Every Jean has a second first name. Jean Appolon’s is Josué, like Joshua. Like that Biblical character, he’s dauntless and like dancer-choreographer Alvin Ailey who came before him, Appolon has a flair for creating spectacular pieces, deeply rooted in the traditions of Haiti, and Africa. This New York City-trained, master of modern dance is also concerned about the future of the art. For this reason, he founded Dance Haiti! a nonprofit that aims to make dance a part of the lives of young people in Haiti, while also raising their consciousness about Haitian and African culture.
Appolon was born in Port-au-Prince and came to the USA at the age of seventeen, and if he is spreading the gospel of dance, he wants to evangelize in his home city, not just Boston where he is currently based.
Appolon was recently honored with a place on the prestigious Haitian Roundtable 1804—an organization that celebrates the achievements of professionals of Haitian descent—for his accomplishments. It’s easy to see why. Appolon’s dance moves bring out all of Africa, plenty of Haiti, while not losing sight on contemporary dance.
When you picture your childhood, what comes to mind?
What comes in my mind is how beautiful and scary things were. Growing up in a country where it was sunny everyday and waking up in a village where neighbors and family members look after your well-being. The bad was just not knowing what is going to come the next day because we were living in an unstable culture.
Do you think that Haitian dance has had an impact on dance in the USA and the rest of the world?
Yes. What confirms that for me was going to Alvin Ailey and seeing a lot of the movements and a lot of the training when it comes to Horton, Dunham and even African classes that I was taking there. I’ve seen a lot of similarities to Haitian folkloric dance and also reading about major pioneers who were inspired by Haitian dance confirms this too, like Alvin Ailey, Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus and more.
In high school, were you already getting the notion that dance was going to be an integral part of your life?
Yes, since I was in elementary school.
What do you consider the perfect environment for dance?
I consider it to be adequate, accessible and inspiring.
How did you develop the flair for choreography?
To me, choreography is a language and a way of expressing your messages and stories. Just like a writer, I get inspired every day of my life by what I would like to talk about so I put that into my choreography.
For whatever reason, whenever folks think of choreographers, they think of music videos and musicals. Do you have a favorite musical, whose choreography you find to be just plain flawless?
My inspiration when it comes to choreography is Ulysses Dove, and a few others. I like The Lion King but in general the dancing in musicals is very cliché. For that, I’m very particular when it comes to going to watch musicals.
What do you consider your most pride-inspiring moment?
I don’t have that yet because I’m still working towards that moment.
Alvin Ailey, a classic choreographer, is quoted as having said: “Choreography is mentally draining, but there’s a pleasure in getting into the studio with the dancers and the music.” What’s your reaction to this?
I definitely think he is completely right. And I feel the same sentiment as Mr. Ailey described. I hope one day I can really have my own studios where I can spend as much time as I want to with my dancers because that’s a major part of my life and I would like to create bigger ballets in the future.
Above: Jean-Josué Appolon accepting an award for his accomplishments as a changemaker in his field from The Haitian Roundable.
And how do you know whether someone has what it takes to be a dancer?
By just looking at them. A true performer who wants to be a performer, when this person comes to you, you know they have it.
Going back to Mr. Ailey’s quote…choreography is no doubt physically draining as well. What measures should dancers take to care for themselves?
Take classes, yoga, Pilates, continue conditioning yourself so your mind and your physical body can be in a state to produce great things.
I was reading that you have Dance Haiti! a dance summer camp for kids in Haiti. That’s so cool.
This program is something that I’m very passionate about and it will mean the world to me when we are very stable to run this program without worries. We have an open call audition to find kids who are very passionate about dance and who really want to be doing something positive in the community. I prefer to call it a Summer Dance Institute instead of a camp. Anyone who is interested can watch this four minute video, or go to our website to find out more.
[ Appolon show his student participants some graceful moves through Jean Appolon Expressions’ Dance Haiti! initiative in Haiti. First Photo: Daniel Morel; all others provided by subject’s representative. ]
When did you visit Haiti last?
And what advice do you have to give to those who want to make dance and choreography their line of work?
The advice I have is to be courageous and never feel like you are limited.