On the thirtieth anniversary of its founding, artistic director, founder and choreographer of the dance company Ayikodans, Jeanguy Saintus, rejoices that we’re talking about his career in Miami, for six consecutive seasons in the Carnival Studio Theater, thanks to support from Adrienne Arsht Center. This institution has invited the company since 2011, following the devastation of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, and with that help the company reopened their studio in 2013 in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
This year, they sponsor not only the group’s nine dancers and all the company’s musicians, but the world premiere of a new choreography, “M ‘Angaje,” in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Arsht.
“‘M’ Angaje’ is like a rite of passage, a call, a prayer, it is the strong connection between us and the spirits [commitment], those forces that we do not understand that protect us in every moment, in any situation that can they help you,” describes its creator, Saintus himself, who has toured with his company throughout the world. As always, they bring the drums and two singers, a woman and a man, who will offer songs and prayers in Haitian creole plus the rhythms of their island, located on the west of Hispaniola, the second largest in the Caribbean.
Saintus talks with the passion of someone who has been devoted to the task of promoting not only dance, but also the culture of Haiti. “Dance, music, voices and symbolism to accompany a work that comes from the soul,” he states. “A work that reflects our reality and that allows us to share with the world.”
For him, “M ‘Angaje” is the image of one who is seeking refuge and finally finds it when it seems all is lost. A metaphor for the life of the African slave who had to cross the sea, but also an image of the group itself and his own work. Because, in the end, everything ends well, as in the alliance and commitment they have created with the Arsht Center. “It ends up that we can cross over, that is the experience, this is our sixth season and have been filling the theater. It’s a whole fellowship.”
His efforts bears fruit beyond training dancers; he also trains choreographers. Such is the case with Johnnoiry Saint Philippe, now 28, who started with Ayikodans about 10 years ago. “I remember wanting to be a dancer, but I had no opportunity, then I was watching this company on TV and I liked it. When I began classes with them I kept getting involved more and more, with greater responsibility, but I also learned to choreograph. I created a ballet presented in Atlanta entitled ‘Ramase,’ [which means "pick up the pieces”].”
“People think they will see a very beautiful ballet, but this is different,” says Saint Philippe, thinking perhaps of suffering also expressed in their dances. “We recreate Haitian cultural models of folklore, yes, but with contemporary technique.”
“The difference with the folklore is that they show objects, we suggest the idea with the movement,” explains Saintus, “for example in the case of the god Ogou [o[of Haitian voodoo, Chango in Cuban santeria]ho is depicted in folklore with a gun in hand, we do not have to use that object to express it with our steps.”
In addition, they will present “Phases,” a retrospective of three decades of Saintus’ work with the company. They have also been giving master classes on Monday and Tuesday at Florida International University and the Peacock Studio of Arsth Center.