Read more to learn about the Ann & Weston Hicks Choreography Fellowship program Alum Omar Román de Jesus. Román de Jesus’ illustrious career has included being a Princess Grace Awardee, a Harkness Promise Awardee, and the Founder/Director of New York-based dance company Boca Tuya, among much more.
Q: Can you share a memory that you look back at fondly when you think of your time at the Pillow?
A: I received the Ann and Weston Hicks Choreography Fellowship during the pandemic. As many people reading this likely know, working to craft and share work through the computer is a radically different experience from making and sharing a work in person.
Having access to Risa’s and Dianne’s mentorship was essential in developing my work and for troubleshooting the distance between the dancer and the viewer via a screen. Receiving expert input, questions, and comments sharpened my choreographic eye and allowed me to practice receiving information about my work without holding too tightly to my own feelings.
We all need to be questioned about our work; we need practice contending with those questions. Critical feedback is a gift and an indispensable resource for choreographers and being vulnerable enough to receive that input from people who know choreography intimately prevents personal complacency.
I am so grateful to have worked with Risa and Dianne during my fellowship and for the continued opportunity to turn to them for advice — choreographic, administrative, and interpersonal — on my current projects.
Q: Can you share a bit about what you were working on choreographically when you did your fellowship at the Pillow?
A: My work relies heavily on abstract narrative. Since concert contemporary dance, my main genre, can be notoriously hard to follow even with a more lateral narrative structure, it is important to me to create characters with clear functions within my abstract worlds. During my fellowship, I focused on developing legible characters through the creation of a solo where one dancer embodied several different people (and one chicken).
I used both movement and text to understand the nuances and motives of each of these characters. I worked to craft movement scores for unearthing the core of each character. By learning how to teach many characters to one dancer, I was able to create methodologies that could also translate to generating singular characters for individual dancers.
I have continued to investigate these character development scores, most recently during my fellowship at Kaatsbaan Cultural Park, the development of my new work Papagayos for Ballet Hispanico, and in the creation of “EROCIA” for Juilliard’s 2023 New Dances program.
Q: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone who hopes to pursue a career in choreographing?
A: Nobody gets to tell you when you are a choreographer. There isn’t a certificate, a trophy, a medal, or a permission slip that suddenly says “you have the right to make dances now.” You are the catalyst for your own career. Say yes to yourself.
Choreography is an art of innovation and craftsmanship. It is about the possibility of imagination mixed with the reality of the resources available at your disposal. Find out what you want, what you need, and what help you need by doing, not waiting. Each time you make something, you will collect intel on what works and what might go better for next time.
You will succeed and you will fail and the success curve comes in waves. You may have moments of greatness interspersed with projects that fall apart. In my experience, there is no linear pathway from zero to greatness, there is only the pursuit of understanding more. Sometimes, the pursuit leads to magic.
Q: Can you share a bit about your company Boca Tuya, and what type of work you strive to create?
A: Founding Boca Tuya in 2018 was one way that I chose to say yes to myself as a choreographer. The ensemble works together on a project by project basis and aims to provide resources for mature contemporary artists to live a sustainable, holistic life in the arts. I don’t necessarily strive to create a particular type of work, instead, I aim to fulfill a set of conditions.
The artists under my care deserve to be seen exemplifying the full range of their talents in a way that allows them to engage with additional opportunities both within Boca Tuya and in the context of other projects. When I create a new work, I aim to situate the dancers in roles that will allow them to shine and create each person’s track with the intention of showcasing individual dancers at their best.
The company members rehearse, perform, teach, and tour. Sharing those activities allows all of us to make new connections and secure additional work. I feel proudest when I see the dancers in the company able to forge new opportunities for themselves. It is a joy to work with them and to be a part of their careers.
Q: What do you find creatively fueling?
A: I am magnetized to people who are interested in convincing dreams into reality. My visions for new work often sound crazy. I’ll message my company manager, or my partner, or one of my creative collaborators and say something like: “I was thinking about making this dance film that takes place in five abandoned buildings around New York City. We’ll need 20 dancers, a demolition team, enough soup to fill a bathtub, and a swinging apparatus that can go down a hallway. What do you think?” Without hesitation, each of those people will give me five thoughts on how to make that impossible sounding idea happen. They may even respond with which type of soup should fill the bathtub. While many of the wildest ideas end up tamed or changed in some way due to practicalities (and budgets, and permits), it takes a certain creative work ethic to be able to issue a first response that is teaming with plausible action items rather than unassuredness, confusion, or doubt. The people who inspire me feel the thrill of this challenge in their bones. They make me excited about showing up at my best.
Q: Anything else you would like to share?
A: Dance making is never a solitary act. I think we often forget how many voices and behind the scenes actions need to happen — and happen well — to take a dance from an idea and transform that idea into a living, moving thing. In my speech for the Dance Magazine Harkness Promise Award last week, I named three questions that are essential for uncovering the resources necessary to make dance happen. I would like to reiterate them here:
What do you need?
What do you want?
How can I help you?
If you are reading this, whether you are a Jacob’s Pillow enthusiast who has attended the Festival, an aspiring dancer looking to carve your own path, a student choreographer aiming for next steps, or a curator keeping up with current trends in contemporary dance, I ask you to consider these questions and ask someone in your network what you can do to help them soar. Ask these questions in service of the field. With more resources turned toward supporting dance and dancers, we can work together in service of advancing the wellbeing of our artists.
Written by Lauren Bramlett. Published December 2023.