Dance - Jeanguy Saintus brings Ayikodans to the Rialto

Dance company highlights 4th Annual Flavors and Colors of Haiti

Fusing Haitian traditions with contemporary dance, choreographer Jeanguy Saintus is always looking to shed light on his native country and celebrate its culture. Saintus' latest performance pieces, "Rasanble" and "Ranmase," are the highlights of the Fourth Annual Flavors and Colors of Haiti celebration at the Rialto Center for the Arts. The new dances incorporate complex choreography with domestic props like brooms, plates, and chairs to mirror the daily life in the small Caribbean island.

Saintus has promoted Haiti's vibrant culture around the world with his dance company, Ayikodans, for almost three decades. As an award-winning choreographer, he combines folklore, improvisation, voodoo religion, and French influences into his contemporary dances. "Haiti will always influence my work because I was born there," Saintus says. "A choreographer is influenced by his personal experience, where he grew up and his travels."

Proceeds from Flavors and Colors of Haiti will benefit the Haitian and Haitian-American Student Internship Program at the Coca-Cola Company in Haiti, a new initiative that provides hands-on learning opportunities for students interested in giving back to their communities.

Here, Saintus talks to Creative Loafing about his love for contemporary choreography and how his Haitian heritage inspires every dance move.

How did the two new dances, "Rasanble" and "Ranmase," come together?

The work I do is very contemporary, based on our culture and my life experiences everywhere I am. I don't really know if there's a story behind the piece because I want the audience to be able to experience it on their own and have their own feelings. It's not only about us in Haiti; it's all about what's going on around the world. Instead of fighting and trying to see the negative side of this life, it's about learning to be together and see the beautiful side of life. "Ransam" in Creole means "gathering" in English.

Are pieces inspired by a particular folklore story or tradition?

The tradition is there because we'll be using music from our cultural heritage. But it's not a traditional dance; it's not a folklore-like dance. I don't want the audience to think, "This is an African dance" or "This is African-American." My work and the work of my dance company, Ayikodans, is about dance. Dance in general. It's contemporary because it has a fusion of technique and culture.

You're going to be using unusual props in your new dances. How will these incorporate into the dances?

They are not props, actually. They are part of the dance. In our life, in our tradition in Haiti, each of these artifacts represents something. In contemporary dance, when you're using something that could be considered a prop, it's not just to make it beautiful — we use them to give life to the piece. When the dancers carry the broom, they use it for cleaning as a part of the dance, not as set design. It's a universal cleaning tool so it's a way to tell the story and participate in that reality.

The dancers are all part of your dance company, Ayikodans. Tell me more about how your company got started.

The company was founded in 1988 and we are entering our 27th season. This company was created out of necessity because in Haiti, we used to and still have dance classes only for girls with an end of year recital. When I started dancing, there were only two boys at the school and we were doing classical ballet. My mother didn't take me to dance classes; I took myself to dance classes. I felt that we had other things to say and I felt that as an artist, I had other stories to tell. I went and danced in Ballet Santo Domingo and when I came back, I decided to start a project. I had been reading about dance, I had seen other companies on TV and that's what I wanted for my project. And that's how we created Ayikodans. We train all of our dancers in all techniques, everything from classical to contemporary and traditional. The company is very rooted in Haiti's reality and tradition so we travel with our drummers and we bring a singer, who's very classical but knows about Haiti's traditional songs.

Do you still dance?

Unfortunately, I just choreograph. I sit on stage and tell the dancers what to do. I don't dance on stage since I'm in charge of the company. I have to teach class and do the public relations for the company. From the moment you get off the stage, you're tired. So I prefer to express what I want to say through my dancers. At the end of the day, the audience will see people on stage, people with stories, with their own struggles.

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