Augusto Soledade is often described as an Afro-Brazilian choreographer, which is true. But as his troupe Brazzdance’s Saturday concert at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center showed, his creative heart belongs not to folkloric tradition but to modernism and experimentation.
The result is some of the most rewardingly substantial and physically inventive choreography in Miami. Soledade’s work can be rambling, and the two dances shown Saturday didn’t come to a fully satisfying finish. But especially as performed by the excellent dancers — the intense, compact Veronica Cato, eccentrically elegant Ahmaud Culver, joyfully athletic Jeannine Maffucci, and pantherlike Elena Valls — they are always compelling to watch. (Unfortunately, only Cato is based in Miami, although both she and Maffucci are New World School of the Arts graduates.)
Da-Da, the evening’s premiere, was based on an ambitious and lengthy set of inspirations: a sense of beginning (da-da!), rhythmic structure and the nature of rhythm, a heartbeat, flamenco gesture and sign language, and the deliberately nonsensical artistic movement Dadaism. The dense soundtrack for the nearly hour-long piece includes an acidic contemporary aria, a syllabic “sound poem,” and rhythmically and sonically complex music by experimental Brazilian artists Egberto Gismonti and Nana Vasconcelos. There’s so much going on in Da-Da that it becomes confusing — rather too much like a series of experiments.
They are, however, intriguing and beautifully executed. The dancers, in Estela Vrankovich’s black, white and red trunks and crop tops, start with sparse, simple patterns that grow in speed and density, solo or overlapping each other in duets and trios. They move with smooth, muscular clarity and at a steady pulse through the music’s complex rhythms, occasionally catching the beat with jabbing limbs or jumps that pop in the air. Occasionally they burst out with folkloric Afro-Brazilian movement, pumping their hips or rippling their torsos, but these are brief, almost ironic accents.
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At one point the three women, holding onto the tall Culver’s arms and one of his legs, wind him like a spider-limbed gyroscope. There’s an extraneous feeling and self-consciously Dadistic non sequitur moment when the piece seemed to end, the house lights coming up and the dancers exiting, only to reappear amid the confused audience, greeting people and shaking their hands. Da-Da ends with a long, dense and rapid sequence in which Soledade seems to be trying to incorporate everything that’s come before, which feels like too much, movement-wise and thematically. But there’s still a richly satisfying amount of invention and powerful movement imagery in Da-Da.
The second piece, Kayala, from 2010, is a much simpler (although still not simple) piece, inspired by an Afro-Brazilian folktale about how a king sent men to bring nighttime from the world under the ocean so his wife could rest. The dancers alternate joyous, energetic, and more overtly Afro-Brazilian movement, with poly-rhythmic stomps and pulsing or rippling hips and torsos, with quieter, more reflective sections. There’s a striking motif in which the dancers crawl with one hand grasping a foot, using their heads as a third limb — like hobbled magical creatures. Valls does a slow, longing solo, twisting and reaching off of and back to the floor, set to plaintive, nasal vocalizing; after Culver joins her quietly on the floor, she blasts off in a leaping, cartwheeling dance that seems to bring him back to life — perhaps she’s the sleeping woman, celebrating night’s arrival. Kayala’s rich inventiveness and exuberance are a pleasure.