Jean-Léon Destiné, a Haitian dancer and choreographer who brought his country’s traditional music and dance to concert stages around the world, died on Jan. 22 at his home in Manhattan. He was 94. His family confirmed the death.
Considered the father of Haitian professional dance, Mr. Destiné first came to international attention in the 1940s and remained prominent for decades afterward.
As a dancer, he performed well into old age. In 2003, reviewing a program at Symphony Space in New York in which he appeared, Anna Kisselgoff wrote in The New York Times that Mr. Destiné’s number stopped the show. She added, “He looked agile and nuanced, mesmerizing in a bent-legged solo.”
As a choreographer, he directed own ensemble, which came to be known as the Destiné Afro-Haitian Dance Company.
The company, which presented work from throughout the Caribbean, was devoted in particular to dances from Haiti. Accompanied by vibrant drumming — Mr. Destiné collaborated for many years with the distinguished Haitian drummer Alphonse Cimber — these dances were often infused with elements of voodoo tradition.
As reviewers noted, Mr. Destiné and company could dance, to all appearances, as if possessed.
Much of Mr. Destiné’s work also functioned as commentary on Haiti’s legacy of colonialism and slavery. In “Slave Dance,” a solo piece he choreographed and performed, the dancer begins in bondage only to emerge, in astonished joy, a free man.
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