In this year’s Dance Concert, we examine the relationship between Ayiti/Haiti and la República Dominicana/Dominican Republic through dance forms from the two nations. They share the Caribbean island of “Hispaniola,” but the countries are divided through intertwined histories of colonialism, slavery, racism, capitalism, and their continued after-life. While Haiti was the first free Black republic, with enslaved people winning their emancipation and independence at the turn of the 19th century, people of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic have experienced discrimination, exploitation, deportation, and at its nadir, ethnic cleansing in the massacre of 1937 ordered by dictator Rafael Trujillo. What does it entail to seek justice and reparations for these atrocities? How do we accept and love that which has been rejected, inside of us, in society and in others? Can dance be a force for healing that does not demand we erase history or assimilate in order to belong, but instead forges new ways of connection which allow multiple forms of difference to flourish? As the pieces in the concert span many dance traditions, from Dominican and Haitian to hip-hop, modern, tap, Bollywood, and various Latin styles, it is a testament to the persistent imagination of our students to do just so. Despite all odds, they are here – expressing themselves fully, loudly, and without apology. Let us all strive to be as fierce, daring, and honest as they are! – Jesse Phillips-Fein
This year’s Middle and Upper School Dance Concert – on Thursday and Friday, March 9 and 10, 2017 at 4pm and 7pm – focuses on the two countries inhabiting the Caribbean island of Hispaniola; the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
“I’ve studied Haitian dance since college,” said Middle-Upper School Dance Teacher Jesse Phillips-Fein. “It’s a personal interest for me but I usually select concert themes that I don’t know much about in order to learn something new along with the students.”
This year was different, she said, because in the past few years the Dominican government has engaged in the mass deportation of thousands of Haitians. “We’ve never had a ‘Latin’ or ‘Latinx’ theme,” said Jesse, “so it was important to raise up Hispanic dance culture as well as talk about how African ancestry is understood in different countries.”
Latinx, pronounced ‘Latinex,’ is a relatively new term whose aim is to move beyond gender-specific words like Latino or Latina, and which is gaining popularity from academia to the Twitterverse, including among students here at BFS.
Also, added Jesse, “I knew the students would love the dances.” These past few months have seen visits from two guest artists that she arranged. “Dominican choreographer Carmen Morrillo created a piece about the treatment of Haitians in the Dominican Republic and it uses different dances from there. Jessica St. Vil, Artistic Director of the Haitian KaNu Dance Theater company, created a piece based on the rava, a Haitian dance.”
Many of the students are using Haitian and Dominican dance forms in their original pieces. Senior Alexia S. is using the Haitian Nago as part of the movement vocabulary in her original dance. IB Dance II seniors Nathacha A. and Silvely A., both Dominican, created a piece called Latin Vybyz that uses bachata, a social dance from the Dominican Republic.
“I was inspired by Carribbean Vibez, an event we already have here that’s open to everyone,” said Nathacha. “But the Latinx community is so underrepresented at BFS. Our main goal was to show a different aspect of our culture. Our ensemble are all Latinx students. There aren’t a lot of us so we kept the piece small. It incorporates bachata and meringue, both from the Dominican Republic. It’s also influenced by Reggaeton which started in Puerto Rico in the ’90s and has developed into different forms for different cultures.”
“This is my third dance concert and it’s awesome,” said junior Aishat A. She is not a dance student and admits that she is more at home in Model UN club and running the Facebook page she co-founded, Humans of BFS, but the appeal of jumping into the dance concert every year has become an annual rite. “I think that people here are talented and creative and express a wide range of complex topics through dance. It’s one of my favorite things. It’s fun to become part of this dance community every year. It’s special.”
IB Dance I junior Hasanti K.‘s piece is informed by hip-hop and modern dance styles, as well as the works of several contemporary Black entertainers and entrepreneurs. “As Black people living in America they embody what I aspire to be,” he said. “They’re really free…I feel like I’ve gone through a lot because I came to BFS in seventh grade. I wanted a cohesive piece in which I go through the ups and downs of my emotions.”
He’s hopeful that the BFS community will turn out in droves this weekend to see the result of his and his classmates’ months of work. “It’s the culmination of so many ideas and cultures and we’re able to do this as teenagers.”