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

RASIN GINEN: THE AFRICAN ROOTS

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.

Haitian dance troupe Ayikodans provide intense, thrilling performance.

The following dance review was written by Jordan Levin and published in the Miami Herald, April 26, 2012.

Physically ripped and emotionally expansive, the Haitian dance troupe Ayikodans returned to Miami and the Adrienne Arsht Center on Friday evening. The swell of emotion that surrounded the troupe’s performance there a year ago, as community leaders gathered to support a company on the verge of collapse after the Haitian earthquake, has leveled off somewhat. And that made it easier to look at the troupe and its work.

Choreographer/director Jeanguy Saintus’ nine dancers perform with a physical and emotional intensity that makes them seem always about to explode. Lean, narrow-framed and muscular to a degree exceptional even for the dance world, they’re built like greyhounds — but with the ferocity of tigers. Add powerful live drumming, and Ayikodans has a terrifically intense — and at times overwhelming — impact.

Saintus created Anmwey Ayiti Manman! (Cry Haiti Mother) right after the 2010 earthquake, as he and the three dancers he was able to gather grappled with the terrible event. The mesmerizing Linda Isabelle Francois is a Haiti mother figure, but she’s no maternal tower of strength — she’s as tortured and uncertain as her trembling offspring, Johnnoirry St. Phillippe and Makenson Israel Blanchard. Barbed wire drapes the bare concrete wall at the back of the Carnival Studio Theater, and tops two walls covered with newspapers on each side (Haiti hemmed in by bad news), and the sounds of wind, ominous rumbles and singer James Germain’s plaintive vocals add to the bleakness.

This youtube video presents excerpts of “Anmwey Ayiti Manman”:

The men scramble on the floor and clutch Francois’ legs, cover their gaping mouths in a silent howl, hurl themselves at the walls and try to climb over. Francois stretches arms and legs in spasmodic pleading, then curls into a ball, unable to help herself or them. At the end she puts her neck into a noose hanging from the ceiling, then jerks it down, and hurls it to the ground in defiant, frustrated rage as the lights go out — a moment so unnerving and strange the audience didn’t know how to react. Ayiti Manman is so raw that it can seem like therapeutic more than artistic expression, an unmediated outpouring of emotion.

Danse de l’araignee (Dance of the Spider), a new work commissioned by Arsht Center, was passionate in a more physical and exhilarating way. Inspired by Gede Zarenyen, a Haitian vodou spirit, and by spiders themselves. Saintus doesn’t shy from creepy-crawly imagery or movement — Danse de L’Araignee seethes with aggressive, coiling, unthinking energy, and even touches of cartoony horror. The nine dancers wear ghostly grey-black lip and eye makeup, and early on carry metal bowls on their heads, where reflected red lights look like buggy eyes. (Al Crawford, lighting designer for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, donated his talent for dramatic lighting.)

But what mostly emerges from Araignee is a surging collective power, driven by five drummers pounding out incendiary, rapid and complex rhythms, and Germain’s soaring, moaning, raw gospel voice. The dancers, in Malou Cadet and Miko Guillaume’s tight briefs or slinky black dresses, writhe and crawl and roll over each other, reaching hands clutched like claws, taut legs snaking up by their ears, eager to attack or merge. The women — Francois, Cassandra Woolley Dolce, and Sephora Germain — stalk and snake their torsos. Steven Vilsaint and Emmanuel Pierre hang from a suspended ladder, seeming to turn themselves inside out. The dancers explode in leaps and (in the case of the astonishing Vilsaint) flips in the air, then rocket to the floor. The dancers’ intensity and force are spectacular, and Saintus brings them and Araignee to a wild level of animal intensity and energy. It’s thrilling — breathtaking even — but also exhausting, like a ritual that lifts you up even as it wrings you out.

For original post: Haitian dance troupe Ayikodans provide intense, thrilling performance – Entertainment – MiamiHerald.com.

See also: Repeating Islands

Afro-Caribbean Dance Rhythms

In the following video, Trinidadian dancer and choreographer, Gene Toney, demonstrates short examples of various Caribbean dance rhythms and songs. He is accompanied in these illustrations by his wife, Rosanna, herself a dancer, and Billy Sammy, who has been associated with Gene since his early teenage life.

Gene’s explication of the different dance genres show the continued impact of drumming, dancing, and singing of the different West African ethnic groups that populated the islands of the Caribbean during the colonial period, through slavery and post Emancipation. The first dance he speaks about is the yanvalou, an Afro-religious ritual dance of Haiti; one of the dances experienced and written about by the late Katrine Dunham during her research trips to Haiti in the 1920s and 30s.

The yanvolou is dealt with in some detail by Gerdes Fleurant in his 1996 book, Dancing Spirits: Rhythms and Rituals of Haitian Vodun, the Rada Rite. Trinidad has had its own Rada community, in Belmont for example, (see Andrew Carr’s A Rada Community in Trinidad, 1989), through which dances such as the yanvalou would become incorporated into the repertoire of dance companies.

Gene identifies the mandjani as another of the Afro-Caribbean dances and describes this dance as a “feat dance” traditionally performed during the initiation rituals to mark the passage youth into adulthood. In a comparative study of the performance of this dance in the United States and the African continent, Mark Sunkett (1995) noted that the mandiani (Sunkett) significantly influenced djimbe drumming and its style of performance in North America from the 1950s onwards.

Next Gene deals with the bele. He points out that there are different types of bele dances through out the Caribbean. This dance was observed and written about by anthropologists researching the culture of the Caribbean during the first half of the 20th century. Melville Herskovits spoke about the bele being performed at wakes as part of the burial rites for the deceased in the village of Toco, in his Trinidad Village, 1947.

bele

Cowley (1996) speaks of the bele being performed in a completely different setting for the opening of official functions of the colonial authorities in the late 19th to early 20th century. Authors on the Big Drum Dance of Grenada and Carriacou, such as Pearse (1955) and McDaniel (1998), have identified the bele as one of the dance performed in this festival.

The bele is categorized among the creole dances as opposed to opening dances of the Big Drum, which are performed in homage to the African ancestors and in memory the different West African ethnic groups from which the enslaved came. Gene’s demonstration of this revered Caribbean dance highlights these contrasting contexts within which scholars have situated it.

The Grand Bele is described by Gene as having derived from the appropriation of the French minuet by enslaved Africans, who infused it with their aesthetics. In contrast with this, Gene notes that the accompanying drum rhythms of the Congo Bele are derived from the drumming played as part of the rituals associated with Shango Orisha practice. Additionally, with the title Congo, this bele can align with those Big Drum dances that honored the African ethnicities, and the refrain “rere, rere, Congo,” which is sung, suggest the calling of a Congo ancestral spirit into the performance.

Gene give some brief examples of Orisha dances; specifically the dances of the deities Ogun and Shakpana. These present further evidence of how the religious ritual practices of West Africa in general, and those of the Yoruba in particular, have informed the artistic creation of dance in the Caribbean.