By Tadia Toussaint
One by one, dancers entered the stage in vibrant costumes and masks swaying and jolting their bodies to the music. The rhythmic beats of the djembe drums, melodic phrases played by saxophonist Buyu Ambroise and angelic voice of gospel singer Ludwine Joseph, accompanied the dancers of the KaNu Dance Theater, who received a standing ovation after their third full company concert at Queens’ Jamaica Performing Arts Center in November.
The first half of the show has seven acts that bring awareness to the violence, unrest and feminist movement occurring in Haiti. The second segment presents KaNu’s staple work “Shadow of a Pearl,” which follows Haiti’s struggle from slavery to independence.
“We express ‘our situation’ through dance,” Kanu’s artistic director, Jessica St.Vil said. “It’s not only a Haitian struggle that’s just what I use to tell the story.” St. Vil is also the co-founder of Danse Xpressions, a dance school on Long Island, and teaches at Alvin Ailey.
While also celebrating the anniversary of Batay Vertieres (Battle of Vertieres), KaNu’s show themed Malgre Tout (despite all) is still standing; featuring contemporary, modern and Afro-Haitian dances that illustrate the essence of Haiti’s exultant journey. They collaborated with the aforementioned Haitian musicians vivifying the musical experience.
“Working with the KaNu dancers was a unique experience for me,” Buyu Ambroise, the renowned saxophonist legend said. “The musical interaction was based on short thematic improvisation as I observed their steps, body rhythm, and bodily expression.
“The dancers truly told Haiti’s story in a short time,” he said. “It was phenomenal to be a part of.”
KaNu, abbreviated from ka pa nou, meaning our situation, Dance Theater assembled in 2003 and has performed at the Haitian Embassy in Washington DC, El Museo del Barrio and Columbia University.
As big advocates for social change they have participated in fundraisers and concerts since Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. KaNu performs and hosts workshops, promoting their mission to educate audiences on Haiti’s heritage, history and culture.
Ludwine Joseph, Juilliard-trained singer and songwriter said that collaborating with KaNu was one of the most wonderful experiences of her life as an artist.
“I was privileged to be amongst so many talented people,” Josephe, said. “They give their best and make you feel like you have to be on top of your game. Their professionalism is like none I’ve seen before.”