Sunday, October 2, 2011

MISSION STATEMENT OF THE NEW SOUTH MIAMI-DADE CULTURAL ARTS CENTER: ETHNICITY IS KEY

In late August, 1992, Hurricane Andrew, a category 5 storm, buffeted South Florida with fierce winds and heavy rains, the hardest hit area being that of South Miami-Dade, Homestead in particular. The property loss was devastating to the point that it was questionable whether the area would be habitable again. In its aftermath however, a group of concerned citizens and couty commissioners made a promise to rebuild and revitalize the area.

Almost twenty years and approximately fifty million dollars in the making, the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center is both the culmination and the beginning of that promise.  It is a two building, three story cultural arts complex whose facades jointly are built to resemble two hands clapping, and its design is a welcome change from the ubiquitous, unitarian sameness of the general South Florida architectural landscape. However, while it is touted as a "cultural" arts complex, its opening festivities  evidenced a mult-cultural theme, which included a local troupe of grade schooloers performing a choral medley of Michael Jackson hits, opening with "Can You Feel It" and including "Man in the Mirror" and others, which was followed by an African dance presentation and Middle-Eastern belly dancing.

Newly minted Mayor Carlos Gimenez along with Commissioner Dennis Moss, among others, took to the platform for the requisite speeches and declarations of mutual admirability as spinning, multi-colored ribbons unfurled in the wind to denote the opening of the center.

Despite having three floors including balcony sections, the main stage auditorium is smaller in comparison to other theaters in the South Florida area, but what it may lack in size actually engenders a surprising degree of intimacy, allowing the patron to feel closer to the performance presented on the stage.

The opening performance itself was a wholly original piece in five movements, incorporating elements of music, interpretive dance, video and art; one that made great use of all of its elements. The beauty of the performance was its confluence of themes: ethnicity (in the form of the performers on stage as well as the music utilized, which included Jazz, Latin and Afro-Caribbean), Hurricane Andrew and its aftermath (the lynchpin that engendered the creation of the center in the first place), and integration, showing not only the cycle of destruction and creation, but that all these seemingly diverse and divergent cultural styles can come together for a beautious, organic whole; a perhaps unintended indictment against the idea of segregation.  In other words, not even a cataclysm can destroy hopes and dreams when they are unified into one.

With all the interminable back patting and kudos that delayed the beginning of the first movement, there were some glaring omissions. The show's director, Heidi Miami Marshall, put together a marvelous show which only had a few, though hardly discernable, missteps. Musical Director Jorge Gomez, who put together an ecclectic variety of musical stylings and integrated them into a lyrical whole.  The dancers, headed by choreographer Rosie Herrera, were entertaining, acrobatic, and "in step" with the pulse of the music.

However, a show cannot be put on unless the venue that houses it is running efficiently and to capacity. Special thanks should have been shown to the staff and volunteers of the center, and most especially to General Manager Eric Fliss and Operations Manager Daphne Webb. The opening of a cultural center as ambitious as this, in both fiscal and production terms, especially one of this size and cost, is no small feat. Not only was the building spotless and in fine working order, but the volunteers and staff were pleasant and accommodating and what little glitches there were, were addressed and attended to posthaste. Usually it is the builidng managers and staff whose efforts go unrecognized in a venture such as this. In this column, consider those praises sung.

The center is an ambitous project. It is located in an area that is far from the usual art locals of Coral Gables, Downtown Miami or the Fashion District. Further, it is in an area that is arguably still under development. However, from looking at a listing of the upcoming shows, such as performances of Nestor Torres and James Cotton, a reimagining of Shakespeare's Hamlet set in Cuba, and A Night in Treme showcasing New Orleans Jazz (an area that has much in common with Homestead), the center aims to show that a cultural center can express art that is, to paraphrase one of last evening's speakers, "more than just ballet".

The opening was, for all intents and purposes, a success. Its presentation was its mission statement, which was received loud and clear. It now has the unenviable task of revitalizing an area many considered to have been a lost cause. Whether that goal will become a failure or a success remains to be seen.  However, if last night's presentation is anything to go by, it proved that the County is taking a step in the right direction.

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