Miami will get another look at contemporary Haitian culture this week with Compagnie de Danse Jean-René Delsoin, a Haitian dance troupe that blends traditional folkloric dance and music with ideas and techniques from American modern dance.
The troupe appears Saturday at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center as part of Center Stage, a State Department-sponsored tour of arts groups from Haiti, Indonesia and Pakistan intended to foster cultural understanding.
The template for Delsoin’s company is similar to that of Ayikodans, the Haitian troupe whose 2011 and 2012 appearances at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts provoked a strong response from audiences and the Haitian community. The two companies are linked; Delsoin founded and co-directed Artcho Danse, Ayikodans’ parent organization and school, in 1987 with its current director, Jeanguy Saintus, before striking out on his own in 2004.
Delsoin, 45, grew up with Haitian entertainment — his father, Renel Delsoin, was a well-known actor on a popular Haitian TV show, Languichatte au XXe Siecle. As a child, he often imitated Michael Jackson and other American acts he saw on TV, but it wasn’t until he began taking ballet classes in his mid-teens that he found his creative niche.
In the early ’90s, Delsoin went to New York to study at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, an experience that inspired him to use contemporary dance to express his Haitian identity and culture.
“The work I’m doing is shaped differently because I have both worlds, my background as a Haitian and my experience abroad,” he says by telephone from his home above the studio he runs in Port-au-Prince.
His troupe has performed in festivals in Martinique and China, and he has worked as a backup dancer with Dominican pop singer Angela Carrasco.
“I love traditional dance. I have 10 classes a week at my school so people can learn the background. But as a choreographer I wanted to go further. I don’t want to limit myself to one country. I consider myself a choreographer before saying I’m a Haitian choreographer.”
The Center Stage program, launched this year by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, brings contemporary artists from countries of strategic importance to the United States, with the aim of promoting understanding and human connection. Delsoin’s troupe will present free dance classes Thursday evening at the Little Haiti Cultural Center and Saturday morning at the South Dade Center.
Saturday night, the touring troupe’s five dancers and three drummers will perform Trilogy, a male trio that honors ancestors and Haitian voudou divinities, set in part to music by Haitian-American composer and violinist Jean-Bernard Roumain; Gason Solid, a solo about a man who finds hope after surviving a shipwreck, and Drum Passion, a group piece that seems strongly influenced by Delsoin’s time at the Ailey school.
“If you want to put something traditional on stage you have to do it differently,” he says. “For me as a choreographer it’s a chance to see dance from a different angle.”