Sitting at the Irish International Immigrant Center in downtown Boston, a circle of people hailing from all different races, ethnic backgrounds, dance levels, and ages recently huddled after an hour-long Haitian dance workshop led by Jean Appolon. In Between bites of Haitian patties, participants offered personal stories and insights on immigration issues, with one person noting that while she couldn’t consciously recall certain elements of her home culture, through this dance experience, her “body remembered.”
This deep connection through dance is a topic I explored in a Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism profile of Appolon last year, and that the iconic Haitian dance instructor certainly conjures in Lakou Ayiti, his latest work that explores both specific and universal stories and ideas related to immigration. When Appolon first began working on Lakou Ayiti, he didn’t realize that the piece would debut at the peak of national debates and culture wars around immigration and refugee policies. Nevertheless, he was prepared.
Lakou Ayiti, which debuts at the BCA this Friday and runs through the weekend, draws from both Appolon’s own immigration experience, as well as those of some of his dancers and from others in the Hub’s Haitian community. If there’s a main theme in the show, Appolon says it is to underline the unity among different immigrant communities, and to demonstrate the power of that force in the current political climate. The production’s introduction notes:
The forces that drive Haiti’s reality—of neighboring countries in conflict, of sprouting tent cities and uprooted diasporas, of enforced borders and unforgiving natural disaster—echo and ricochet around the world. Across the European and African continents, along Turkish waters and stretches of Mexican desert, we are bearing witness to the experience to the loss of “lakou,” and treacherous journeys in which many are swallowed, and those who slip through face not only economic survival but a psychic void that is both collective and deeply personal.
“This project is [not just about Haiti],” Appolon says.
The word “lakou” has multiple meanings in Haitian Kreyol, ranging from home as a physical space, where familial and social gatherings take place, to the figurative, as a force that brings somebody home or allows them to identify with aspects of home. In Lakou Ayiti, Appolon says the name has an additionally special meaning, as it pertains to how a sense of and appreciation of one’s home changes in accordance with her or his immigration experience.
In order to explore the evolving meaning of lakou, Appolon employed multidisciplinary methods from a range of collaborators, among them soundscapes by electronic music artist Val Jeanty. As for inspiration, much of the content comes from discussions at community dance workshops Appolon has offered over the past year.
“It is really universal,” he says. “[The project] unites different immigrants from different parts of the world to have a [common] voice.”
JEAN APPOLON PRESENTS ‘LAKOU AYITI.’ FRI 3.17. BOSTON CENTER FOR THE ARTS, 539 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. BOSTONTHEATRESCENE.COM
Micaela is a Boston-based journalist and sociologist who covers dance, culture, and immigration for DigBoston, the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and other outlets.