Ayikodans' New Dance Studio Opens in Haiti

Three years after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, it's easy to look to the island nation and wonder, what has been done, what has improved, is there rebirth?

It can be a dark gaze -- so much to be done. But for rays of light, look no further than Haiti's premiere dance troupe Ayikodans, founded in 1987 by internationally renowned choreographer Jeanguy Saintus, which found a helping hand in Miami through an effort led by the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

"Ayikodans represents a real life story of physical and spiritual renewal," says John Richard, president and CEO of the Arsht Center. "When the earthquake shocked our friends in Haiti and we learned that Ayikodans was in peril, we asked ourselves, 'How can we help? How can we make a difference?'"

See also:

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They could make a difference by raising funds to build a new studio for the troupe, back in the Caribbean nation, as both a beacon of hope and a necessity to keep the company afloat. It opened earlier this month.

Kathryn Garcia, former programming director for the Arsht Center, remembers how the artistry and spirit of Ayikodans impacted her. "When I first saw the company perform in Haiti, I knew they had to come to Miami. Not only were the dancers and musicians excellent, but Jeanguy's work was so deeply rooted in the Haitian experience," says Garcia, now the executive director of MDC Live Arts. "His work allows audiences to connect with the struggle and strength of the Haitian people in a deeply personal way."

We caught up with Saintus on his recent visit to Miami to attend the Peter London Global Dance performance at the Arsht. "I can't say or I don't know how much the earthquake affected my artistic process," he contemplates, "since my artistic life and life in general in Haiti has always been a constant struggle. However the earthquake devastated lots of dreams in Haiti and forced me to see the world differently, to see people differently, even the Haitians themselves. So many things have changed since then."

The new 40-by-20-foot studio in the hills of Pétion-Ville stands as testimony to Haitian perseverance and creativity. Colorful murals cover the walls in an open air courtyard. Inside, on a floor of native Caribbean wood repurposed from its old studio (one of the few physical remnants that survived), Ayikodans now rehearses, conducts classes for students and creates new works. "The studio is the greatest gift I've ever had after 25 years. Our dance company finally has a home. It's a big step for Haitian performing arts and the dance scene in Haiti," says Saintus.

Chatting in English, Spanish and French, Saintus reveals his underlying influences: "Life is my real inspiration. Everything in this life, on this earth -- good things, bad things, confusions are part of the process. Lamentation13, the last creation presented at the Arsht Center, is a clear example."

The outreach from Miami has forged a creatively close and emotionally tight connection, he says. "The Arsht Center is our home away from home. It feels great to know that we have a place where the company is always welcome, where we can share our artistic vision.... It is amazing to see the way Miami embraced Ayikodans since our first season, right after the earthquake.

"In a way they are not only helping Ayikodans, they are helping Haiti by giving us a platform to show the world that Haiti is not only about poverty, political crisis and confusion."

-- Tiffany Madera, artburstmiami.com

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