Brazzdance New Work Dances into Diversity and Beyond
The process of creating “Shade,” choreographer Augusto Soledade’s latest full-length work, has been one of remembering and reconfiguring memory to discover new ways of talking about identity through dance. The piece that premieres this Wednesday at the Gleason Room on Miami Beach began with a memory from Brazilian-born Soledade’s teenage experience as an exchange student in McFarland, Wisc. As one of only two people of color in the entire school, Soledade froze the day one of his school friends turned to him and asked, “What are you?”
“I remember that there were about three of us, just hanging out and talking outside the school,” Soledade recounts, “and one of them told a joke — one of those offensive jokes about black people — but right after the joke, maybe because I was not really laughing, he turned to me and asked, ‘What are you?’” This was the first time Soledade, who identifies as Afro-Brazilian/African-American, had been confronted with his racial and ethnic identity. “I couldn’t answer right away, and started to tell them about all the different ethnic groups in my family.”
That “what are you?” question was a jumping off place for Soledade’s newest creation. Using improvisation, he turned the question to the dancers in his company, Brazzdance, many of whom have had similar experiences.
One of the movement expressions Soledade utilizes for exploring and performing identity in “Shade” is “voguing,” a dance form that comes out of the 1980s’ Harlem ballroom dance scene. Voguing allows for highly stylized, unabashed expressions of self. Interestingly, Soledade likens voguing to contemporary culture’s obsession with selfies: “I felt that voguing and selfies were connected in that they both serve as a vehicle through which we can choose how to present ourselves to the world.”
Soledade incorporated a few elements of voguing in “Shade” – hand gestures, cat walk, duck walk, and floor performance – but his end goal was to find new ways of reinterpreting vogue and incorporating it into contemporary dance. He is also interested in moving beyond ethnicity and race to large expressions of identity: “I was born and raised in Brazil, but I have always been interested in the world and people around the world. I can sincerely say that when I am creating work I am always taking into consideration our shared humanities.”
Soledade discovered in the process of creating “Shade” how little control we have over so many aspects of our identity: “Many things about us are determined while we are still in the womb, the family you are born into, your physical traits, the place where you’re born, etc., so I start the piece referencing that quiet moment when we are in our mother’s womb. Kind of like the quiet before the storm.”
Always interested in collaboration Soledade, invited Jessica Muñiz-Collado, a music professor at Nova Southeastern University, to compose an original score for “Shade.” Visual artist Kandy Lopez has created a backdrop to represent the idea of unity within diversity.
Brazzdance presents“Shade,”Wednesday and Thursday, May 24, 25 at 8:30 p.m., the Gleason Room, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. General admission $25, Miami Beach residents $20, Students $15, Friday night VIP reception $50; brazzdance.com; 786-338-5488.