When he sits still, choreographer Augusto Soledade seems restrained and professorial with his wire-rimmed glasses and a neat polo shirt. Watching the dancers in his Brazz Dance Theater rehearse in a brightly lit studio at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, he quietly makes notes, giving little hint of the drive within.
“I love structure,” Soledade says, smiling. “I like swimming in a pool instead of the ocean, because I like to count the laps.”
But as soon as he starts demonstrating steps or moving along with the dancers, Soledade seems a different person — animated, even animalistic, his tall, rangy frame moving with startling speed and fluidity.
The combination of wildness and precision is as unexpected as his blend of modern and Afro-Brazilian dance, a style as idiosyncratic as the 46-year-old Brazilian choreographer’s path to dance.
“I am really interested in appealing to and connecting to the world, because I feel like we’re connected that way as people,” Soledade says. “The work I do with my company reflects what I feel Miami is, a mix of a lot of people from lots of places, a place that is so global, with groups from many different parts of the world. I like to see myself as an artist who connects those dots. But I don’t want to belong to any one of them.”
Since moving to Miami in 2004, Soledade has flourished, earning fellowships from the state of Florida and the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council as well as a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008. His company, based at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, performs at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts this weekend in a program called Mistura Fina, Portuguese for “fine blend.”
Although Soledade used to accompany his aunt, a modern dancer and teacher, to the classes she taught in his native Bahia, the hub of Afro-Brazilian culture, he didn’t begin dancing until he was 23. He had wavered between studying art, architecture and even journalism, in which he has a degree. In dance, he found direction.
“I just loved the physicality and the discipline,” he says. He took modern, Afro-Brazilian, even beginning ballet classes with 5-year-old girls. “I knew nothing, but I was so focused on what I wanted to learn that I didn’t mind.”
But he found his creative focus, not in Brazil but in the United States. Clyde Morgan, an American modern dancer and friend of Soledade’s aunt, guided the younger artist to Garth Fagan, an African-American choreographer in upstate New York. Studying with Fagan, Soledade found a blend of classic modern and African influences that would shape his work.
“Garth’s work was exactly what I was looking for,” he says. Although he loved Afro-Brazilian, “I was never interested in reproducing traditional African dance. I felt connected to a very large world, … and I felt in my own movement that that was my range.”
Soledade, who has a master’s degree from SUNY Brockport, moved to Miami to teach at Florida International University, and remained after its dance department closed in 2008.
His company is as variegated as Miami, with white and black American, Brazilian, Trinidadian and Cuban dancers. They adapt to Soledade’s style with varying degrees of comfort.
“It could be faster,” says Dia Dearstyne, as drummer Kenneth Metzger rips off rhythms for Oxossi, the Divine Hunter, based on an African folktale about a hunting god who kills a monstrous bird.
“Faster!?” says Rachell Carroll. “Are you insane?”
There’s more giggling at Ronderrick Mitchell, who plays the bird and has struggled with the pronunciation of Oxossi (it’s O-cho-see). “I thought he was talking about some kind of Japanese food,” Soledade says.
Soledade’s senior dancer is Ilana Reynolds, 29, a Wisconsin native who started with him in 2002 while he was teaching at Smith College in Massachusetts. She plays Oxossi as well as the central figure in Diaries of an Outlaw, inspired by a legendary female Brazilian bandit, easily rippling her hips and stomping in fast, fluid poly-rhythms.
“It was something I’d never seen before and didn’t expect,” she says of his style. “What struck me is that this is a really authentic vocabulary of someone expressing their roots and experience. … I just felt really natural in his work and his approach.”
As much as Soledade follows his instincts, he tries to be rigorous about results.
“If you set out to create something beautiful and incredible, and once you’re done, you don’t feel that way, you can’t lie to yourself,” he says.
“Structure and discipline are a way to free yourself from those games. If I feel that once the work is created, I’m not totally satisfied, I’m not going to allow that to freeze me. I’ll toss it. … If you have discipline you understand how many times you have to be open and have to allow yourself to let go.”