From Haitian Creole to modern dance, Gaspard Louis has a history of bringing his languages to the Duke community.
Louis, the Haitian-born founder and artistic director of the company Gaspard&Dancers, came to Durham a decade ago as a professor in the nascent years of Duke’s Haitian Creole language program. He quickly found a home in the local arts community, becoming involved in the Durham-based American Dance Festival and establishing Gaspard&Dancers in 2009. This fall, the company will kick off its 10th anniversary season on campus with the premiere of “Exit/No Entry,” a piece that centers around current U.S. policy on asylum seekers and the resulting humanitarian crisis.
Illuminating humanitarian issues through dance is a longstanding passion of Louis’. In 2012, Gaspard&Dancers premiered a show entitled “The Trilogy” at Reynolds Theater, which reflected on the 2010 earthquake in his native Haiti.
“In an increasingly polarized world, I believe in the power of art like [Louis’s] to help us envision and shape a more inclusive society,” Celia Mizelle, Gaspard&Dancers’ assistant to the director, wrote in an email.
Developed in separate parts, “Exit/No Entry” examines two distinct ramifications of U.S. asylum policy.
“In ‘Exit/No Entry,’ I am speaking to the American people,” Louis said, “to look at us, look into our soul, ask, ‘How would you feel if your kid was being snatched away from you?’ Hopefully, [when] you look at us, you can be sympathetic to our suffering.”
“No Entry,” which Louis created last year, tells the story of two sisters trying to find each other, obstructed by a wall of dancers, acting as soldiers, that divides them. After the piece received critical acclaim and profound emotional response from audiences, Louis decided to expand on “No Entry” by developing a prequel, “Exit.”. The new piece focuses on individual incarceration stories of immigrants, played by company dancers, who have been detained and caged while crossing the U.S. border.
Despite the visceral themes of the show, Louis does not intend for “Exit/No Entry” to inspire political actionintention, but to elicit audiences’ empathy.
“I always think that if we spend more time dancing, we spend less time fighting,” Louis said. “I’m not going to the left, I’m not going to the right. I approach things in a human way.”
The human stories portrayed in “Exit/No Entry” personally resonate with Louis, whose own family faced struggles with immigration. One of his cousins, a Haitian citizen who was in the United States on a visa, fled to Canada in light of recent immigration policies.
“She knew that if she stayed, she would be sent back to Haiti,” Louis said. “[She went into] survival mode. She needed a place that would be more welcome.”
According to Louis, “Exit/No Entry” aims to “give hope” to those, like his cousin, who are affected by current immigration policies. The show will end with a piece called “L’Esprit,” originally performed in 2012 as part of “The Trilogy.”
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“In ‘L’Esprit,’ a town comes to life, joyful. Life continues,” Louis said. “Even after this natural disaster, life continues. Even through what’s going on in this administration, life continues.”
Gaspard&Dancers will perform at the Reynolds Theater on Friday, Sept. 27 and 28 at 7:30 p.m. The Sept. 28 performance will be followed by G&D’s 10-Year Fête, held from 9:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. at The Fruit. Discounted tickets are available for Duke students.