Resonating Rhythms, Dynamic Motion: Haiti’s Compagnie de Danse Jean-René Delsoin Gives Contemporary Movement an Afro-Caribbean Pulse
The Compagnie de Danse Jean-René Delsoin, like its founder and mastermind, moves through the many worlds that intersect in Haiti: the rough-edged and vivacious rural dances and ceremonies, the refined social dance of the cities, and the vivid yet stark lines of contemporary global dance.
Bold swaths of color alternate with somber, focused intensity. The earthy, expressive voices of traditional drums interweave with the precise grace of classical ballet. Modern dance aesthetics and a deep love of popular moves meet beats that migrated from West Africa to Haiti: They all come together effortlessly in bold, emotionally resonant moments that will open doors to a better, more nuanced interaction and understanding between Americans and Haitians, between the artists and their American viewers and counterparts.
“Dance is my prayer,” Delsoin explains. “I want everyone in the audience to be touched by the colors and the rhythms, and to feel the energy and spirit of the company. I can’t imagine a more powerful way to promote understanding between us.”
Impeccable performers and evocative artists, the company of four dancers and three musicians has cultivated a distinctively nuanced, sophisticated view of Haitian culture and movement traditions, drawing on ballet and modern dance techniques in dialogue with Haiti’s plethora of traditional rhythms and sounds. In October and November 2012, they will move through the U.S. as part of Center StageSM(www.centerstageUS.org).
An initiative of the U.S.Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Center Stage brings compelling contemporary artists from Haiti, Indonesia, and Pakistan to the United States to engage the American people in cultural diplomacy as a way to create opportunities for greater understanding. Administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts, with funding from the Asian Cultural Council, the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art,this public-private partnership is the largest public diplomacy effortto bring foreign artists to American stages in recent history.
“I started dancing with my first breath,” reflects Delsoin.
The young Delsoin could effortlessly reproduce every movement he saw around him, and was often found staging small performances or simply dancing for his own and his family’s pleasure on the front porch. When a local dance teacher insisted he take a ballet class, she was shocked: The boy with the perfect plié had never taken a single ballet lesson.
Ability met profound passion and curiosity, and took Delsoin to the world’s dance capitals. He toured the world as a dancer, watched every performance he could, and studied at the schools of contemporary dance’s leading lights, from Alvin Ailey to José Limón.
Though an established figure on the contemporary dance scene, Delsoin dedicates himself to promoting creativity and technique in his community, as a teacher and choreographer. And he finds profound inspiration everywhere, in abstract notions and in the concrete details of everyday Haitian life: “It could be a concept, an idea, some movement I want to explore and sometimes it’s just a sound, a passage of music that sparks a million images in my head and my body…”
Delsoin’s images, shaped by Haiti’s movements, colors, sounds, and history, emerge through a conversation between drums and voices, between musicians and dancers on stage. “Haiti is a source of great inspiration for me,” he notes. “Traditional dances are extremely rich; the rhythms are sensational, as well as the history behind them. My work, in part, explores how drums are vitally important to Haitian life, how each beat, each rhythm speaks to us, fortifies us, moves us along.”
With the company’s highly disciplined, engagingly lithe dancers, Delsoin transforms the pulse of African-origin rhythms like the wave-like yanvalou or the bright ibo into athletic, riveting movements, and makes Haitian history do a bittersweet, utterly contemporary dance. “As we work together and when we perform, everybody becomes one,” Delsoin says. “The dancers, the musicians, and myself. We all bring our experiences, skills, and ideas to a lifelong melody that leaves its impression on the audience.”
Center StageSM will bring 10 ensembles from Haiti, Indonesia and Pakistan to the U.S. for month-long tours from June-December 2012, connecting artists with diverse communities across the country. Residencies will include performances, workshops, discussions, people-to-people exchanges, and community gatherings. Keep up with Center Stage by liking the program on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/CenterStagePage) and following us on Twitter (@centerstageus).
Center StageSM is a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It is administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, and with additional support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Asian Cultural Council, and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. General management for Center StageSM is provided by Lisa Booth Management.