Since this spring, Brazz Dance Theater has been giving Miami audiences sneak peeks at a work called "Cordel." In the company's March performance at the Adrienne Arsht Center's Carnival Theater, we saw a short lyrical piece, no doubt a tiny fragment of what has now become an ambitious, hour-long choreography.
Later, during this summer's Miami Dance Festival, we saw "Cordel" from a completely different perspective. In a casual presentation, artistic director Augusto Soledade revealed some of the creative fuel that feeds this new project. He is drawing from dance and culture sources all over the Americas: Argentine tango, American hip hop, and Brazilian folk and street cultures.
Recently, Soledade let us in on this new project, his company, and the still-new South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center where "Cordel" will officially premiere next week.
New Times: What is Cordel literature? How has it inspired this piece?
Augusto Soledade: Cordel literature ("string literature") is a kind of popular and inexpensively printed booklet containing folk novels, poems and songs, produced and sold by street vendors in the northeast of Brazil. They are so named because they are displayed on strings. Cordel literature offers social commentary through its "narrative, popular, printed poetry," as defined by Prof. Raymond Cantel.
I grew up in a section of Salvador, Bahia in Brazil, known as the "historical center," where, at an early age, I was exposed to the social inequalities that are commonly a part of Brazilian culture. On the streets of Salvador, I heard the "Repentistas," folk musicians who made social commentary in verses that was improvised and accompanied by guitar. They followed traditional Cordel rhythmic and poetic structures.
In my creative process, generally, I journey back into memories and references that were established through my early years of cultural formation. I then consider how I can turn the idea into a concrete dance by looking for a way to make associations with our current lives, and our ways of interacting with the world. I feel that the level of marginalization and social tension found in Brazilian culture is mirrored in the history of tango and hip hop, motivating my artistic explorations for Cordel.
Which aspects of hip hop have you taken into your choreography?
Overall, the hip hop section of Cordel invites the audience to look at the positive side of things. I play with paths of dancers in space, and variations of group interaction and arrangement to create a playfulness that I hope will evoke a sense of a "new beginning." Additionally, I have invited Rudi Goblen, a multi-faceted local artist, to perform. He will help make a connection between my abstracted ideas and hip hop as we know it.
And you've borrowed spatial relationships from Argentine tango, right?
Yes, absolutely. I feel that the negotiation of personal space in Argentine Tango parallels the intricacy of personal spatial interaction between Capoeiristas in a Capoeira game. This kind of interaction opens up a whole world of explorations that I find exciting, unpredictable and intriguing.
Word is, you have restructured your company of dancers. Who are the new performers, and what are they bringing to the group?
Brazz Dance Theater has taken a huge step forward to work with salaried dancers in a full-time capacity. For a company aiming to produce consistent artistic work, the restructuring is part of the day-to-day routine to find dancers who are the right match, can embrace the philosophy of the company and work comfortably with a physically demanding rehearsal schedule.
I have been blessed to work with Ilana Reynolds for seven years now on an uninterrupted basis, and for Cordel, I have brought Willie Brown back to Miami. He has worked with Brazz Dance Theater for seven years as well, off and on, and is now living and performing in New York. Kamaria Dailey, a Miami dancer who was in New York as well, is back for this project. She performed with Brazz Dance Theater in 2009 when I created Dreaming Amazonia. The new addition to the company is Anasthasia Grand-Pierre, another Miami dancer with strong technical and performing skills.
You've been working as an artist in residence at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center. What have you been up to over there?
Cordel was basically created during the residency months at SMDCAC. This was the time that the work developed into a full-length concert. As part of our agreement with the center, and as a way for the center to reach out to the community, we also did an in-school program at Mays Middle School for three weeks. It was a fun and inspiring experience.
How is the theater? You're the first performers to grace the Lab Theater.
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Yes. To a certain extent, the Lab Theater shaped some of my artistic choices for Cordel. I feel that the Lab Theater at SMDCAC will be a popular venue for contemporary artists who are interested in its intimate space and the artistic possibilities of close proximity with the audience.
Brazz Dance Theater presents Cordel on Nov. 11, 12, 18, and 19 at 8:30 p.m. and matinee performances Nov. 13 and 20 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 ($5 tickets available for ages 13 through 22, see cultureshockmiami.com for more info). South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 S.W. 211 St., Cutler Bay. For tickets, call (305) 573-5300. For more information, visit www.smdcac.org.
--Annie Hollingsworth of ArtburstMiami.com