Performing Arts

South Miami-Dade arts center’s a hit with popular and cutting edge shows

Eric Fliss balances popular and cutting edge programs at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center.
Eric Fliss balances popular and cutting edge programs at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center. For the Miami Herald

As it heads into its fourth season, the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center has quieted skeptics who voiced concerns that deep south Miami-Dade couldn’t support a quality, multi-faceted cultural arts center. Who in the suburban landscape, not known for its cultural or nightlife offerings, would attend cutting-edge jazz performances, off-beat theater productions — and especially, contemporary dance? Quite a few, it turns out.

Under the guidance of Artistic Director Eric Fliss — a veteran of the Miami arts scene who previously headed the Colony Theater on Miami Beach — the Center’s eclectic blend of shows has developed a significant following. In advance of the center’s season kick-off this Saturday, Fliss talked about the initial years, what’s ahead, and the special niche dance holds in the programming.

Q: With so much to choose from, how did you decide which companies to bring first to the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center ?

A: First and foremost, I wanted to present dance that would be accessible. But I didn’t want the dance to be predicable. I wanted the community to come to know and enjoy contemporary dance before presenting the traditional en pointe ballet that for many people is synonymous with dance.

That first year we choose to focus on giants of contemporary dance whose work would reach out to our community. Garth Fagan with his Jamaican roots was one. Ronald K. Brown whose work is heavily influenced by Africa and its diaspora was another. We also introduced a relatively unknown Kyle Abraham to the South Florida community. He won a MacArthur Genius award after performing for us.

Q: How were those artists received that first year?

A: Community support was fantastic. This was an area of Miami that had been waiting a long time for an arts center. Apparently, we didn’t disappoint.

Q: What came next?

A: My plan was to work in an arc that would introduce our audience to increasingly diverse and interesting work. My aim all along had been to build up an audience for that work, the boutique work that thrives in the kind of intimate, smallish theater that our center can provide. Sure, any audience loves Broadway titles and traditional ballet. People want to feel part of the outside world. They want to feel there’s a little bit of New York here. We have and will continue to do that. But we can do something else too.

A good example of what I mean is India Jazz Suite, also known as “Fastest Feet Around.” Here, Indian Kathak master Pandit Chitresh Das danced in tandem with Emmy-winning tapster Jason Samuels Smith. That second year, we were in early days. Still we brought them here, and the audience loved them.

Q: The audience was increasing all through that second year?

A: Yes. We were having a lot of fun. Word was spreading. Even if the community didn’t recognize an artist’s name, they were coming to performances. They were trusting us to make good choices. Not only that, we made a real effort to survey both our audiences and non-audiences as to what they had enjoyed or not, what our emphasis should be, what they would like to see more or less of. We continue to do that.

Q: Meanwhile, you feel you were building a sophisticated audience?

A: Yes. In our third year, we brought in Complexions Contemporary Ballet. This was the first time a company that included en pointe performed at the center. But their dance uses a contemporary vocabulary. Our audience was familiar with that language.

Q: What’s in store for the fourth season?

A: The Urban Bush Women are coming. While they are certainly known outside of South Florida, not so many people know them here. They’ll be presenting a new work, Walking with Trane, devoted to John Coltrane. One of San Francisco’s premier contemporary dance companies, Alonzo King LINES ballet, will be performing as well. So will Tu Dance, a company formed by Alvin Ailey and New World [School of the Arts] alum Uri Sands. And this year for the first time a traditional ballet company, Memphis Ballet, will be coming to the center. As regards spectacle, the Peking Acrobats will be here. The list goes on and on.

Q: What has made you most proud?

A: My audiences.

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

If you go

What: South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center Kick-off Bash with Spam AllStars, Ribab Fusion and Xperimento

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: SMDCAC, 10950 SW 211th St., Cutler Bay

How much: Free

Info: smdcac.org or 786-573-5300

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