Les Enfants celebrates 50 years of dance

The following article was written by Reshma Ragoonath and published in Trinidad Guardian, July 12, 2012.

The phenomenal Joyce Kirton, considered to be the “Grand Dame” of dance in San Fernando, celebrates her golden jubilee in dance and the formation of her dance company, Les Enfants, this month. She has planned a weekend of special events at the Naparima Bowl, San Fernando to commemorate the symbolic occasion. The festivities will begin with a prayer session today at 10 am and will culminate with a dance concert on Sunday at 6 pm. An all day dance workshop has been carded for Friday and a gala awards ceremony on Saturday night. In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Kirton said the celebration is a way of “thanking God for the 50 years at Les Enfants. Thanking him in song in movement and in word.”

Over the years
She extended an open invitation for all dance lovers to be part of the celebrations. Looking back over the past 50 years, Kirton said she is proud of her legacy of dance and of her hundreds of dance students.  She said dance began as a hobby but quickly became an all encompassing part of her life.  “Why do people like singing? Why do people like anything? I just like dance. This is my way of expressing myself. It was something I was drawn to,” she said. At the age of 19 while attending the Teachers’ Training College she was bitten by the dance bug.  “I had some very good teachers at Training College. Beryl Mc Bernie and another English teacher. Between these two women they really turned me on to dance,” she said.  As T&T was making its first foot steps into nationhood in 1962 Kirton said she was making her first steps into forming the Les Enfants Dance company. She started with small classes at the St Paul’s Anglican Church, Harris Promenade.  “It was a lot of fun, a lot of adventure. Every Independence we would be excited. Children would have been performing in rallies. There were a lot of organisations coming up at that time. The San Fernando Borough Council did a lot of stuff and we were also involved in a lot of their projects.”

Back then, she said, the society was very different.  “When people came to see our shows they paid $3 per show and they were filled. Now shows cost $350. We do not have a very big dance audience in San Fernando. People do not support the dance very willingly. They prefer to go to comedy shows,” she said.  She lamented that interest in dance has been declining and invitations to perform at functions being with it requests for “jump up and wave” entertainment.  “Arts are not being respected. They (people) go for superficial. They do not go for what you produce. When you produce any piece of art it is a piece of yourself, whether it is a painting or performing in a play. You are making a statement about yourself and your country,” Kirton said.  She said students at Les Enfants were not only taught movement but also about T&T culture through the art of dance.  “Dance is a way to reach an audience, to tell a story. That story may be sad, maybe happy. It might be fearful. You also want to make a comment about the things that go on to your society or keep the culture going,” she said.  “We have a very rich heritage and everyone who occupied this country left a story and very often when we are dancing we are telling their stories, the African, the Indian. They all left their mark in society.”

For the original report: Les Enfants


Cuba: Caribbean Festival of Fire Closes With Devil Burning Ceremony

Santiago de Cuba, Jul 10 (Prensa Latina):  A flood of people danced the conga down to Puerto Santiago to watch the traditional Burning of the Devil ceremony, closing the activities of the 32nd Caribbean Festival.

On the final day, the artist Alberto Lescay and the high priest of the Regla Palo Monte in this eastern Cuban city presented the Mpaka “symbol of the holiday” to the Deputy Minister of Culture for Colombia, Maria Claudia Lopez, and the Ambassador of that South American nation in Cuba, Gustavo Bell.

In this way, the small island of Martinique, guest of honor for the holiday, passed the guest baton to the culture of Colombia’s Caribbean, motherland of the vallenato and the famous Barranquilla Carnival.

After the customary blessing of the Santiago people, the jubilant procession began to close the Festival of Fire, which is just as colorful and spiritually generous as the popular Parade of the Snake, which happened just a few days ago.

From the Plaza de Martes to the sea, various groups danced the conga, demonstrating traditional culture of the Greater Caribbean.

Foreign delegations, including countries such as Argentina and Uruguay, contributed their own music, dances and costumes, displaying the diversity of identity in this region.

The Conga de los Hoyos, the most acclaimed in this city, brought a virtual sea of people dancing down the central street of Enramada toward the sea.

There, a giant woven stick figure metaphorically representing the Devil at this bacchanal, was cremated, exorcising evil spirits and thus, ensuring well-being until next year.

For original report: Caribbean Festival of Fire Closes



Ayiti Fasafas and Center for Traditional Music and Dance in partnership with El Museo del Barrio present:

A New York Haitian Dance Showcase honoring Jean-Léon Destiné

Saturday, July 14th, 7:30PM
El Museo del Barrio
1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th
New York City
$9 suggested donation at door

Center for Traditional Music and Dance and Ayiti Fasafas in partnership with El
Museo del Barrio present Rasin Ginen (The African Roots), a showcase of some of
New York’s finest Haitian traditional dance groups, coming together to water the
ancestral roots of Haitian traditional dance, with a special tribute to Haitian
dance educator and elder, Jean-Léon Destiné.  Five companies will perform at El
Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street in Manhattan, on Saturday,
July 14, at 7:30 p.m. The program is presented in conjunction with El Museo’s “CARIBBEAN:
Crossroads of the World” exhibition, on display through January 6, 2013 and is the
third and final event in the “Louvri Baryè:  Opening the Gates” Haitian concert
series, developed by Ayiti Fasafas and Center for Traditional Music and Dance.

The traditional dances of Haiti trace their roots to West and West Central Africa.
Having survived the Middle Passage, they flourished following Haitian independence
in 1804. In the twentieth century a black consciousness movement took the dances
to the stage. Jean-Léon Destiné, born in St. Marc, Haiti, pioneered this movement
and was instrumental in the creation of the National Folkloric Troupe in 1949. The
companies that will make up the program at El Museo del Barrio carry the spirit
and vision of pioneers like Mr. Destiné into the twenty-first century, and into
the Haitian diaspora in New York. Dance anthropologist Dr. Joan Burroughs, co-author
of a forthcoming biography of Mr. Destiné, will present highlights from his career,
and the artists will join Ms. Burroughs in presenting Mr. Destiné with an award
for his contribution to Haitian art and culture.  The evening will be emceed by
New York City Haitian radio host and community activist, Lionel Legros.

The following youtube video shows one of the participating dance companies, KANu Dance Theater,
in performance.

The five participating companies display the breadth and the depth of the repertoire.
Feet of Rhythm, founded by Nadia Dieudonné in 1994, has performed in both the United
States and abroad, and many know the company for its outreach to young people in
communities throughout New York City. Haitian American Dance Theater founder Julio
Jean studied at the National School of the Arts in his native Port-au-Prince and
taught Haitian Dance at The Katherine Dunham Institute. He currently teaches at
Cumbe in Brooklyn and Ripley-Grier in Manhattan, and for over 20 years has performed
and taught in theaters and universities across the United States. KaNu Dance Theater,
established in 2003 and directed by Jessica St. Vil, blends contemporary, modern,
and Afro-Caribbean dance to promote change and peace in Haiti and around the world;
the company’s name derives from “Ka Pa Nou,” Haitian Kreyòl for “Our Situation.”
Kongo, a Brooklyn-based group of Haitian artists, musicians, and activists organized
in 1995 by Sanba lead vocalist Oneza Lafontant, weaves together drumming, guitar,
percussion, dance, and storytelling, working from the conviction that the artist
must represent the community and engage it in the cause of positive change.  Peniel
Guerrier, a dancer, choreographer, and musician, began his dance career in Haiti
with Tamboula D’Ayiti, the National Theater, and Bacoulou. Experienced in Haitian,
West African, and Brazilian dance, Mr. Guerrier aims to represent Haitian culture
worldwide through the language of dance.

Thanks to Eileen Condon for sharing the information.

Community Organizations diaspora Emancipation

Caribbean Maroons Hope Tourism Can Save Culture

The following Bloomberg News Business Week report, written by David Mc Fadden, was republished by Repeating Islands.

In a backwoods town along a river cutting between green mountains, quick-footed men and women spin and stomp to the beat of drums. One dancer waving a knife is wrapped head-to-foot in leafy branches, his flashing eyes barely visible through the camouflage.

This traditional dance re-enacts the Jamaican Maroons’ specialty: the ambush. It was once a secret ritual of the fierce bands of escaped slaves who won freedom by launching raids on planters’ estates and repelling invasions of their forest havens with a mastery of guerrilla warfare.

But on this day, descendants of those 18th century fugitives are performing for tourists, academics, filmmakers and other curious outsiders in a fenced “Asafu” dancing yard in Charles Town, a once-moribund Maroon settlement in eastern Jamaica that seemed destined to lose its traditions until revivalists gradually brought it back.

Maroons in the Caribbean are increasingly showcasing their unique culture for visitors in hopes that heritage tourism will guarantee jobs for the young generation and preserve what remains of their centuries-old practices in mostly remote settlements. The basic idea has been tried around the world, from the Gusii people of Kenya to the artisans of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

“If we don’t follow in the footsteps of our foreparents we will find ourselves on the heap of history,” said Wallace Sterling, the “colonel” of the Windward Maroon community of Moore Town. It is one of Jamaica’s four semi-autonomous Maroon tracts, each governed by an elected colonel, a title bestowed on Maroon leaders since their battles with the British army, and a council appointed by the leader.

Trying to counter the endless tide of migration and assimilation, long secretive Maroons are more and more going public with the old ways — singing sacred songs, drumming, making herbal medicine, talking to ancestral spirits, woodcarving, hunting and “jerking” wild pigs. Maroons are credited with inventing Jamaica’s “jerk” style of cooking, in which aromatic spices are rubbed or stuffed into meat before it is roasted on an open fire.

The turn to small-scale tourism for income can safeguard the Maroons’ future and their cultural identity, leaders say. They say it has boosted pride among younger Maroons and encouraged some to stay in their rural hometowns. Other money-making opportunities are scarce in the communities of modest cement-block homes and tiny shops selling cold drinks and snacks.

“For a long time, it’s been very difficult to keep the young people because they tend to leave for the cities to seek work. But now we can train tour guides and our people can sell their crafts, their banana and coconuts,” said Fearon Williams, the colonel of Accompong. An annual Jan. 6 celebration draws thousands of visitors to the isolated town, which sits among rocky cliffs and limestone towers in northwestern Jamaica. “Tourism is making us stronger.”

A tour bus now comes weekly to Charles Town, a village whose colonel, Frank Lumsden, worked as a commodities trader in Chicago before returning to Jamaica in the late 1990s to focus on his ancestral roots.

There are also Maroons in Suriname, on the South American mainland, where escaped slaves over the centuries built their own African-centered societies in sparsely populated Amazonian forests. Suriname’s Maroons also say a broadening emphasis on ecotourism is helping fight cultural disintegration.

“The world is turning into one large village, so it makes no sense for Maroon villages to keep out tourists. Tourists and the money they bring stimulate people in the Maroon communities to produce the products that represent their culture,” said Ronny Asabina, a Maroon who serves in Suriname’s legislature.

But most acknowledge the obstacles facing Maroons, who are estimated to number in the thousands in Jamaica and the tens of thousands in Suriname. The passing along of traditions and customs from one generation to the next has long been weakened by the lures and necessities of modern life.

In Scott’s Hall, a subsistence farming community in eastern Jamaica, longtime colonel Noel Prehay said he hopes tourism can provide a place for many of his townspeople to relearn their traditions.

Prehay said devotion to clandestine spiritual rituals is strong among the town’s ever-dwindling number of elderly residents, as is their knowledge of the Maroon’s Kromanti language, which is closely related to the Twi spoken in parts of the West African nation of Ghana.

“If a person is mad or if they are sick, we can make a healing dance. Our Obeah is a good Obeah,” Prehay said, referring to an Afro-Caribbean religion that involves channeling spiritual forces and is feared by some in Jamaica’s countryside, where superstitions about shamanism and the occult run deep.

But visitors are very rare in his poor town along a dusty, rutted road about a 45-minute drive from Jamaica’s capital, Kingston. Unlike the other three Maroon communities in Jamaica, Scott’s Hall has no museum, dancing grounds or other attractions aimed at tourists.

So Prehay worries that most young Maroons will still continue to leave.

“I think the young people are willing and ready to accept the teaching of the culture. But the continual migration to Kingston, to London, to Canada is difficult,” the 70-year-old Prehay said, pointing to surrounding slopes that were farms when he was a young man but are now overgrown with bamboo.

Settlements of escaped slaves emerged in many places in the Western Hemisphere, including the U.S., but the Maroons’ biggest success came in Jamaica, where they helped the British expel the Spanish and then turned on the new rulers, wreaking havoc across an island that was then one of the world’s largest sugar producers.

The Maroons’ name derives from the Spanish word “cimarron,” which means “untamed” or “the wild ones.” Descendants of the warrior Ashanti and Fante tribes of West Africa, the Maroons became adept at surviving in tangled forests in the mountains.

Jamaica’s Maroons avoided open warfare, relying on their knowledge of the terrain, camouflaging themselves with leaves and communicating with the abeng, a cow horn whose call carries for miles.

After nearly a century of fighting, the British finally granted the Maroons formal freedom in a 1739 treaty signed in a cave a few miles outside Accompong by legendary Maroon leader Cudjoe and British army Col. John Guthrie.

But in return for their autonomy, the Maroons agreed to help the British hunt down future runaway slaves. That arrangement may be at the root of a sense of isolation some Maroons felt from other Jamaicans and long kept them living apart. Maroon separatism began to fade with the ebbing of colonialism in Jamaica, which became independent in 1962.

Not all Maroons are confident that relying on tourism can successfully bring back cultural traditions.

“It will take a giant effort if you can find the will. I am not sure that the will is there,” said C.L.G. Harris, a highly respected 95-year-old who was Moore Town’s colonel for decades and worked hard to modernize the community — sometimes, he says, at the expense of traditional religious practices.

Anthropologist Kenneth Bilby, whose book “True-Born Maroons” is based on years of research, much of it conducted while living in Moore Town in the 1970s, said it remains to be seen whether heritage tourism can preserve indigenous communities.

“It’s really quite a complex question whether or not communities can try to develop aspects of their culture and commodify them without also suffering certain losses or negative consequences,” Bilby said from his home in Colorado. Some experts fear that cultural tourism can introduce harmful influences or can make communities into parodies of themselves.

Still, the message of cultural identity is reaching some young Maroons.

“What I’ve learned is that without the culture, you’re nothing,” said Rodney Rose, Charles Town’s 29-year-old abeng blower and museum treasurer who until recently had to travel outside the village for employment. “And while we young Maroons are learning, people from overseas can also learn.”

For the original report: Caribbean Maroons

See also: Caribbean Maroons Hope Tourism Can Save Culture « Repeating Islands.