Photo by Olivia Moon Photography | Jean Appolon Expressions, Vwayaj

Jean Appolon

2019-2020 Boston Dancemakers Resident

Company Statement

Jean Appolon Expressions (JAE) celebrates and advances Haitian folkloric dance by building a contemporary cultural community that produces professional performances, educational opportunities, and dance training for people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. Based in Boston and directed by Jean Appolon, JAE’s professional company conducts performances, community classes and educational workshops, with the goal of using dance and dialogue to promote healthy communities. The Haitian contemporary dance company combines Modern technique and Haitian folkloric dance, bringing a new artistic vernacular to its audiences. The company has been fortunate to share the stage with celebrities such as Danny Glover, Henry Louis Gates and Edwidge Danticat, and to collaborate with many community partners around the Greater Boston area. Since 2006, Jean Appolon has conducted a successful annual Summer Dance Institute in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Institute targets young Haitians who lack financial resources and have limited access to dance education.

Artist Story

My name is Jean Appolon and the traditional art form that I practice is Haitian folkloric dance. Growing up in Haiti, I immersed myself in all dance education opportunities that were available to me as a young boy in Port-au-Prince, even though my parents forbade me to dance. I pursued my advanced training after immigrating to the US at Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and the Joffrey Ballet School.

My choreography preserves Haitian folkloric dance and combines this tradition with Modern technique, especially Horton. I became influenced by Horton when I studied at Ailey. I feel fortunate to situate myself inside this rich artistic lineage as I pursue my mission to restore, preserve and advance Haitian folkloric dance by constantly pushing the art form forward while remaining accessible and educational.

Tell us about your BCA artist residency project.

Traka is a series of community workshops and a choreographic work, which will find ultimate expression in an evening length performance in Boston, MA.

Traka, meaning “Troubles” in Haitian Kreyol, is an exploration into how dance, culture, and community act as pathways to healing for victims of traumatic events. Following a traumatic event, individuals may use coping strategies such as emotionally processing with family, finding distraction through play or work, or seeking meaning and understanding through religion and community. Traka will highlight ways that dance and culture can play a significant role in supporting healing on both individual and community levels.

During a time of such division and discord, especially around immigrant communities, Traka is exceedingly timely. JAE’s strong history elevating immigrants’ voices and stories puts JAE in a position to authentically connect with marginalized groups. Through community workshops, Appolon will continue to create welcoming opportunities for immigrants and allies to dance and discuss experiences of trauma, coping, and survival.

Tell us what inspires your work, and how that is expressed in your process and/or in the work you are making.

The inspiration behind JAE’s productions and community programming is rooted in Appolon’s personal history. Growing up in a strict, middle-class family in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Appolon learned early that two things were forbidden to him: the spiritual beliefs of Vodou and the physical movement of dance. The taboos of his childhood now define his artistic mission: preserving Haiti’s cultural legacy through dance, and celebrating the connection between Haitian dance and cultural healing.
Appolon says, “What dance has really taught me is how rich we are as Haitians and as people of African descent, and the impact of the Afro-Haitian tradition for dance around the world. That’s something that makes me extremely proud, and I want to be the next generation to represent that.”

What about your process is uniquely you? 

Everything, from the beginning to the end. I try to incorporate myself into every single thing that I do, along with what is happening socially in the world around me.

Who does your art speak to? Are there communities you work within?

My art speaks to everyone, but mostly to the diverse community members in Greater Boston. I do not want to ever put myself in a box and hope to continue to reach new audiences from every background.

Tell us about the most memorable piece that you have created.

Vwayaj is one of the most memorable productions since it speaks to the immigrant experience. As an immigrant myself, I feel that I can connect to immigrants all around the world through this piece.

Tell us about your biggest dance blooper moment.

My biggest blooper moment was in Miami performing for the Black Door Dance Company. I was so excited to jump and land in a split that I landed the split and hit my forehead on the ground and blacked out. When I came to, I did not think I would make it through the piece, but I actually did!