auditioned for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at about age 15, and she recounted what the audition director Leonide Massine told her. He said she was a very talented dancer, but that in order for him to accept her to the company, she would have to be painted white to perform. Massine said to her, “You wouldn’t like that, would you?” Collins replied “No, I would not,” and she did not accept the position.”

Photo 1 of Cravotta by Ira Lerner | Photo 2 of Collins courtesy of Wikipedia


Former Company Artist and current Artistic Director at Boulder Ballet

Lance Hardin is a native of Chicago, where he received his training from Larry Long at the Ruth Page Foundation School of Dance. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Ballet from Indiana University, where he studied under the direction of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Patricia McBride, Jacques Cesbron, and Violette Verdy. As a professional dancer, Mr. Hardin has danced with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, North Carolina Dance Theatre (currently Charlotte Ballet), Chautauqua Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Ballet Nouveau Colorado, Boulder Ballet, Springfield Ballet Company, and the Yoko Kasai Ballet Studio located in Japan. He has performed principal roles by world-renowned choreographers such as George Balanchine (Allegro Brilliante, Four Temperaments, Western Symphony, Who Cares), Paul Taylor (Esplanade, Company B), Dwight Rhoden (Verge), Nacho Duato (Jardi Tancat), William Forsythe (In the Middle Somewhat Elevated), Michael Pink (Romeo and Juliet), and Alonzo King (Map). Presently, Lance is enjoying many requests as guest artist, teacher, and choreographer. Mr. Hardin has taught dance for the past 23 years and holds numerous choreographic credits including The Denver Independent Choreographer’s Project, Springfield Ballet Company, Boulder Ballet and Fractured a collaboration with his wife Amy Earnest for James Sewell Ballet. Prior to joining Boulder Ballet, Lance and Amy served as Co-Dance Directors at The Myles Reif Performing Arts Center in Minnesota. Lance served as Associate Artistic Director of Boulder Ballet for four years before becoming Artistic Director in 2020.

Photo courtesy of Boulder Ballet


Former Company Artist, Founder of Ballet Boy Productions, Artistic Director of Madison Ballet

Ja’ Malik is a former member of North Carolina Dance Theater. An award-winning evolving choreographer from Harlem NY who creates works based on real-life experiences. Minding the gap between the elite perception of ballet and what he views as the reality of ballet. Rooted in respect for the classical training while pushing the physically emotional aspect of dancer audience connection through the language of contemporary movement.

Having created works on Boston Ballet School, University North Carolina School of Arts, such companies as North Carolina Dance Theater 2, Festival Ballet Providence & American Repertory Ballet among others. Founder of Ballet Boy Production whose mission is to provide mentoring, education and performance opportunities for young men of color interested in pursuing careers in contemporary and classical ballet companies.

Ja’ Malik returned to Charlotte Ballet in 2022 to create a new ballet “gypsy moths,” inspired by 1970, Black female rock group Labelle for Charlotte Ballet’s Innovative Works Series: Innovative 1970. Shortly after the premiere of “gypsy moths” at Charlotte Ballet, Ja’ Malik was named Artistic Director of Madison Ballet in March of 2022.

We are so grateful to have worked with Ja’ Malik and are inspired by his contributions to the dance community, specifically for his work supporting young, black, male dancers through Ballet Boy Productions.

Photo courtesy of Ballet Boy Productions by Dennis Johnston


7th season Company Artist, Delta Sigma Theta Outstanding Achievement in the Arts Award recipient

“I saw Raven perform in the Innovative Works show right before the Pandemic and lockdown began. I drove up from Winston Salem where I was shooting a film to see the show and was blown away by this amazing Ballerina with such maturity, musicality, artistry and beautiful technique, and I said to myself: “I hope to create on her one day.” In getting the offer to create new work at Charlotte Ballet I knew I wanted to highlight her and celebrate her as a Black Ballerina through the music of LaBelle.” – A quote about Raven from Innovative 1970 choreographer and former North Carolina Dance Theatre Alumna, Ja’ Malik.

“I think it’s awe-inspiring to be able to use the human body to create art and convey a message.” She especially likes the idea of inspiring young girls of color: “I love receiving little letters and messages during Nutcracker from some of the young dancers at the academy. It warms my heart and shows me that in some sort of way I’m fulfilling my destiny.” —A quote from Barkley in a Huffpost article 

Photo by Todd Rosenberg.


6th Season Company Artist 

 “(He) is a very expressive dancer who has the ability to be both powerful and sensitive at the same time” —Hope Muir, Artistic Director 

In 2020, Maurice collaborated with Company Artist Sarah Hayes Harkins to create a digital performance inspired by and filmed at the #BlackLivesMatter mural in Uptown Charlotte. This powerful work gave space for personal expression and collective innovation by our artists.

Photo by Todd Rosenberg.


2nd Season Company Artist

“As the dance world steadily progresses, I have found deep inspiration in the new, young, black choreographers that have taken the world by storm.  My biggest inspiration is Choreographer Rena Butler from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.  Seeing a choreographer that uses her work to push boundaries and give an honest portrait of society, while also looking like me, gives me such hope for the future of my people in the world of dance.” —Trezevant 

Andrés had the opportunity to choreograph alongside his inspiration, Rena Butler, in the 2022 Innovative Works Series: Innovative 1970.Andrés’ passion for movement and to perform continues to impact Charlotte Ballet tremendously and we could not be more proud to have him as a part of our Company.

Photo by Todd Rosenberg.


2nd Season Charlotte Ballet II Artist

Eric Conrad Stith III was born in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Eric started training at the age of 7 at The Old Donations Center for the Gifted and Talented. He trained at The Governor’s School for the Arts for 4 years and also danced with Elevate Performing Arts Center for 3 years. While at The Governor’s School, he performed in works by Paul Taylor, Erick Hawkins, and original and staged works choreographed by teachers at The Governor’s School. Eric danced the role of Johnny in Paul Taylor’s Company B and Lucien in The Governor’s School production of Paquita. He played a major role in Richard Alston’s piece Arrived which was part of the film Dancing on the Shoulders of Giants in 2019 with WHRO. Eric has studied at three summer Intensives: Orlando Ballet School, The School of American Ballet, and Charlotte Ballet Summer Intensive. In Charlotte, Eric has done work with the community, such as performances with Elevation Church. He taught ballet at El Alma de la Luna Dance Academy. At Charlotte Ballet, he performed Donizetti Variations, choreographed by George Balanchine, staged by Patricia McBride, and contemporary work choreographed by Chris Stuart.

Photo by Todd Rosenberg.


Dean of Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, Charlotte Ballet Academy Alumni 

Silas Farley began his training when he was 7 years old in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina with Sal and Barbara Messina at King David Christian Conservatory. He continued his training at Charlotte Ballet Academy with Hamburg Ballet alumni Kathryn Moriarty and Mark Diamond and New York City Ballet (NYCB) alumni Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux. He completed his ballet training at The School of American Ballet (SAB). He joined NYCB in 2012 and danced with the Company until 2020. There he performed principal roles in the works of George Balanchine and Christopher Wheeldon and originated roles in ballets by Wheeldon, Lauren Lovette, and Justin Peck. In addition to his role as Dean of the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, Mr. Farley is an Amplify Artist at the Colburn School. He is also an Alumnus Trustee of Professional Children’s School and serves on the Board of The George Balanchine Foundation.

You can read more about Silas and his career here.

Photo by Todd Rosenberg.


Dancer with Peter Chu’s Company chuthis, Charlotte Ballet Academy Alumna

Sloan is a dancer, dance teacher, and model currently based in New York City. She is originally from Charlotte, NC, where she began studying dance at Charlotte Ballet under the direction of ballet luminaries Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride. Simultaneously, she continued dancing at her performing arts middle and high school, Northwest School of the Arts. During her senior year, her mentors introduced her to alum from Point Park University which locked her sights on continuing her education in their Conservatory of Performing Arts. With a focus in Modern Dance, she graduated in 2016 with her Bachelor of Fine Arts. While in school Sloan was offered an apprenticeship with the August Wilson Dance Ensemble. Sloan went on to dance with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Kybele Dance Theater, Debbie Allen, and shortly after her time in LA she was honored to take a position with the Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company making her Paul Taylor’s last chosen dancer. During her three seasons, she has worked with Ron K. Brown, Larry Keigwen, and most recently Peter Chu.


Apprentice Artist and Outreach Assistant with Ballet Co. Laboratory, Charlotte Ballet Reach and Trainee Alumna 

Sabriyya started her dance training at BB’s Dance Production. While there, she was accepted into Charlotte Ballet’s Reach Scholarship Program, a nationally recognized community outreach program that allows students to access quality dance training in their neighborhoods for free. After three years in Reach, Sabriyya matriculated to Charlotte Ballet Academy. Since graduation from the Charlotte Ballet Academy, Sabriyya danced as a Trainee with Charlotte Ballet for three seasons. Sabriyya performed in Jean Pierre Bonfoux’s Nutcracker, participated in Debbie Allen’s summer intensive and Alonzo King Lines summer intensive. She is in her first season with Ballet Co. Labratory.