A promise was made to the South Miami Dade community after the destruction of Hurricane Andrew. The “revitalization plan” developed by Commissioner Dennis Moss envisioned an anchor, a new public space around which the community could again build their lives. And so the idea for The South Miami Dade Arts Center (SMDAC) was born.
Nearly a decade later, the center is now open to the public. And what a center it is, with its multiple performance and rehearsal spaces, designed by internationally acclaimed architectural team and Miami locals, Arquitectonica. As one might expect, the structure is a melody in glass. Colored lights too. Indeed, one entire wall of the lobby is liquid in ever changing colored lights, a computer generated design developed by Miami visual artist Robert Chambers.
Exterior space serves the center’s purpose as well. An outdoor promenade both connects the performance and practice/activities buildings and serves as a gathering space/reception area. Just a few steps further is a concert lawn, able to accommodate as many as 700 concert or festival goers.
But all this is prelude.
Some might have patience with a tentative first season in a community arts center. Nobody needs to have patience with this one. Quite the contrary, especially with a former New York actor and set designer, veteran Miami producer, and presenter Eric Fliss as general manager. Take even a cursory look at the remainder of 2011-2012 season at The South Miami Dade Art Center.
On March 31, the center will present Abraham in Motion, an ensemble of dancers directed by Kyle Abraham, in his “Radio Show.” The work revolves around music and memory, focusing on the music of an AM dial, beloved music, worlds within worlds now gone. Fliss first saw Abraham perform years ago at the festival of avant-garde dance, Jacob’s Pillow. According to Fliss, “What I witnessed was the articulation of a new language of movement.” Critics all over the U.S. have shared Fliss’s enthusiasm, heralding Abraham as an emerging star of contemporary choreography.
The South Miami Dade Art Center describes its mission as multi-disciplinary. General Manager Fliss wouldn’t have it any other way.
On April 21, the Center will present the Grammy Award winning “Best Cross-Over” Turtle Island String Quartet, musicians heralded for their classical re-workings of jazz greats. Here they will present their interpretation of John Coltrane’s legendary “Love Supreme.”
And theater? Bring together a Pulitzer Prize winner — Miami native Nilo Cruz — and a Gold Coast repertory company, Michael Edwards’ Asolo Company, which is wowing crowds in New York and beyond for their innovative work. What might these folks choose to take on? Hamlet. Or rather a distinctly Cuban version of the Bard’s work that will be presented in both English and Spanish during several performances May 11 through 13.
But besides presenting the arts to a community, a center has a responsibility to build the community itself. Every artist who comes to The South Miami Dade Cultural Center is involved in educational activities. Yet it is perhaps through dance that the center’s outreach has been most extraordinary.
A few weeks ago, the Lion King was in residence. Or rather Garth Fagan, the Caribbean-born Tony-Award winning choreographer of the iconic musical, was at the center in order to work closely creating a work with a local dance company, Brazz Dance. The Miami group, one that blends the language of Afro-Brazilian and contemporary dance, shares many of the same idioms as Fagan. According to Fliss, “this collaboration was the fruit of our efforts to provide local performing artists with experiences that can help develop and further their careers.”
Earlier in this year, Ron K Brown, a MacArthur “genius” award winning choreographer whose work is often featured by the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, was also in attendance at the center. Performances by Brown and his dance company,Evidence, was only part of a schedule that included classes in South Miami’s elementary and middle schools, master classes at Miami Dade College, and an intergenerational workshop between dance conservatory students and seniors.
When asked about outreach, Fliss has a great many stories worth sharing. Only when pressed, will he admit a favorite. Last spring, even before it officially opened, the center brought a handful of artists to Miami. Among them was Doug Varone, a choreographer whose work has been produced in the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center, on Parisian fashion runways, and in myriad theaters. Doug Varone and Dancers performed at the center accompanied by the Coral Reef High School Orchestra and Chorus, but the outreach, the integration of local young people and established artists didn’t stop there. Varone wanted to do a workshop for the kids attending Douglas MacArthur High School South. Students here had had several run-ins with the law. Varone envisioned dance workshops where students, counselors, and principles might make themselves vulnerable to each other through dance. A whole lot of people had doubts. No matter. The project went forward. Fliss recalls a counselor from the school telling him that those three days were the best she had ever had with her students.
The South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center: only the beginning.
“Abraham.In.Motion: The Radio Show” starts at 8 p.m. on March 31 at the South Miami Dade Cultural Center, 10950 SW 211 Street, Cutler Bay. Tickets are $25, $15, $10. $5, available on CultureShockmiami.com for students ages 13-22; 786- 573-5300 or www.smdcac.org.
PHOTO: Ron K. Brown, artistic director of Evidence, A Dance Company, working with senior citizens from Cutler Bay and middle school students from Mays Conservatory on a two day, inter-generational workshop.
This article first appeared in the Miami Sun Post.