New York’s Boca Tuya company brings dreamscapes, mayhem to Kennesaw State

“While I have specific stories in mind when I watch my work, I hope that audiences are able to conjure their own tales,” says Omar Román de Jesús, artistic director and choreographer of Boca tuya. “While we drink from the same ground, we are all different trees.”

In a recent conversation with ArtsATLRoman de Jesus described the New York-based company’s upcoming show Amor with excitement, passion and a touch of humor. “There are moments of ardor, chaos, anguish, conciliation, retrospection and camaraderie. The dances themselves contain many personalities. There will be hats; there will be strange sounds.”

Amor will be performed January 27 and 28 at Kennesaw State University’s Marietta campus Dance Theater and is a mixed bill comprising three works, Sombreristas, Like Those Playground Kids at Midnight and Los Perros del Barrio Colosal. Roman de Jesus said that while Amor is intended as three singular works, they share something in that “each dance operates on a surrealist plane, often governed by dream logic.”

For inspiration, Roman de Jesus draws upon his roots “as a Puerto Rico person,” but said his work is not specifically about the experience of being LatinX, nor does he claim to make dances that speak to the experiences of an entire demographic. Rather, he begins the creative process thinking about the world he wants to create onstage and the people who can bring that world to life. For example, he said,Los Perros del Barrio Colosal was developed with Telenovela characters in mind, so that may give you an inkling of the type of mayhem you will see.”

While all three work from Amor have been shown previously, this is the first time Boca Tuya has performed in Atlanta and the troupe’s first solo-billed show. “This is a huge milestone for us and reflects a significant amount of confidence and trust on the part of everyone at KSU,” he said.

In 2021, Roman de Jesus was one of the two artists who participated in the first iteration of Kennesaw State University’s Eleo Pomare–Glenn Conner Choreographic Residency, and faculty in the Department of Dance are excited about bringing him back with his company. According to associate professor and chair Marsha Barsky: “When we were putting together a list of artists for this year’s programming, we kept coming back to Omar. He has such an exciting, unique aesthetic that we felt was important to share with our dance patrons as well as our students.”

Sombreristas features (no surprise) the dancers wearing hats.

Roman de Jesus’s star has been on the rise since he founded Boca Tuya in 2018. In addition to the Pomare-Conner residency in 2021, he was a 2022 New York Foundation for the Arts/New York State Council on the Arts Artist Fellow and recipient of a Princess Grace Award.

His dance movies Cielo Elena (2022) was supported by the Baryshnikov Arts Center, and his commissions include projects for the Paul Taylor Dance Company and Parsons Dance’s GenerationNOW. According to Lock, he is already a choreographer who has found his voice, and it is “distinctive, inventive and inclusive.”

With his increased visibility as an artist, Roman de Jesus hopes he can help pave the way for more leaders like himself to get their work recognized and celebrated and “remove the ingrained expectation that people from marginalized communities can only make valuable work if the work itself tells an advocacy story or reveals some kind of trauma.”

He believes his job as a choreographer is to provide dreamscapes that may bridge real world issues and imagined solutions by opening “a space of curiosity and wonder that leaves watchers open to conversation beyond the theatre.”

While Boca Tuya is in Atlanta, Roman de Jesus will co-teach a class for KSU dance department students with another of the company’s dancers, providing the students with what Barsky described as “an invaluable opportunity to see someone working in a similar way to how they see their own lives unfolding.”

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Robin Wharton studied dance at the School of American Ballet and the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. As an undergraduate at Tulane University in New Orleans, she was a member of the Newcomb Dance Company. In addition to a Bachelor of Arts in English from Tulane, Robin holds a law degree and a Ph.D. in English, both from the University of Georgia.

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