Augusto Soledade’s Brazzdance turns 10

Members of Brazzdance perform artistic director Augusto Soledade’s ‘Altars.’
Members of Brazzdance perform artistic director Augusto Soledade’s ‘Altars.’ Mitchell Zachs

Celebrating a decade of work in South Florida, choreographer Augusto Soledade finds himself both reflective and ecstatic.

“I’m really excited,” Soledade, 50, said after a recent rehearsal for his company’s 10th anniversary program Oduns, which takes place Friday and Saturday at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center.

His company, Augusto Soledade Brazzdance, has been in residence at the Liberty City venue since 2012. And looking back on a decade of work, he says, “I can’t even believe it — 10 years. I am just so happy to be here.”

Soledade, whose work is rooted in Afro-Brazilian traditions, is using the anniverssary as a chance to revisit two of his critically acclaimed pieces. He will also honor his dance mentors: Garth Fagan, the Jamaican-born modern dance pioneer best-known for his Tony award-winning choreography of The Lion King, and Clyde Morgan, an African drum and dance master. Both men will be guests of honor at the shows this weekend.

“It’s an opportunity to go back and thank them for their mentorship, for what they do and everything that I’ve learned,” says Soledad.

The weekend’s events will also include a photo exhibit by Jade Matarazzo on Friday and a lecture by Yvonne Daniels on dance in the African Diaspora on Saturday.

It was Morgan’s guidance that brought Soledade to the United States from Brazil to become a graduate student at SUNY Brockport, and Morgan who introduced him to Fagan’s unique approach to movement.

“His style felt like home,” says Soledade. “It felt like, this is the way I move. It felt natural. It’s very demanding and highly technical, but it just has so much of that connection with African roots.”

One of the two dances on the program is Altars, which premiered in 2005. Set to Bach cantatas, it examines religion and spirituality. Dreaming Amazonia, which debuted in 2009, is an exploration of society’s encroachment on the Amazon rainforest and what happens when civilization and the wild intersect.

Soledade’s style is physically intense, blending abstract composition with images, ideas and movement drawn from traditional Brazilian culture. There are no samba showgirls.

“What I strive to present is work that I feel is accessible to everyone,” Soledade explains. “When people hear that we create Afro-Brazilian dance they [imagine] an image for what that will be. So many times when they came, they’d be surprised.”

Soledade has carved out a niche for himself with his focus on contemporary Afro-Brazilian dance. He heads one of the few small nonprofit arts organizations in South Florida that has been able to establish a true company that can contract and pay dancers. This year, Soledade employed four dancers, holding seven-hour daily rehearsals from February through June.

“Living here in Miami has really opened up my sensibilities,” Soledade says. “I want to know more. I am curious about other things, other cultures, other people. I feel that the work I produce is for anyone to see and appreciate.

“I am always looking for how the movement and the dance can connect to anyone, so when audiences come and see the show, I hope they find themselves in it, as opposed to expecting to see [only] a representation of my Afro-Brazilian culture.”

As for the next decade, Soledade says he hopes to expand his organization.

“What we really need now is to build our capacity, administratively speaking,” he says. “We need to find a level of support from the private base within the community.”

Building that base of support and administrative infrastructure, he explains, will ultimately help advance his artistic goals.

“I’d like to have six dancers, and next summer we’d like to have a summer intensive, focusing on pre-professional training for dancers. What I want to do as a choreographer is to connect with people. I want to connect with the culture that I am immersed in this moment.”

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit source of South Florida dance and performing arts coverage.

If you go

What: Augusto Soledade Brazzdance ‘Oduns.’

Where: African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, 6161 NW 22nd Ave., Miami.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Jade Matarazzo photo exhibit reception 6-8 p.m. Friday, Yvonne Daniels lecture 7 p.m. Saturday.

Cost: $20 ($10 student and seniors).

Information: 786-338-5488 or brazzdance.com.