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(PRESS RELEASE VIA SNO) – Simply paraphrasing this statement from an article by professor Richard Powers of Stanford University Dance Vision, published in the New England Journal of medicine evokes much truth.
Dance does in fact help reduce stress and disease, and has been recommended to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s, ever since the review of President Reagan’s battle with the disease.
But can dance really affect the life and quality of life of those who dance?
Thus was the foundation for the Lawonn bèlè and the decision to host the second edition of the Bèlè Djouba festival.
It was a remarkable feat by local anthropologist Laurent ‘Jomo’ JnPierre, borne out of sheer interest in this area of preservation of culture and the way of life of our ancestry, to get a band of bèlè enthusiasts to Martinique to represent the incomparable St. Lucian bèlè.
Without being modest, this undertaking was fundamentally a step towards the preservation of a dying art-form, a rare species of dance, not found anywhere else in the Caribbean to date.
Facing this potential loss of bèlè culture in St. Lucia, JnPierre saw it critical that practitioners who hold the last remnants of this dying practice attend the second edition of the Bèlè Djouba 2018 dance festival recently held in Martinique. The festival ran from the 7th to the 10th of June with participants from Trinidad & Tobago, Saint Lucia and Martinique. This second edition highlighted the power of support, ‘An fos pou fè fos’.
Why a festival for dance, or even a bèlè festival…?
The legitimacy of this cultural practice, known as bèlè, was on the table for discussion.
Richard Ambrose of St. Lucia, speaking on Bèlè dance as an agent of cultural unity, identified the complex paradox that is Caribbean society after the plantation era. Ambrose made reference to the polar situation of practices emanating from the Neg Djiné, Africans arriving in St. Lucia after the call for emancipation from slavery. His analysis extended to the equilibrium in disequilibrium, the notions of eskiv, bigidi and a duality and pluralism in the heritage of our dance, poetry and Caribbean thinking.
The presentations of Saint Lucia were insightful as well as theatrical. Leo Louisy Amedee with his wealth of experience in the bèlè form spoke of his origins in Fond Assau, Babonneau, where his Djiné ancestry cultivated his knowledge of ‘Kèlè’ practices. This presentation at a round table with stalwarts from U.W.I Trinidad and Martinique’s intelligentsia elaborated on the role Tourism plays with respect to traditional bèlè. Amedee affirmed that a developmental and sustainable approach to heritage and tourism, bringing tourists into the village, had more benefits, some of which are Economic, but are yet to be analysed.
The dynamic presentation of Laurent JnPierre opened the talks on bèlè and the kwéyol language on day two. Mr. JnPierre opened with the statement ” bèlè is creole and creole is bèlè”( bèlè sé kwéyol, ek kwéyol sé bèlè). His provocative invocation into the past and current situation of people in the diaspora gave hope, instruction and safeguards, all the while underscoring the importance of the Bèlè Djouba festival. ‘ It is the same fight for the language. It is a fight for legitimacy of our own creative expression… Given the presence of the kwéyol in our house of Assembly in St. Lucia we must continue to give access to our culture and language at the highest echelons of our societies and communities…’
The community effort in this regard was that of the two communities (Fond Assau and Piaiye) coming together with Herman ‘Mauray’ John Baptiste a musician from Fond Assau, weaving in the bèlè rhythms of Babonneau. Joseph ‘Jean’ John embodied the true duality of the group, being from Piaiye but having travelled for nearly forty years with dancers and drummers such as the late Arthanasius Laborde, wherever St. Lucian culture was to be represented.
Similarly Elias ‘Afwayshi’ Paul shared his ancestry’s lives through drum and song. Leadership was also offered by his sister Jeanette Ferdinand, a veteran to the stage.
The team of dancers also comprising Elias ‘Aba’ Paul, Tessa Jean, Gaidy-Lujan Gabriel, Stephen Darnley and the diplomatic skills of Shane Felix made for a salubrious export of St. Lucian-ness.
The younger cast members Eustace ‘Junior’ Volney, Iza Samuel and Nekesha Volney also played their parts, through ring games and exhilarating show of style and prowess, emphasizing the capacity of bèlè to transcend, and continue with the vigour of youth. It is no wonder the St. Lucian workshop was heralded as one of the most exciting resulting from this festival.
Displaying and teaching the ‘kutumba’, part of the complete spectacle relating to the St. Lucian Bèlè, highlighted a uniqueness of this dance and its rare and indigenous nature.
Saint Lucia was ably represented by all accounts from the organiser Mr. Albanah and the Lawonn Bèlè team. Even the liaison officer Brigitte thanked the group for their amazing cordiality and joviality. She contrasted this with an awful experience with an artiste from another territory. ‘ Frankly, I was scared when asked to chaperone another set of artistes.’
Having exchanged gifts and sentiments, including art-pieces utilizing the national plant of St. Lucia and bags by Perry Martial, the islands parted, for this sseason. Indeed the St. Lucian contingent made a mark with the aid of Lucelec. ” Sent Lisi ek Lucelec, klèté ek Bèlè”, a light which will illuminate for some time to come. Hopefully, we in St. Lucia can bask in the ambience, learning and keeping alive not only of physical bodies but also our legacies so that generations to come will enjoy, dance and live on.