Choreographer Augusto Soledade likes to mix things up. His company, Brazz Dance Theater, is rooted in the movement and rhythms of Soledade’s native Brazil, but he works in elements of funk, African dance, hip-hop, and even tango.
He is currently working with a small group of dancers in the Little Haiti Cultural Center on his new piece, Misura Fina, which premieres March 11.
The piece fully embodies Soledade’s mission to bridge cultures and far-flung influences. The title itself translates from Portuguese to “fine blend.”
Soledade describes the piece as a duet for a dancer and a drummer, combining influences of North American funk and Afro-Brazilian rhythms. It’s an experimental piece that explores the internal and external connections between the dancer and musician in particular, and music and dance in the greater picture.
“The relationship between the two is so strong,” Soledade explains. “To explore it allows me to connect to a universal audience.”
The piece premieres March 11. In the meantime there is a lot of work to be done.
As he leads his dancers in a warm up in a large sun-filled studio in the Little Haiti Cultural Center, he has his dancers roll on the ground and contract their bodies and breathe. Soon they are up and moving gracefully in rhythmic movement that Soledade calls Afro-Fusion.
The style is Soledade’s signature mix of influences from his native Brazil to African and African-American traditions.
“What I do today is a blend of various dance forms,” he says. “It’s a contemporary dance with Afro-Brazilian roots.”
Bringing together various influences is just one part of Soledade’s mission. He also takes on contemporary themes such as deforestation in the Amazon and the effect it has on the Brazil’s native populations.
For his earlier piece Dreaming Amazonia, Soledade traveled in Manaus, in Brazil’s Amazon, to see first-hand how the aboriginal cultures were affected by the destruction.
Growing up in Salvador Bahia in northeastern Brazil, Soledade was surrounded by a vibrant culture that thrived in the historic city center. Street artists who sold their works in open markets and musicians who performed in public squares.
He began painting and drawing at a young age and was drawn to architecture. But soon he discovered dance, the art that would become his medium. Soledade’s first memory of dance is grooving with his aunt, who introduced him to the seminal Brazilian dance form – samba.
“Samba is a form of identity,” he says. “ It’s what makes us Brazilian. It was a form that became so much a part of life.”
Soon Soledade was dancing with companies in Bahia and touring nationwide. He began Brazz Dance Theater in 1998 with collaborator Rachelle Zambito. He’s won several national, state, and local arts grants including a Guggenheim Fellowship in Choreography.
Brazz Dance Theater has been one of the resident companies in the Little Haiti Cultural Center since it opened in 2009.
Creating dance in Little Haiti with all its colorful art and diverse people gives Soledade the feeling of being in his native Bahia.
“I feel totally comfortable and at home here,” Soledad says. “ I don’t feel ‘otherized’ – I’m not the other. I navigate comfortably and I see the people around me as kings and queens.”