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Homage to Jean Léon Destiné


Jean Léon Destiné, master Haitian dancer, choreographer and drummer, died on January 22, 2013. The staff members of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division mourn his passing. And as the Dance Division Curator, I will truly miss him. He was also a great friend of the Dance Division. During his long career as advocate and artist for Haitian dance he donated materials to the Dance Division, gave lecture/demonstrations at the Performing Arts Library, and was recorded by the Jerome Robbins Archive of the Recorded Moving Image. We are delighted to have these materials in our collection, so that dancers, researchers and scholars can come here and view these photographs, clippings, programs and videos.

Witch Doctor, Jean Léon DestinéWitch Doctor, Jean Léon DestinéAmong the materials he donated to the Jerome Robbins Archive was the 1951 film of Witch Doctor presented by Ritter-Young-Lerner Associates and Unity Films with original stage choreography by Jean Léon Destiné. This film version of a dance work inspired by an exorcism ritual is performed by Jean Léon Destiné (witch doctor) and Jeanne Ramon (possessed woman) with Alphonse Cimber (drummer).

The Jerome Robbins Archive of the Recorded Moving Image recorded his company’s performances on several occasions. Included in these tapings were two performances recorded at the Kaufmann Theater, American Museum of Natural History, New York, on December 3, 1995. If you want to see these films or other videos on Jean Léon Destiné, you can access them here at the Dance Division of The Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center. All access is free of charge and you can view them on the Third Floor. If you want to learn more about how to research within the Dance Division collection, check out Arlene Yu's blog post.

Jean Léon Destiné and dancers, Witch DoctorJean Léon Destiné and dancers, Witch Doctor

Jean Léon Destiné, Spider DanceJean Léon Destiné, Spider Dance

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts also held a public program produced by Alan J. Pally titled Dances, Chants and Drum Rhythms of Haiti with Jean Léon Destiné. In this lecture-demonstration, Jean Léon Destiné used dances, songs, and instrumental pieces to explore the artistic heritage of the Africans brought to Haiti. He was joined by dancer Nadia Dieudonné and drummers Damas "Fanfan" Louis, Ti-Ga Jean Baptiste. The program includes: an invocation to Papa Legba and Papa Damballah, a work-song and dance, contredanse/Juba, merengue (Angelico), compas, rabodaille, mazoune, Congo paillette, yanvalou, nago, ibo, pas rigole, mahi, zépaules, Dahomey, Petro, and Banda. This was videotaped on May 8, 2004 by Aram Tchobanian.

Among the performances of Jean Léon Destiné that I will never forget is his stunning salute to the Iwa of Haiti at the Tribute to Katherine Dunham at Town Hall in 1994. This program, presented by the Caribbean Cultural Center, was recorded by the Dance Division and I am grateful every time I see this clip to have this example of his artistry: flowing, spine rippling, passionate and luminous. We miss you.


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