Choreographers of LIFT EVERY VOICE: by Madison Ballet

Madison Ballet’s new film series, Lift Every Voice, is the company’s first digital dance production focused on elevating the work of emerging Black choreographers. Choreographers Kia Smith, Rachelle Fochs, and Jacob Ashley are each paired with a filmmaker to bring a new work to life in the three short films. The series was filmed on location at MMoCA and includes Mercy, choreographed by Rachelle Fochs, Ethos of Force, choreographed by Kia Smith, and La Vie En (Ode to Serendipity), choreographed by Jacob Ashley.

Grounded in classical dance, these works only hint at the visions of Sugar Plums most of us think of when we hear the word “ballet.” The film medium gives the choreographers and dancers a wonderful tool, allowing them to bring imagination to life in a reality that, until now, could only be dreamed.

All three films can be found on Madison Ballet’s YouTube channel.

Dance photo by Darren Lee.

Kia S. Smith is a Chicago native trained intensely on scholarship at The Hyde Park School of Dance, The Joel Hall Dance Center, ETA Creative Arts Foundation, StoryCatchers Theatre, and received scholarships to attend the American Dance Festival in 2008 and 2009. She holds a BFA in Dance from Western Michigan University and an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she was an Advanced Opportunity Program Fellow. Kia has worked and toured with The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company 2, The Lula Washington Dance Theatre where she assisted Tamica Washington-Miller, The Joel Hall Dancers, Tyego Dance Project and Red Clay Dance. She has performed works by a myriad of classical and contemporary choreographers including August Tye, Wilfredo Rivera, Shani Collins, and others. Her collaborative and choreographic credits include; Nike, Chicago Opera Theatre, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and more.

As a recipient of the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Individual Artist Grant Kia worked as a cultural ambassador for the city at Impulstanz Dance Festival in Vienna, Austria in the summer of 2016. Her work has been featured in Dance Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Hyde Park Herald, and more. She is a member of the International Association of Blacks in Dance where she received the Joan Myers Brown Artist Development Fund scholarship and was a 2018 invited panelist for “Women of Color Arts Leaders”. Kia is the founding Executive Artistic Director of the South Chicago Dance Theatre and the company’s Resident Choreographer. In 2018, she received the inaugural Young and Ambitious Entrepreneurship Award from the Metropolitan Board of the Chicago Urban League and was chosen by the New York City based Stage Director’s and Choreographers Foundation as a member of the national Observership class

Rachelle Fochs is the School of Madison Ballet Director. Her professional training began with Madison Ballet in 1999. After dancing with the studio company for a year she was accepted on full scholarship to The Rock School of the Pennsylvania Ballet where she trained for two years with world renowned teachers. At the Rock School, she trained under dancers from American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet as well as one of George Balanchine’s first dancers, Yvonne Patterson. Fochs continued her training with some of the best schools in the country including Ballet Chicago, under the direction of Daniel Duell and Patricia Blair. While at Ballet Chicago, she performed in a large repertoire of Balanchine ballets as a soloist and principal dancer, and was choreographed on by Studio Company Director, Daniel Duell.

Her professional career began with Sacramento Ballet, where she studied the original Balanchine choreography for Valse Fantasie under the guidance of John Clifford, originator of the lead male role. While at Sacramento, she expanded her repertoire under the guidance of directors Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda-Cunningham. Her career continued with Madison Ballet, where she performed soloist and principal roles until her retirement in 2016. During her tenure with Madison Ballet, she was blessed to perform the lead role of Mina Harker in Dracula, as well as many other roles created on her. She continues to share her love of all things ballet as a Ballet Master with the company, and has recently begun to choreograph her own work. Her credits include a short film with Madison Gas &Electric’s GENRE2030 production company, Capital City Theatre’s Find Your Light educational program, numerous works set on students of the School of Madison Ballet.

Jacob Ashley, a Chicago native, began his dance training at the Chicago Academy for the Arts under the instruction of Randy Duncan, Guillermo Leyva, Sandra Kaufmann, and the late Anna Paskevska. After attending Columbia College Chicago’s modern dance program he began his professional career as an apprentice for Luna Negra Dance Theater. Mr. Ashley has been a guest artist for companies such as, Ballet Chicago, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, and San Diego Opera. This is his 9th season with Madison Ballet.


This project is supported by Dane County Arts with additional funds from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, The Evjue Foundation, Inc., charitable arm of The Capital Times, the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation, and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.