Jordan Levin

Review: Jeanguy Saintus doesn't hold back in Lamentation13, at Adrienne Arsht Center

When Ayikodans’ artistic director Jeanguy Saintus goes dark, he doesn’t hold back. In Lamentation13, the new work Saintus created for the Haitian dance troupe’s third season at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, he shows us a relentlessly bleak vision of isolated, antagonistic humanity. It’s a view that says as much about Saintus as the rich spirituality, folkloric tradition and visceral physicality that also fill his work. If we are to take him as a choreographer who is truly channeling and revealing his culture, it says something about Haiti as well.

A program note explains that Lamentation13 is about how we can never depend on anyone else, no matter how beloved, but are always alone in our fight. And the nine fierce dancers in Lamentation13 seem desperate for human contact and support they can never reach. The piece opened Friday night at the Carnival Studio Theater with Sephora Germain bent over, a small chair on her back. Linda Isabelle Francois takes the chair away, her arm around Germain’s neck in a threatening embrace – as close as Lamentation ever gets to human comfort.

Wearing Miko Guillaume and Malou Cadet’s loose black pants with ropelike harnesses across their torsos, the dancers stride tensely past each other, faces tight with anxiety, pound their thighs, reach desperately for each other, grab their heads, or burst into spasms of lunging, arching movement. The soundtrack (credited to West-I Entertainment) is pounding percussion mixed with surging, melancholy instrumental music, and Al Crawford’s lighting, which beautifully modulates light and shadow, adds to the sense of dark drama. Francois, a dancer of powerful emotional depth, performs a yearning solo with the chair, like someone agonizing alone at 3 a.m. The dance ends with one man spinning and collapsing to the floor as the others leave him, trembling and alone.

Eritaj25, a collage of excerpts from different pieces made to celebrate Ayikodans’ 25th anniversary, had a far more varied tone. It opened with the wonderful singer James Germain in a soaring invocation, half howl and and half operatic aria, segueing into powerful, driving drumming by the four excellent percussionists of Les Tambours d’Artcho Danse. The first segment, with the dancers in flowing white costumes and headdresses, was the most clearly linked to the folkloric vodou traditions that often inspire Saintus, with a ritualistic circling dance with metal bowls, whirling turns and pulsing torsos, part celebratory, part possessed.

Four men carry in Francois, in glittery trunks and a nude top emblazoned with a sequined heart, like a Haitian spirit flag, enthroned on a tall chair, for an enigmatic, passionate solo evoking Erzulie, the vodou goddess of love. The shaven-headed Johnnoiry Saint Phillippe, in painted-on gold trunks, has a solo where he takes what appear to be the snaking hands of a traditional dance for Damballah to exhilarating, body-twisting, virtuoso heights. Another solo for Mackenson Israel Blanchard, in flowing braids and long white skirt, teeters on the edge of possessed, out of control energy. Even when he’s not taking a dark point of view, Saintus’ dances – and his dancers - are unrelentingly intense.

At the end, the tall director thanked the audience in English, Spanish and French, then invited them onstage to celebrate with the dancers and drummers, who led them dancing into the lobby. Partying or pleading, Ayikodans’ embodiment of Haitian culture is becoming part of Miami.