Prince Claus laureate Jeanguy Saintus: 'The dead provide strenghth and comfort'

September 2008 -

The Haitian choreographer Jeanguy Saintus is one of the Prince Claus laureates 2008. Guideline for the Prince Claus Award this year was: 'Culture and the human body'. The focus was the expressive power of the body and the positive effect it can have on culture and development. The Prince Claus Award was awarded to Saintus for his rejuvenation of Haiti's dance tradition. Voodoo culture plays an important part, of course, but it also contains African and Indian influences. Saintus founded Aykodans in 1988, and it has been a world-wide success. 


Although Saintus says he was influenced by Martha Graham and Maurice Béjart, he decided to go his own way. "Why would I stage Giselle when my own culture offers so many important themes, for example the Kanzo ceremony?" Kanzo is the name of a ritual of indoctrination into the widely-practiced voodoo, the most important religion on Haiti next to Catholicism. "Respect for the dead is an important voodoo element. The dead are an important part of our lives. My mother died when I was fourteen. I would sit at her grave and talk with her for hours. I was happy there. The dead do not bring fear: they provide strength and comfort. Those are the types of emotions that I try to express in my choreographs, like in Trilogy and also in Bal des Guèdes. I hope to show a compilation on 3 December 2008, when the Prince Clause Awards will be awarded in Amsterdam.”

Saintus often works with young people on Haiti. "Every year we have auditions for our Dansepyenu project, which means dancing on bare feet. Our selection focuses on mentality, although dancing qualities are also important. It is surprising to see the perseverance among young people. A number of our dancers have made the step up to foreign dance companies. That is extraordinary for a country like Haiti, where artists have no status what so ever: they are considered to be lazy. Miracles do still happen."