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Haiti's Ayikodans: South Florida Can't Get Enough

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After two seasons of sold-out performances at the Arsht Center, Haiti's Ayikodans is returning for a weekend of dance February through Sunday. The company will be presenting a world premiere of their Artistic Director Jeanguy Saintus' "Lamentation 13," a work commissioned by the Arsht Center. Not only that, the dance company will be celebrating its 25th anniversary here with a companion piece "Eritaje 25" (Heritage 25), a collage of 25 years of Ayikodans' choreography.

We spoke with the award-winning Saintus about the Miami visit.

See also:

- Ayikodans, Having Conquered Miami, Is Ready for the World

- Haiti's Ayikodans Dancers Bring Hope, Energy to Carnival Theater

Cultist: What should a South Florida audience expect from your February performances?

Saintus: These works are largely autobiographical. They are the work of a Haitian interested in creating a country, let alone a place for dance in that country. They are the work of a dialogue between a Haitian and the rest of the world.

Our entire company will be in Miami. That includes dancers, drummers, and our vocalist.

Since so much of Ayikodans' work has deep roots in Haiti's traditions, those drummers can't be separated from the dancers. The same goes for the tonalities of our vocalist.

Your choreography has often been compared to that of Martha Graham. Do you feel indebted to her?

I find the comparison very interesting. While I have taken a number of workshops on various techniques, I have never worked intensively within a Martha Graham system of dance. As dancers I think we learn various techniques to more easily communicate with one other, let alone help protect our bodies. But as any dancer knows, technique will only take you so far. What transforms a dancer and an audience, is the feeling a dancer can convey. Graham knew that. But to find it for myself, I turned to my own traditions. I spent far more time deep in the Haitian countryside than I did in workshops in New York City. I studied the artistry, the dancing of the vodou ceremonies, for they are the stuff of art. I was hardly the first to recognize this.

Katherine Dunham, the dancer and choreographer, contemporary of Martha Graham, spent years in Haiti studying these dances.

Yet even the mention of vodou makes people nervous, no?

Yes, we have Hollywood to thank for those distortions and prejudices.

But imagine what it was to be a young boy who loved to dance, as I was in Haiti far more than 25 years ago. The only options available to that young man in Haiti then was classical ballet. This, while my body was hungry to express so much more. Of course I turned to my own traditions to try to understand my place and my heritage.

By now your company has become something of a legend in South Florida. How does it feel to return again and again to the Arsht Center?

It is nothing less than a homecoming. After all, it was thanks to a fundraiser sponsored by the Arsht Center that we had the monies to find a new home for Ayikodans after the 2010 earthquake. Not only that, the Arsht Center has been and continues to be keenly aware of what is happening in the arts in Haiti. Thanks are not enough to their commitment to spread the word.

Ayikodans performance in the Carnival Studio Theater of Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, on February at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 5 p.m. Tickets cost $35; visit arshtcenter.org.

--  Elizabeth Hanly, artburstmiami.com

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