Haydée Souffrant Reinvigorates with Senior Dance Show To Say the Words, to Speak the Truth

Claire Petras

Equal parts performance art, spectacular drumming, traditional Guinean dancing, singing and spoken word, College senior Haydée Souffrant’s senior show addressed her personal struggle to navigate her relationship with her familial history. To Say the Words, to Speak the Truth; Following the Sound of Legacies was refreshing. It was exciting to finally see a dance performance at Oberlin that was not a vapid modern dance piece.

Souffrant’s performance was anything but empty. The piece’s energy, soul and emotion resounded throughout the crowd in Warner Main Space. The space was decorated with large draped banners listing the names of her family members and her mantra, “Lakie ou se Kote Historie Kommence,” and shelves containing various bottles and knick-knacks representing her living and deceased family members. The intricate set established an appropriate atmosphere for a celebration of family legacies.

Souffrant’s piece began with an expression of her “inner conflict” through spoken word. She argued with herself on stage about the conflict between discovering her independence and embracing her family history — understanding it as inherently part of her personality. The spoken word was clearly very emotional for her: At points, she even began to cry — a liberating experience that occurred throughout the making of her project. After this verbal struggle, the music began.

One of the live music groups, Ilu Aiye, emphatically drummed traditional Guinean music as Souffrant vigorously and energetically performed traditional Guinean dances — a fitting juxtaposition with the solemn spoken word that opened the show. The energy in the room was tangible; Many of Souffrant’s friends and family were boisterously supporting her beautiful dancing and drumming. I was exhausted just watching her, but she kept the energy up and performed spectacularly.

Once the dancing ended, Souffrant returned to spoken word and ultimately came to the conclusion that family histories cannot be ignored and that they are very much a part of her life. She mentioned, “To know my family is to know myself.” There was a clear trajectory to her performance: We saw personal anger and conflict as a result of her struggle to establish her own personal identity, then the embrace of her family history and culture with the dancing and drumming and finally the acceptance that all this family “baggage” is part of her identity.

Haydée Souffrant put a whole lot of work into this project, two and a half years to be specific, and it really showed. To Say the Words, to Speak the Truth succeeded in its straightforwardness. As a personal narrative expressed through song, dance, and poetry that recognized the importance of family legacies, the performance was invigorating.