What do teachers do in their spare time? Most teachers would say that’s a contradiction in terms!
Teachers who are also artists have in fact two vocations — like Brooklyn’s PS 138 middle school teachers Michèle Voltaire Marceline and Alix (Buyu) Ambroise and teaching artist Jessica St. Vil-Ulysse.
Marceline is a multi-faceted performing artist, Ambroise plays a mean saxophone, and St. Vil-Ulysse dances and is a choregrapher.
These three, all Haitian, came together at the branch library in Laurelton for a performance entitled “Celebration of Life: Poetry, Dance and All That Jazz.”
Joining them to celebrate through their artistic mastery, by mid-afternoon, neighborhood residents along with friends and fans traveling from Brooklyn, Manhattan and Long Island packed the library’s community space.
Poet, writer, and performer Michèle Voltaire Marceline started off with a Haitian Creole piece she fabricated. Knowing how rich the countless inventory of Haitian proverbs are, she juxtaposed proverbs that have opposite meanings to show Haiti’s many dimensions, in her poem always addressing the country “peyi” first.
Here are a few proverbs in translation that she shared: Country, where bragging bulls barely have horns; Country, where the giver of the blow forgets, the bearer of the scar remembers; Country where the stones in the water do not know the pain of the stones in the sun. And the best known: Peyi dèyè mòn gen mòn — Country, where beyond the mountains, are more mountains.
Her poem ends with a call to action: This country is like my finger; I can’t cut it away. This country is ours; what will we do to save it?
“These illustrate the parallel universes that exist simultaneously in Haiti,” Marcelin explains.
The poet also performed two other original poems: Ars Poetica and I am Woman.
A spellbound audience watched choreographer St. Vil-Ulysse’s opening dance entitled “It’s not just the Vodou” to the music of Obed Jean-Louis and spoken words of Ella Turenne.
Saxophonist Buyu Ambroise performed Frantz Casséus’s Mèsi Bon Dye. In his second number, he mashed up the traditional song “Koute Moun Yo” with “Rare Rara.”
Wrapping up the afternoon, Marceline introduced a poem by Frankétienne — a leading Haitian writer known for a body of Haitian Creole literary work — Rapjazz. Ambroise and St. Vil-Ulysse joined her in a collaborative high-energy finale, completely engaging the audience.
Afterwards, the artists and audience participated in a performers’ “talk-back,” a chance for conversation and questions and answers.
“I do not speak Creole or French,” said one audience member, “but I really enjoyed this and I felt the emotion.”
“Where can I see more?” one woman clamored.
The three artists can be seen at cultural events and local venues in the metro area as well as occasional international gigs.
Poet, writer, performer, and painter Michèle Voltaire Marcelin performs at festivals, in cafes and other literary events; Alix Buyu Ambroise, jazz saxophonist, leads his Blues in Red Band and performs with others in Queens and Long Island and dancer and artistic choreographer Jessica St.Vil-Ulysse heads her own dance company, KaNu Dance Theater.
The afternoon, a part of Queens Library poetry month, was also a part of Queens Library’s programming of craft workshops, concerts, dance and theater from around the globe celebrating the heritage and legacy of immigrants in America.