Yannick Lebrun's story, of a twenty-four-year-old native of French Guiana turned world-traveling Alvin Ailey dancer, is rooted in humble beginnings. His leap from studying dance at the Adaclam School in Cayenne (capital city of French Guiana) to carving out a place for himself in the award-winning Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is not a path frequently travelled. "For those from French Guiana...the possibilities for dance are few and far between," he says. When he starts talking about his journey, he exudes an admirable and effortless humility. However, that humility belies the success of his still-emerging career. Since officially moving to New York City in 2004, Lebrun's tenure at Ailey has evolved from aspiring fellowship student, to rising dancer of Ailey II, the company's ensemble of young talent, to one of the thirty professionals of the current Ailey troupe.
Lebrun's journey is equally matched with an impressive body language. He clocks in rave reviews from the New York Times, The Star Ledger, and more recently ALEIM magazine's Victoria Foster who writes that when it comes to his repertoire of movement, Lebrun can transform "suddenly into an insect, a machine, a bird taking flight, a shaman leading an ancient tribal mating dance, or a spaceman attempting communication in some ritualistic nonverbal language of the future." He credits this versatility to his early beginnings. "Growing up in South America influenced me as a dancer because I was surrounded by different cultures and ethnicities. All of those varied influences broadened my dance vocabulary and I became a more versatile dancer because of it," he says.
On December 1, Lebrun joined the Ailey dancers in the world premiere of "Home," an evocative piece inspired by stories of people living with or affected by HIV. Created by hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris, the new work is choreographed to a hybrid score of gospel and house music -- vibrant, rowdy, loud, energetic, and celebratory! It's a counter-intuitive choice of sorts. What you won't hear is a soundtrack suitable for candlelight vigils. The score and choreography are perhaps a statement in itself -- one that boldly confronts the culture of silence that continues to permeate the disease. "Home" is not aiming for sentimentality. Instead, the work seems to be after motivating action.
While December 1st holds global significance as World AIDS Day, within the Ailey family, it is remembered as the day Alvin Ailey, the company's visionary founder, died of AIDS. As the Ailey dancers prepared to honor their founder's battle with the disease, simultaneously, they were creating compelling evidence of how dance can be used to illuminate the individual and collective stories of people impacted by HIV. Of his role in "Home," Lebrun says, "I feel empowered... I have an important voice that is being translated through this dance."
In the mid to late 1990s, the incidence of AIDS in French Guiana was among one of the highest in South America and the Caribbean. Although current rates have declined, the global health community is calling for renewed focus on the Guiana region as a whole, which include neighboring countries Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana), and Guyana (formerly British Guiana).
For Lebrun, "Home" translates across borders, including his own, and across the work's particular subject of HIV/AIDS. He believes, "Home" tells a universal story of grief and overcoming grief." As he prepares to plot another mark in his professional arc, he shared with of note magazine how his French Guiana beginnings have influenced his role as a dancer and the responsibilities of the Ailey troupe in using dance as a tool to champion this critical social issue.
Read the full interview at of note magazine.