Choreographer Augusto Soledade sees his work as a dialogue between “home” and… “home.” The first represents his early experiences and discoveries in Salvador, Brazil; the second the adult life he continues to create in South Florida.
The result is Afro-fusion contemporary dance reflected in his latest work Cordel, which mixes Argentine tango, American hip hop and Brazil’s popular Cordel literature. The performance at the Arsht Center earlier this month was funded in part by a Knight Arts Challenge grant.
As this year’s deadline for the challenge approaches, we spoke with Soledade about his approach to contemporary dance, the growing local dance community and how Knight funding has affected the Augusto Soledade Brazzdance company.
Q: One of your company’s goals is to act like a Griot, or storyteller that brings ancient knowledge to the present day through dance. How does that play out in your work?
A: I believe in the innate cross-disciplinary nature that defines the process of creating art. An artist needs artistic talent, experiences in life and emotional involvement, which are respectively essential concerns in the fields of art, anthropology and psychology, in order to create. In the moment of creation, I must rely on the dynamic dialogue between these varied areas of experience to articulate artistic ideas and visions.
In my case, I have come to understand that my creative process and work are fueled by my two concepts of “home.” They bring a symbiotic quality and interactive nature to my art work. ‘Cordel’, my latest work, is a great example of my process; it considered the history and social implications of the Argentine Tango and American Hip-hop culture as well as the literary tradition of Cordel in Northeastern Brazil. The particular social contexts in which the Tango and Hip Hop dance originated served as a linking piece for these distinct forms, and offered a rich source of physical and cultural information to be explored artistically.
The level of marginalization and social tensions found in Brazilian culture is shared within the history of Tango and Hip Hop. I grew up in a historical section of Salvador, Bahia in Brazil where, at an early age, I was exposed to images of social inequities that are commonly a part of Brazilian culture. On the streets of Salvador, I customarily heard the “Repentistas,” folk music artists who made social commentary in verses that were improvised and accompanied by guitar, and followed traditional Cordel rhythmic and poetic structures.
The strong poetic sense in Tango dance and the poetic structures found in Hip Hop and Cordel literature served as main frames for inspiration, exploration, development and structuring of the choreography.
Q: You relocated your dance company to Miami from the northeast in 2004. How have you seen the local contemporary dance community evolve since then?
A: When I got to Miami in 2004, I immediately felt embraced by the dance community, a clear indication of the special place that dance has in our community. I can attest to the growth of contemporary dance in Miami, not just through the various artists who are producing high quality work locally, but also the amount of companies presenting year-round throughout the county in an increasingly larger number of venues.
Q. What kind of challenges does the dance community face?
A: The challenges are many. For one, the traditional dance patron accustomed to attending mostly ballet concerts tends to resist venturing out into the contemporary dance world. As contemporary artists, we need to constantly address the issue by offering opportunities for the general audience to understand that what we offer is as beautiful, entertaining, touching and transformative as ballet. Secondly, the production cost of a contemporary dance performance is as high as any other production. Therefore, substantial funding is always necessary to create and present work. I would like to take a moment to highlight the importance of having a consistent body of dancers in a contemporary dance company in order to produce high quality work and the cost associated with it. Like many other physical activities, the specific training in a given dance idiom is required in order to produce excellence. Consequently, I believe it is crucial that professional dancers are hired as salaried full-time artists in a dance company.
Q: Your challenge-funded Miami Dance Mecca project aims to increase the retention rate of local dancers by providing training and full-time positions with your company. What was the inspiration for your project?
A: Miami Dance Mecca is a project that we believe can help us strengthen the notion of Miami as a viable, vibrant and diverse emerging center for dance in the country, thus increasing the rate of local professional dancers who will remain in Miami to pursue a dance career, and attracting out-of-town dancers into our community. Additionally, the project became an opportunity for us to start training aspiring arts administrators in best practices in nonprofit management, and dancers to perform our signature style.
Q: As a previous Knight Arts Challenge winner, what tips do you have for applicants this year?
A: I believe that the successful support of our Miami Dance Mecca project came from the clearly articulated intent to positively impact the local dance scene. But I also feel that it is important to present a project that is viable financially, and that the funding sources to match the Knight Arts Challenge grant are somewhat in place. In other words, I wouldn’t wait to realistically think about the match only after the presentation of the grant award, I would recommend doing that as part of the initial application process.
Q: How is the fundraising going for matching your grant? Have you come across any challenges, or unexpected opportunities?
A: The award from Knight Foundation was crucial in the realization of our Miami Dance Mecca project, and we have decided that we should take this opportunity to increase our private donor base. We believe that the Knight Arts Challenge grant is an important voucher for the caliber and relevance of the work we bring to South Florida, and we hope that other patrons of the arts in our community will understand it as such as well and will become part of our group of supporters.