Haitian modern dance troupe Compagnie de Danse Jean-Rene Delsoin was enthusiastically received at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center. The program of four works, mostly classic modern dance with some traditional Haitian influences, plus powerful drumming had the audience standing and cheering by the end Saturday night.
The Delsoin company appeared as part of the State Department touring program Center Stage, which aims to familiarize American audiences with the cultures of Haiti, Pakistan and Indonesia.
The performance, while earnest and intense, did not rise to the highest levels either choreographically or technically. Delsoin’s dances often meandered, repeating themselves past the point of being effective. He mixed vague emotional expressionism and, in the final Drum Passion, energetic Haitian dance with movement similar to the classic, muscular modern dance done by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, where Delsoin studied, but without the Ailey troupe’s virtuosity or sculptural clarity.
The exception, movement-wise, was Divinely Guided, with Teophilio Tattegrain and the laser-focused Makerson Francois dancing to stripped-down electro-pop by fellow dancer Judner Rock. The two men moved in smooth, mechanistic, repetitive, often identical or closely linked patterns around a bench, bursting into laughter as they approach the wings as if suddenly discovering they didn’t need to keep up this relentless work. It was initially effective, but went on longer than it needed to make an impact.
In Gason Solid, which told the story of a man after a traumatic, shipwrecked crossing, a resonant theme for Haitians, Hugues H.T. Dupiton clambered onstage from the audience, then arched and writhed to the soulful singing of Erol Josue. In Trilogy, Dupiton, Francois and Rock, wearing white loincloths, crouch in white buckets and smear rust-colored liquid across each other’s torsos and faces. But the promisingly ritualistic atmosphere and stark shapes were diluted by a long section of vague movement.
In the final piece, Drum Passion, the four men and the fiery Jennifer Jessie Castil, accompanied by drummers Fritzner Dauphin, Gerald Dauphin and Rodrigue Jean-Baptiste, worked up ferocious energy with pulsing, stomping, limb-waving Afro-Haitian dance. They created some striking images as when they slowly squatted and posed atop tall drums and when the men lifted Castil high above them. But like the other pieces, Drum Passion squandered its power by going on too long.