Theatrically Yours – T.A.N.

Theatrically Yours – T.A.N.
Throughout the ages, theater has provided an artistic form of entertainment while emulating the customs and values of the societies in which it is performed. During times of monarchy or dictatorship, it portrays the image that those in power wish it to portray. In the days before mass media was available, it could be wielded as a powerful tool to shape public opinion according to current political policy.   Today, theater still mirrors the customs and values of the societies in which it is performed. But it often fails to reflect those of the minority populations of that society. The Théâtre de l’Air Nouveau (T.A.N.) is a theater company that seeks to fill this void as it relates to the French Antillean and Guyanese populations of Paris.   In 1983, Marie-Line Ampigny and Luc Saint-Eloy founded a company called Théâtre de l’A.I.R. (Artistes Immigrés Réunis, or Immigrant Artists Reunited). The group’s mission was to bring Antillean-Guyanese theater to life on French soil. This was a formidable undertaking, since funding for projects lagged far behind the enthusiasm of its creators. Nevertheless, the troupe produced four plays – Carmen La Matadore (1983), Le Bourreau d’Antigone (1984), Ti Jean et l’Oiseau Diable (1985) and A Coups de Gueule d’Amour (1986) before Ampigny exhausted her financial and creative resources and bade adieu to the company.   Luc Saint-Eloy took up the flame and re-baptized the troupe Théâtre de l’Air Nouveau (T.A.N.). With fierce determination, he has piloted T.A.N. through both good and hard times to the present day. He has remained true to the spirit of the original company, striving to bring Antillean culture to the general public by incorporating dance, song and poetry into his theatrical productions and by engaging Antillean and other African and Diaspora artists to perform in them.   A native of Guadeloupe, Saint-Eloy has directed more than 25 productions since 1986. This includes five editions of Les Migans Poétiques – a dinner theater featuring Diaspora poets from Guadeloupe (1999 and 2002), Martinique (2000 and 2003), and Haïti (2001). An open mike is extended to those attending the event so that anyone who is willing can share his/her poems.   One of his greatest achievements was the production of Trottoir Chagrin (1992), a gripping representation of an encounter between a prostitute and the man who murdered her brother, one year after the crime occurred. Critically acclaimed, it was performed roughly 100 times – in Paris and Avignon, in Guadeloupe and Martinique, in Carthage… Ten years later, it was published by Editions New Legend in Paris.   In 1998, Saint-Eloy oversaw the opening of the Centre Culturel du T.A.N. in the northeast Paris suburb of Pantin. This multifaceted center offered a number of services, including artistic and cultural workshops (e.g. dance, drumming, Creole language), a cinema club, cultural voyages, and a commercial outlet for artists and writers wanting to sell their works.   In the socio-economic arena, T. A. N. worked to support tourism in the French Antilles and French Guyana and to inform members about fiscal issues such as financial aid for students and tax declarations.   The center was politically active as well, spearheading a movement to establish a memorial to the victims of the French slave trade at Place des Antilles in Paris’ 12th arrondissement. In 1998, Saint-Eloy organized a phenomenal two-part event to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the second abolition of slavery in the French colonies. The first part was a silent march that proceeded from Porte Dorée to the Place des Antilles. The second part was a theatrical procession conceived to symbolize the liberation, honor and respect for Black peoples around the world that made its way from Place des Antilles to the Louvre. It featured 450 actors in costume who represented these peoples as well as great historical figures.   T.A.N. has struggled against a perpetual lack of financial resources throughout the years. As a result, it closed the doors of its cultural center in 2002 after four years of intense and positive community work. But having survived many disappointments, the company could not let its 20-year anniversary pass without a celebration. Thus, on the evening of November 10, 2003, the troupe threw itself a gala. And roughly 1000 people assembled at Club Med World in Bercy Village to support and cheer its tenacious longevity.   The evening consisted of a superb fashion show entitled KASADEV, directed by Saint-Eloy and featuring the designs of T.A.N.’s cultural manager and former fashion model Astrid Siwsanker. Each “act” evoked performances staged by the troupe throughout its history. Cocktails and a splendid tropical buffet followed. T.A.N. projected video of its various performances – an important, permanent record of its achievements throughout the years. The evening was culminated by a musical concert and dancing until dawn.   What’s next for T.A.N.? On the socio-political scene, it continues to lobby for the erection of a Paris monument to the victims of the French slave trade. On the theatrical scene, Luc Saint-Eloy is considering a new production for next year – this time, a musical.   —Monique Y. Wells is co-owner of Discover Paris! – Personalized Itineraries for Independent Travelers as well as the author of Food for the Soul – A Texas Expatriate Nurtures her Culinary Roots in Paris.  
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