Many spiritual traditions are based on the idea that all things born into the world begin in darkness, and so it was with Jeanguy Saintus’ new work, Tribulations, which was premiered by his Haitian dance company, Ayikodans, in four sold-out performances at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts over the weekend.
Tribulations began in silence as well as darkness that evaporated into desert tones revealing a tableau of dancers, the monochromatic hues adding ominous, sensual elements.
Dancers traversed the stage — one man carried another man, curled and cradled into the shape of a boulder. Another dancer crossed the stage holding a man neatly coiled in a fetal position folded high on his chest, the man-baby leading the charge.
There was a distant sound of a chime. Two men eventually flew into each other, and through seemingly effortless lifting and twisting created supernatural shapes. The soundtrack expanded into ghostly moans and mirrored movements that led bodies from one shape to another, one state of being into another. In this apocalyptic landscape, bodies continued to carry one another accompanied by haunting, wailing sounds.
The repetition of poses and the transporting of bodies was reminiscent of the myth of Sisyphus, the absurd, tragic hero who must find meaning, and even happiness, in the endless repetition of carrying a boulder to a summit only to have it roll down again. The myth is an existentialist battle cry to find beauty and meaning in struggle and despair. And like Sisyphus, Tribulations gave voice and gesture to a land and people often fighting to survive.
Tribulations is in fact the first piece to be created in Ayikodans’ new space in Haiti, which was constructed after the 2010 earthquake (with help from the Arsht Center). According to Saintus, the process of building the new facility shaped his thought process and aesthetic sensibility.
“Like all my work, Tribulations reflects my reality, what I see and experience in my everyday life and the struggle I see people going through in my environs,” he says. “I forced myself to believe that somehow having our own things would have been different, less stress, less frustrating. I was wrong. In reality, I feel like I just started the project. I am just in the beginning of a very long process.”
That idea was clearly communicated in this production. There was a conversation happening with the audience that challenged assumptions, comfort levels and time.
The repetitive movements and slow motions of Tribulations, with its haunting echoes of Butoh imaginary, became a statement on the economies of time and human endurance. The dancers seemed to bear the literal weight of human pain. They traveled the stage intertwined, carrying and shifting bodies, becoming their brothers’ keepers and making the audience work for catharsis.
In the second part, a musical performance by Les Tambours d’Artcho Danse was a powerful change of tone. Singer Guerline Pierre had a rich, throaty voice, but her delivery was diminished by her seeming unease with the space. She warmed up to the audience by the third song, but her performance did not have the same level of commitment as that of the drummers.
The final piece of the night, Danse de l’araignee, or Dance of the Spiders, was reworked from previous seasons. Honoring the Vodou spirit Gede Zarenyen, it incorporates traditional Haitian dance and sounds to a greater degree than the conceptual and cerebral Tribulations. A highlight of the choreography was the aerial solo, where the spider figure climbs and descends a fluid red fabric like a majestic and omniscient spirit among mortals.
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