December 22, 2020

PRESS CONTACT: LOIS WELK, Program Coordinator 607-329-0467


Two Western New York based choreographers have been selected for the Western New York Choreographers’ Initiative 2021, a funding opportunity administered by the New York State DanceForce in partnership with the New York State Council on the Arts.

The awardees—Zachary Frazee of Rochester, NY and Ruben Ornelas of Rochester, NY—each receive 24 hours of creative time, access to professional dancers, the guidance of a mentor chosen by the artist, and a $2,500 stipend. The WNY Choreographers’ Initiative is designed to help WNY resident choreographers develop their choreographic skills by providing them with resources to advance their creative practice. The 2021 Selection Committee members were Caren Calder, Ananya Chatterjea, Margarita Espada, Remi Harris, and Toni Smith.

About the Awardees

Zachary Frazee (photo credit: Avi Pryntz-Nadworny)

Zachary J. Frazee (he/they) is a dancer, educator, and choreographer based in Rochester, NY. He/They received his BFA in Dance from SUNY Brockport in 2014 and is now the Owner and Artistic Director of Frazee Feet Dance, a contemporary dance company dedicated to creating and performing original works throughout the Rochester area and beyond. Frazee is also a photographer and recently started his own photography business, ZJFrazee Photography, where he/they specializes in working with artists.

Frazee has and continues to perform with companies such as the New York State Ballet, BIODANCE, electricGrit Dance, Saratoga City Ballet, Project 44, Bill Evans Dance, and more. He/They is a teacher at several local dance schools and studios where he mainly teaches classical/contemporary ballet technique and modern dance technique. Frazee also teaches private lessons and guest classes, is a Pilates Instructor at Evolution Pilates, and is an Adjunct Professor in Dance most recently at Hobart & William Smith Colleges. He takes pride in bringing a somatic and nurturing approach into all of his classes in order to create a safe space for students to engage with movement in a healthy and mindful way.

As a choreographer, Frazee has created over 40 original works over the past several years and has presented his work across the country at venues such as the Grace Street Theatre, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Mark Morris Dance Center, and the Lyric Theatre. He/They enjoys creating work that draws upon his classical ballet and modern dance backgrounds, creating an aesthetic that is fluid, virtuosic, and musically driven. Frazee is also passionate about creating work that breaks down gender roles with the intention of creating dances that are gender inclusive, equitable, and accessible to dancers and audience members.

Ruben Ornelas (photo credit: Annette Dragon Photography)

Ruben T. Ornelas’ choreography springs from the intersection of contemporary dance, theatre, and Latinx culture. As a dance maker he is interested in exploring the relationship between choreography, improvisation, and text. Ornelas has created dances to the poems of Chicano poets Joaquin Zihuatanejo (TX), Eduardo Corral (AZ), Luis Alberto Urrea (CA), and José Olivarez (IL). Recently he choreographed a dance to the music of the Mexican-American composer Carlos Sanchez Gutierrez (NY) that was performed at the National Theater in Guatemala City, Guatemala.  Ornelas has had the privilege of presenting his work at venues in Canada, USA, Mexico, Guatemala, and Uganda.

Ornelas holds a BFA in Dance from The Juilliard School in New York City and an MFA in Dance from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He has taught dance at K-12 Public Schools, Community Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools in the Americas, Europe, and East Africa. He has been Fulbright Specialist to Mexico and Guatemala, an Artist in Residence at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in New Mexico, and is the Co-Coordinator of the annual Dances at MuCCC Festival held each June in Rochester, NY.

For more information about the NYS DanceForce go to