WILLIAMSTOWN — On the walls of the Williams College Museum of Art, Haitian artist The paintings of Frantz Zéphirin depict passages and transformations, connections between the physical and spiritual worlds of his voodoo practice.
Dance Kriyol! Collective (KDC) explores passages to a more earthly plane through the adversity of human migration and the lasting generational impact it has on minds and bodies.
These two worlds speak to each other on August 4 when Brooklyn, NY-based KDC presents a new 45-minute work “Rasin San Bout” (Endless Roots) at the museum, followed by a discussion and reception on the patio.
KDC founder Veroneque Ignace left her Haitian immigrant family and the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn to attend Williams College.
“[Even] in the dead of winter, I could still see the beauty of the campus; and, being of Caribbean descent, nature is everything,” she said in a recent phone interview.
For four years, the chemistry major performed dances from Africa and the African Diaspora with Kusika, a dance and drum ensemble led by Sandra Burton, director of dance for the Lipp family at Williams College.
Through his artistry and scholarship, Ignace was awarded the Williams’ Hubbard Hutchinson Fellowship in Dance, a $22,000 prize that helped revive KDC in Brooklyn after graduating in 2015.
Now she returns to her alma mater to launch a body of work that crosses her own worlds, exploring the impact of immigration, particularly Haitian, on well-being.
“I have a doctorate. student at the SUNY School of Public Health, studying community health and politics,” Ignace said. “At Williams, my thesis work interrogated the ways in which creative production and dance are beneficial for students of color, especially those who share histories of hereditary trauma. It’s the foundation of all my work and my approach to public health, the understanding that we can use our cultural identities, what we learn from our families, to inform how we achieve good health and well-being. general.
“The key question that KDC always asks is, what does it mean to be actually good? All of our creative work is centered there, that’s where my research lives.
From a collective of some 14 performers, the four dancers appearing at the WCMA include Marla Robertson, for years a mainstay of Williams’ dance ensembles. She’s been with KDC since the beginning, Ignace said.
The three drummers of the Kriyol Vodou Band who will accompany the dancers are all Haitians or of Haitian origin. “They’ve played in the biggest Haitian bands on the world stage, and they help us stick together and play with a traditional beat,” Ignace said.
“I come from a Haitian family but also from voodoo practitioners. The role that the drum plays is a line of communication between this physical space and a spiritual space. It can cross these borders and also contain the languages that we have forgotten.
Creating a dialogue with the work of Zephirin has a personal meaning for Ignatius. When she was 3, her painter and sculptor father exhibited altars he built alongside Zephirin’s work in a major museum exhibit.
When his father died in 2016, Ignace inherited leadership of Lakou from his family in Port-au-Prince. “It’s a voodoo temple, a spiritual site and a cultural center, almost like a community center, which has been in our family since 1877,” she explained. “My father’s art, his sculpture relates to this space, and now it’s my turn to take over and contribute to this legacy.”
Zephirin’s work is based on an understanding of voodoo, in terms of cosmology and the interactions between spirits and humans, she added. “To perform my work in the same space where this great artist is exhibited is really important and personal to me.”
In the new work, she explained, “there are four examples of choreographic work, as well as poetry and percussion. It is a piece in three parts: “The Beginning”, “Unrooted” and “The End”.
Ignatius sees performance as part of a larger overall picture. “The reality of Haiti right now is a lot of instability and unrest that has reached an all-time high,” she said. “We sometimes forget that everything that happens in the world also has an impact on Haiti.”
And, while Haitians are one of the largest immigrant populations in the Caribbean in Flatbush, they face further displacement due to rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, she said.
“It impacts our ability to care for people back home in Haiti. I want to make sure there’s a space to talk about it, especially in the Berkshires.
KDC’s performance concludes WCMA’s three-part “Immersions” summer program series.
“We wanted to highlight the role that music and rhythm play in Frantz Zephirin’s work,” said Teal Baskerville, WCMA’s Assistant Curator of Programs. “The aim of the series is to celebrate and highlight the connections between what is on view and the stories that run through them, telling a story that is bigger than any work.
Burton suggested that the museum invite Kriyol Dance! Collective.
“Veroneque and the collective have such a deep thought process,” Baskerville said, “thinking of dance and movement as a form of archiving and documentation.
“This piece is about migration and what it means to be well, as well as the health and well-being of migrants and immigrants. Despite the difficulties, losses and exploitations suffered during this journey, “Rasin San Bout/Endless Roots” carries the source of strength; and that connective tissue that runs through it all endures.
Baskerville added: “As a voodoo priest, Frantz’s work is so colorful and rich, there is a lot of transfiguration of deities into animals and scenes of ritual offerings where people are dancing. There are a lot of gestures, movements and rhythms, so this is an element that we wanted to bring out in a performance.
The series of programs represents a growing commitment to presenting performative works at WCMA, Baskerville said. “The performing arts are playing an increasingly important role in museum practice, it is a way to extend our work across campus and create new avenues of collaboration.
“As a Williams alumnus, I love working with other alumni. That’s the beauty of what a college museum can do: we help students while they’re here to develop their practice, and [provide opportunities] to present the work of graduates. It will be beautiful but also stimulating. The performance poses questions to the audience, and I’m really intrigued to see how they answer them.What: “Rasin San Bout” (Endless Roots) dance and percussion performance by Kriyol Dance! Collective (KDC)
Where: Williams College Museum of Art, 15 Lawrence Hall Drive, Williamstown
When: 5:30 p.m., August 4. The reception follows at 6:30 p.m. on the terrace. Galleries open until 8 p.m.
Admission: Free, no tickets needed.
More information: 413-597-2429, artmuseum.williams.edu
COVID Protocols: Masks are mandatory inside.