World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Rara Tou Limen

Portsha Jefferson
Daniel Brevil
First Appearance in SF EDF:

Haiti is hugely important to twenty-first century practitioners of traditional African dance: it is the heart of traditional African spiritual practices in the Americas, practices referred to as “Vodou.” Vodou originated with displaced people from the nations of Kongo and Ibo; the Yoruba of Nigeria; and the Fon  of Benin (Dahomey). African beliefs and rituals merged with elements of French Catholicism, forming Haitian religion, and much of Haitian culture, including folkloric dance. In Haiti today, Vodou continues to empower families, communities and individuals.

Rara Tou Limen, established by artistic director Portsha Terae Jefferson in 2004, presents Haitian music, dance, and culture through classes, workshops, and performances. The company builds strength and solidarity within the Haitian community, raising awareness (and funds) for Haitian organizations, while nurturing dance and musical traditions with other Haitian cultural groups in the U.S. and Haiti. Grants and awards include those from: Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Zellerbach Family Foundation, East Bay Community Foundation, and Theater Bay Area CA$H Grants.


Rara Tou LimenTITLE: Freedom Rising
Portsha Jefferson and Rachel Parrish
Alvedo, Heather Easley-Kasinsky, Lakiesha Golden, Tracee Henson, Yuri Hinson, Akua Jackson, Portsha Jefferson, Leah Kimble-Price, Rami Margron, Halimah Marshall, Patrice Roland, Shemica Watkins
  Jealool Amari (tchatcha), Daniel Brevil (tanbou petwo, manman, vocals), Guy De Chalus (segon), Kendrick Freeman (segon), Karen Kirschling (kata), Tossie Long (vocals), Taji Maalik (bas), Josh Piagentini (ogan), Lalin St. Juste (vocals)

In a fiery and fierce performance of Haitian Petwo dance and rhythms, Freedom Rising depicts events from Haiti’s historic fight for freedom, including the rite that opened the rebellion: on August 13-14, 1791, Houngan Boukman led a secret Vodou ceremony at Bwa Kayiman, with Manbo Cecile Fatiman, who, possessed by a spirit (lwa), sacrificed a black pig. This event launched the Western Hemisphere’s only successful slave revolt and its first independent black republic. In Bondage, dancers in chains represent the suffering of enslaved Africans. In Twa Fey, medicine women cleanse ceremonial participants. Ouve Pot La represents rebellious slaves led by spirits Ezili Danto and Papa Simbi to seek justice. Victory represents the death of slave holders. Dancers wear red to symbolize the hot and fiery Petwo spirits.

Vodou, translated as “spirit”, is a danced religion. Petwo refers to the family of spiritual entities, the lwa, and to the music and dance form that creates a direct conduit to the lwa and to the ancestors. The powerful beat of the sacred petwo drums begin the ceremonies, and their rhythms are offerings to the spirits, calling lwa to “enter” and impart knowledge, blessings and wisdom. Freedom Rising was created in 2010, choreographed by Portsha Terae Jefferson. It premiered on April 18th in Oakland Ansanm pou Ayiti—Oakland Together for Haiti, performed in support of Haiti’s people as they reclaim their power, resources, and communities after the earthquake.


Costume Design/Construction:
Portsha Jefferson, Sandrine Malary, A. Rene Walker
Heather Easley-Kasinsky, Tamika Harris, Tracee Henson, Akua Jackson, Portsha Jefferson, Leah Kimble-Price, Halimah Marshall, Shawn Merriman-Roberts, Latanya d.Tigner (Dimensions Dance Theatre), Laila Tov, Shemica Watkins
Daniel Brevil (lead), Guy De Chalus, Skooter Fein,Kendrick Freeman,Gerlanda Gelin (vocals), Michele Hamilton (vocals), Karen Kirschling,Tossie Long (vocals), Taji Maalik,Lalin St. Juste (vocals)

To dance was at once to worship and to pray…the gods themselves danced, as the stars dance in the sky…dance is to take part in the cosmic control of the world . . . A.B. Ellis 

Rebirth depicts a Kanzo initiation ceremony in Vodou tradition. Two reine drapo enter with flags, accompanying the laplas, the peristyle guardian, or master of ceremonies. The peristyle is a sacred place where most Vodou activities take place. Candles represent light, a small altar offers votive objects, and the asson—a calabash rattle decorated with beads and filled with snake vertebrae—summons spirits. The initiate enters in ceremonial white. She lies down in seclusion and Manbo Ayizan brings the mysteries of the Kanzo to her spirit child, to facilitate her rebirth as a Vodou priest. Then the lwa, spiritual entities, enter to honor the new member of the Vodouisant community.

The songs include Sali Nago: a salute to the Nago nation; Laplas rele laplas: a call to the master of ceremonies; and Ayizan Velekete: for the sacred earth of Benin and the presiding spirit.

Musicians in the Haitian rada orchestra summon the spirits with a bell, rattle, bas drums, and three tunable hollow log drums: the manman, boula, and segon. These Haitian drums are sacred conduits, so they are baptized, saluted, fed, and put to sleep when not in use. The first rhythm is yanvalou, traced to the Fon people of Dahomey, an invocation and supplication that opens all ceremonies. The next rhythm is zepol, the dance of the shoulders. The Vodou songs are sung in Haitian Kreyol and in ancient African langaj.

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