By Tara Mitton Catao
Is there anything more thrilling than entering a dark theater, not knowing what to expect, and to be pulled, like a magnetic force, into the performance and then, when the lights come up, to feel both exhilarated and satisﬁed?
Ayikodans has that magnetic effect.
Under the artistic vision and leadership of Jeanguy Saintus, this group of outstanding Haitian performers have been wowing audiences in South Florida for the last few years. Drawn to dance in a country that he loved but had little to offer in formal dance training, Saintus founded Artcho Danse, a dance center that has been training local dancers for over 25 years.
Saintus has persevered with an unﬂagging determination creating dances for his company, Ayikodans, and giving life to an art form in his homeland despite the lack of ﬁnancial support and the crippling disaster of the January 2010 earthquake. He simply says he needs to keep his dancers dancing.
It is not surprising that the dancers Saintus trained — whom he calls “interpreters”— gave so passionately to their performance, exuding a deep power that seems to come naturally from their souls. Muscular and grounded, moving with masterful physical control, they created a distinct aesthetic that uses the human body with an undulating, explosive energy.
Saintus’ choreography is ﬁlled with unexpected images and a fresh movement vocabulary and it was thrilling to watch and to seek the meaning behind it all.
Tribulations, performed in three movements by four men and a woman, is arresting, rich and intense. It is an intimate and personal view on the struggle in dealing with the constant temptations in life that can make or break a person’s life. That may sound heavy and complicated, but the images were clean and sculptural. There was a simple strength in the unison movement and though the dancers’ shapes were not perfectly identical (as is expected in the aesthetic in other types of dance), it was unimportant, as there was real perfection in their artistic intent and commitment.
Ayikodans included six musicians who performed the driving rhythms and traditional songs of Haiti. Up against the wall of the theater of the Rinker Playhouse, there was a line of five percussionists pounding on the skins of their drums while gently responding vocally to singer Guerline Pierre. She sang in Creole with a storytelling quality during a musical interlude that provided an audio foray into the culture and a visual pause from the intensity of the dancing.
The music helped balance the program, and set us up perfectly for the ﬁnal selection, Danse de l’Araignée (Spider’s Dance).
For most of us, spiders are not appealing. Perhaps a single spider spinning a web might draw us in, but a nest of spiders? That would be totally unappealing. In the program note for Danse de l’Araignée, it said that spiders, when faced with the unknown, move as one unit. This is a fascinating insight but not as fascinating as the work itself, which honors the vodou spirit of Gede Zarenyen.
Images abounded as the “interpreters” danced with large metal bowls on their heads, which reﬂected the overhead red light giving them red insect eyes and making them look garish. The slow build in the movement, rhythm and voice was fascinating as the dancers crawled and creeped over each other on all fours, punctuating the dance with strange pincher-arm gestures.
Out of the undulating mass of bodies, dancers rose to stand on a leg that seemed to have the strength of a tree and extended the other leg skyward powerfully defying gravity. Jumping on each other and hanging on a suspended ladder, all the dancers were outstanding in their passionate and sensual interpretation of Saintus’ deeply modern dance choreography. A series of solos highlighted some of the men: Mackenson Israel Blancard, Steven Vilsaint, Wenchel Renaudin.
There were a lot of young people in the audience, which is a very good thing. And, as often is the case, not knowing what to expect, there was a lot of nervous tittering and squirming in seats during the ﬁrst few moments after the curtain opened. But in five seconds ﬂat, they were silenced and completely drawn in by the artistry of Ayikodans.
This not only highlighted the power of live performance but also the importance of the role of artists as ambassadors. Jeanguy Saintus and his cohesive group of artists shared in this performance a vision rooted in the bond of their Haitian history and a desire to send that vision out to the world. It was exhilarating to have seen and experienced it.
Ayikodans will perform again at the Rinker Playhouse at 7:30 tonight. Call 832-7469 or visit www.kravis.org.