News

Rebuilding Haiti through Dance

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - May 25, 2012

Above: Johnnoiry St Philippe and Wenchel Renaudin of Ayikodans (Photo: Josue Azor)

By Alexander Britell

“When you are doing a dance class, you don’t need to speak English or Creole or French to do it — you just need to feel the energy, you just need to show the emotion,” says choreographer Jeanguy Saintus. “I think dance is the closest way to get people to talk to each other.”

Saintus leads Ayikodans, Haiti’s leading dance company, which, for nearly 25 years, has brought that energy and emotion to Haitian stages.

Saintus, who lives in Port-au-Prince, has worked to build a platform for dance in the country, despite largely nonexistent financial help for the group. But thanks in large part to Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, the group has found new life — and new support — in Miami.

Tonight, for the second year in a row, the 19-member Ayikodans brings its mix of contemporary and traditional repertoire to the Arsht Center.

Jeanguy Saintus

After the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the future looked quite bleak for Ayikodans, however.

The quake damaged a part of its studio, and domestic funding for the group was nowhere to be found.

That’s when John Richard, president and CEO of Miami’s Arsht Center, stepped in.

Shortly after the quake, he ran into John Yearwood, the Miami Herald’s World Editor, and a “huge fan” of Ayikodans, according to Richard.

“He told me what was happening to the company and the damage to their building, and we got really interested in figuring out how we could be of help and assistance in Haiti,” Richard tells Caribbean Journal.

Arsht Center CEO John Richard

While relief agencies and health care institutions were doing their part, Richard wondered how an arts organization could contribute to the country’s recovery.

So Richard traveled to Haiti in the summer of 2010 and watched Ayikodans perform.

“We really thought the world of what the dancers were doing,” Richard says. “Our conversation progressed, and Jeanguy said, ‘I’m not going to make it — I think the company is going to go under.’ And we decided, well, we can’t let that happen.”

Shortly thereafter, the Arsht Center decided to invite the group to Miami to perform — creating a grassroots fund to raise money for Ayikodans. They sold out all three performances in 2011, and raised a total of $117,000, he said.

Tonight, the group will begin a two-day run with the debut two new works: Danse de L’Araignee (“Dance of the Spider”) and Anmwey Haiti Manman (“Cry Haiti Mother”).

It’s a significant shift from the group’s experience at home.

“In Haiti, my work is never commissioned — you’re walking on the beach, and you don’t know if you will ever present it,” Saintus says. “You will do it and you will forget about it. So I never had the chance to take my work, to see it, to take it to a theatre. So it’s a great help.”

Despite the lack of support, Saintus has spent more than a decade running a programme of his own to provide young Haitians with free classes and access to dance.

And now, with the Arsht Center’s help, Ayikodans is broadening its global reach.

According to Richard, several institutions are interested in presenting Ayikodans on their progammes next season.

“Jeanguy decided to keep his company together, under really dire circumstances and against all odds, and they have succeeded so far,” he says. “The real key here is to help promote and find more work for this company, because it’s the work that really counts.”

Saintus hopes his work will inspire support for art in Haiti.

“If we get more support from the audience, maybe that will push the people in Haiti, the private sector or the government to really invest in art, not just using it when they’re doing the political process,” he says.

Saintus says that could go a long way in helping to put the country back together.

“Maybe with the example of what the Arsht Center is doing with us, through dance, through Haitian traditional song, maybe that will help Haiti rebuild somehow,” he says. “I think with true art, there are a lot of things you can do — to rebuild the country, to rebuild hope, instead of just talking about reconstruction.”

Popular Posts cape santa maria

The Best Caribbean Beach Resort You’ve Never Heard of 

There’s a boat just offshore called “Escape.”  It’s bobbing in some of the most brilliant, dynamic turquoise water I’ve ever seen, a few meters from a stretch of sand so bright and so white you have to squint to look […]


Marriott Is Opening Its New St Regis Resort In Aruba 

aruba st regis inside the restaurant with chairs

It was more than a decade ago that Marriott opened its first-ever Ritz-Carlton resort in the Dutch Caribbean: the Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, which at the time was the island’s first true five-star resort.  Fast forward to 2024, and Marriott is set […]


From All-Inclusive Resorts to Beaches, Travelers Are Falling in Love With Antigua and Barbuda

antigua barbuda frontier airlines the peninsula with sand

The plunge-pool villas at Hammock Cove. The historic streets of Nelson’s Dockyard. Pool days at Sheer Rocks. Unforgettable honeymoons. Vibrant meals of pepperpot and fungee. Beach bar hopping on the south coast. Endless serenity in Barbuda.  Travelers keep flocking to […]


Related Posts steel pantheon st barth

The Caribbean’s Coolest Art Week Is In St Barth 

It’s an unrivaled celebration of dynamic artists from around the world in St Barth.  Now in its fourth year, Art Week is back in St Barth this week, running from Nov. 22 to Nov. 29, with painters, photographers and sculptors […]


In Aruba, a Celebration of Art and Cultural Rebirth 

aruba art fair

Aruba’s city of San Nicolas has been undergoing a dramatic renaissance in recent years, turning a town that was once far off the tourist map into a new kind of cultural capital.  Much of that rebirth has been the result […]


New Miami-Dominican Republic Flights This Summer 

miami dominican republic flights red

Dominican Republic-based Red Air is launching new service this summer between Miami and Santo Domingo.  The carrier will operate three daily flights on the route, with a total of 21 weekly flights between Miami and the capital.  Redair says its […]


SUBSCRIBE!

Sign up for Caribbean Journal's free newsletter for a daily dose of beaches, hotels, rum and the best Caribbean travel information on the net.


No. Thank You