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If You Could Swallow the Sun: given that title, you might think viewing Omar Román De Jesús’s new work would be a huge undertaking. But the choreographer doesn’t want audiences at the Annenberg this weekend to work at digesting a particular meaning from the dance. De Jesús, whose piece will see its world premiere by the Paul Taylor Dance Company, alongside two 1980s classics by the modern-dance giant, is fueled by a spirit of invention. “You go in with a plan. But then I have to discover as much as I can about the dancers, and make fast creative decisions. Keep thinking, what can exist here?” he tells BSR. And discovery is what he wants audiences to experience; in his onstage world, dancers manipulate lightweight paper accordion walls, creating scenes De Jesús describes as surreal and often emotionally charged. “How does it make you feel, to experience that?” he prompts.
When he got the commission, De Jesús celebrated his entrance into the “big leagues” with a happy dance in his kitchen. He would work with a legendary company of dancers. Santo Loquasto would design his costumes, and James Ingalls his lighting. “Those things are unreal” for an emerging choreographer, he says. Nervousness set in briefly. It was dance lineage, he confirms, that helped set him in motion. De Jesús danced with the company of David Parsons, who had been a star dancer with Paul Taylor. (And Taylor, who died in 2018, starred in Martha Graham’s company.) “I have in my blood something that stems from the roots of Taylor himself,” says De Jesús, a native Puerto Rican who also directs the New York-based artistic incubator Boca Tuya. “I used that as a seed.”
De Jesús and composer Jesse Scheinin, a “brilliant friend,” created a musical score from various prompts. De Jesús improvised movement phrases. He brought those, music, and paper walls to the Taylor dancers, aiming not to set the work immediately, but to find out what it would be.
Dancer improvisation, he says, shows him a lot. “I love working with individuals. If I work with Maria [Ambrose] instead of Jessica [Ferretti], it’s going to be different. I’m interested in working with who is present in the room.” In video clips of De Jesús’s duets, dancers ride a torrent of motion and touch, throwing body weight onto a partner then turning the tables. And these relationships, built on the bonds between specific dancers, show up in Sun; it includes several sensual, intimate, and technically challenging duets, De Jesús confirms.
After a rehearsal, De Jesús would sometimes spend hours working with the paper walls. The choreographic process, he says, gives you puzzle pieces. “What if I put this piece with this one? How does that juxtaposition make me feel? Little by little, you start to see it. Maybe there’s a bit of narrative going on. How can I expand that? And how abstract do I want to keep this?”
Viewers, De Jesús hopes, will teeter on that same line. “Dance gives us a chance to be imaginative, to let our wild dreams come to life.”
What, When, Where
If You Could Swallow the Sun. Choreography by Omar Román De Jesús. Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal) and Brandenburgs. Choreography by Paul Taylor. Paul Taylor Dance Company, presented by Penn Live Arts. $29-$67. Friday, April 21, 2023, at 8pm, and Saturday, April 22, at 2pm and 8pm, at the Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. (215) 898-3900 or pennlivearts.org.
For information on Penn Live Arts’s accommodations for accessibility, view their website.
Proof of vaccination is no longer required. Face masks are strongly recommended, but optional.
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