MIAMI — Ayikodans, Haiti’s premiere professional dance company, lost practically everything in the catastrophic earthquake in 2010 — including its dance studio.
Three years later, Ayikodans has opened the doors of its new dance studio outside of Port-au-Prince — in large part with help from South Florida.
On the brink of extinction, Haiti’s premiere dance troupe found a helping hand through an effort led by the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County,
Ayikodans’ rebuilt 40-by-20-foot studio in the hills of Pétion-Ville stands as testimony to Haitian perseverance, creativity and the spirit of giving in South Florida.
Inside the coral rock walls, on a floor of Caribbean courbaril wood repurposed from its old studio, Ayikodans now rehearses, conducts classes for students and creates new works.
“Without the Arsht Center and the compassion and generosity of the Miami community, we would not have been able to rebuild our studio,” said Jeanguy Saintus, founding choreographer of Ayikodans.
Founded in 1987 in Port-au-Prince by internationally renowned Saintus, Ayikodans blends influences from folk dance, free improvisation and varied African and indigenous Indian dance forms, as well as French traditions and voodoo religious culture. Ayikodans dancers have inspired and motivated the Haitian people for the past 25 years.
Over the past 25 years, Saintus has continuously pushed the limits of modern dance and has mastered a cross-cultural body language that speaks with the power of remote times and places. The word Ayikodans is derived from Ayiti, the Haitian Creole word for Haiti, and Kontredanse, a form of traditional dance inherited from Haiti’s colonial past.
After tragedy struck, the Arsht Center commissioned Ayikodans to perform sold-out shows on its stage for three seasons and hosted fundraising events at the center in order to help the troupe get back on its feet.
As a result, funds and in-kind donations were raised for the group — contributions that were imperative to building a new studio for the troupe. More than 50 different individuals, corporations and foundations from Miami contributed to the cause, donating talent, skill, and labor, in addition to funds.
“Ayikodans represents a real life story of physical and spiritual renewal,” said John Richard, Arsht Center president and CEO. “When the earthquake shocked our friends in Haiti and we learned that Ayikodans was in peril, we asked ourselves, ‘How can we help? How can we make a difference?’
“Miami came together as a community to offer a hand. Our response is ensuring one of the country’s artistic treasures lives on. Yes, it’s true that we helped Haiti, but look at how Haiti has helped us. We have been given this extraordinary choreographer and dance company that radiates Haitian culture and has something very significant to say through the power of dance.”
HOME AND HOME
Ayikodans company members have danced on stages in Latin America, Europe, the United States and Asia, performing at such venues as Palacio de Bellas Artes in the Dominican Republic, Tropentheater in The Netherlands; Teatro Anayansi in Panama and Rencontres de Danses Metisses in French Guyana (Guyane Française).
This summer, Ayikodans has been invited to perform in Panama during the 500th Anniversary Celebration of the Discovery of the Pacific Ocean.
“We have danced on stages around the world,” Saintus said, “but we will always consider Miami and the Arsht Center our true home away from home.”