Haiti dance group battles for cultural survival

Sun Jun 17, 2012 11:58pm EDT
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By David Adams

MIAMI (Reuters) - When an earthquake shook Haiti's capital in January 2010, bringing death and destruction to the impoverished Caribbean nation, it all but crushed the dreams of modern dance choreographer Jeanguy Saintus.

For years, he had been battling against all odds to win recognition for his talented but cash-starved company, Ayikodans. Now, earthquake damage to his dance studio had rendered it unusable, and most of his dancers were too busy repairing their own lives to make it to rehearsals.

To top it off, many of the students at the ballet school he runs, and which partly finances the company, had fled the country with their parents for safe haven in the United States, Canada and France.

"We thought it was the end for us artists," said Saintus. "After the earthquake, everyone talked about rebuilding Haiti, but the arts were not on anyone's list."

But 2 1/2 years later, Ayikodans has emerged from the rubble, performing to rapt audiences in Miami and earning the kind of rave reviews and cultural attention and support Saintus strived so long for.

Last month, the company performed two sold-out shows at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami featuring the group's latest work, Danse de L'Araignee (the Dance of the Spider), a stunning blend of Haitian spiritual traditions with modern dance accompanied by rhythmic drums and a soulful singer.

The state-of-the-art $500 million Arsht Center, opened in 2006, is a far cry from the company's ramshackle studio in the hills above the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The group hopes its success in Miami will be a stepping stone to bigger venues, including a much sought-after invitation to perform this fall at New York City Center, one of the world's most prestigious dance theaters.   Continued...

Haiti's Sephora Germain performs a dance piece during a rehearsal session in the Ayikodans dance studio in Port-au-Prince June 6, 2012. REUTERS/Swoan Parker