Choreographer Jean-René Delsoin epitomizes Haitian dance and culture
Compagnie de Danse Jean-René Delsoin
Friday, Nov. 2nd • 8 p.m.
UNCW’s Kenan Auditorium
601 S. College Rd.
Tickets: $8-20; free for students
Backed by the U.S. State Department’s new Center Stage initiative, which connects foreign artists with American communities through the performing arts, the Compagnie de Danse Jean-René Delsoin has made its way to UNCW for a week-long residency building toward a performance at Kenan Auditorium on Nov. 2nd. This performance marks the last installment of UNCW’s Global Focus, a semester-long exploration of the culture and history of Haiti.
The residency consists of a variety of workshops, performances and special events providing audiences of all ages an opportunity to directly engage with Delsoin and his ensemble. In addition to a series of master classes, workshops and classroom lectures at UNCW, the company will also work with students at Virgo Urban Prep Charter School; present free school performances for nearly 2,000 fourth, fifth and sixth graders; conduct a workshop for military personnel at Camp Lejeune; and host a community drum circle and dance demonstration in the outdoor amphitheater at the center of campus.
Delsoin, the company’s passionate and charismatic leader, aims to translate and relay the ceremonious and refined social dance of Haiti by merging modern, jazz and contemporary dance techniques with traditional Haitian dances while exploring the everyday practices and concerns of Haiti alongside universal themes.
encore spoke to Delsoin about the upcoming performance, his inspirations, and dancing to Michael Jackson.
encore (e): First off, welcome to the U.S. Is this your first time in NC?
Jean-René Delsoin (JRD): Yes. This is exactly what the [Center Stage] program is all about: getting artists from across the world into different communities. I’ve been looking forward to Wilmington, because I never even thought about coming out all the way here. It’s great to know that people are expecting me, and I’m looking forward to honoring Center Stage, my country and Wilmington.
e: Your dance performances seem to incorporate traditional qualities while still being creative, raw and unpredictable. Do you strive to find a balance between old and new?
JRD: Well, that’s the way I am in life. I’m a very versatile guy. I can move from A to B, from B to C and so on, but, at the same time, I think it’s great for people to merge traditional movements and music into their world. Everything I learn, everything that crosses my mind, the way I live—I put that all together to create something beautiful.
I had the opportunity to learn ballet, jazz, modern, ballroom, and stuff like that [in the past] and I’d always wanted to do something a little bit different. I never wanted to be [strictly] a jazz dance company or classical dance company or anything like that. Living in Haiti gives me the opportunity to be creative because we are a culturally rich country and every day there is so much happening with life, it is unpredictable. I can pick out whatever is happening in the market area, in the streets, in politics—it’s all there, a way to create beauty.
e: Going back, when did you first discover the power of movement and dance?
JRD: I began dancing with my first breath. [Laughs] Dancing has always been a part of me. I’d dance for my parents, imitating Michael Jackson and “Soul Train” on the TV. One day my father said, “If only you could sing, you could be the Michael Jackson of Haiti.”
I get the feeling that I think I always knew where I was heading in life, because I remember when I was 14 I worked with one of my best friends at a huge store and I tried to transform [part of] the building into a huge stage because I needed a place to dance—and I cut off a part of one of my fingers doing so. Later, after I finished Catholic school, I went to a dance school and began to take it seriously.
e: What can you tell me about your upcoming performance at UNCW?
JRD: The performance will have four movements. In the first one, “Divinely Guided,” an incomprehensible force is telling two guys to go in certain directions. The second one, “Gason Solid,” is about a shipwreck. I’ve always said you may have a story in your head, but it’s the music that forces it out and forces you to create it. I was inspired by the beautiful music of Erol Josué to tell the story of a shipwrecked man who is drowning and must find the strength to move on. In Haiti, when people are not lucky in life, they have the tendency, if they believe in voodoo, to contact ancestors and the divinities so things can get better in life—the third piece, “Trilogy,” is about three men who do just that. The fourth piece, “Drum Passion,” celebrates the rhythms of Haitian drumming and it features a beautiful passage from [Haitian novelist] Jacques Stephen Alexis.