Leda Muhana was seven when she took her first dance class. She remembers it well. “I did the first movement,” she says, stretching her arms out in front of her. “And I felt that I had found my place in the world.”
Muhana and her husband, David Iannitelli, who live in Brewster, started a dance company, the Movimento Project, in 2015. The project will perform at Wellfleet Preservation Hall on Aug. 9 and 10. It will be their first show since the pandemic began.
Muhana grew up in the multicultural city of Salvador de Bahia in Brazil. In the 1970s, she attended the Dance School at the Federal University at Bahia, receiving her artist’s and teaching degrees in modern dance. In 1980, she accepted a teaching job at the university.
She came to the U.S. in 1989 to pursue a doctorate in dance at Temple University. There, she met Iannitelli, who was studying contact improvisation — a form of dance focused on balance, body mechanics, and a physical relationship to others. In 1994, degrees in hand, they returned to the Federal University in Bahia, now both teaching.
“For us, dance is as essential as breathing,” Muhana says. “It’s what we live for.”
“Dance has taught me balance and precision,” says Iannitelli. But it’s more than that to him: “It’s taught me the basic skills of being alive.”
She felt lost at first, says Muhana, when the pair moved from Brazil to Cape Cod. Iannitelli has family in Brewster, and the couple wanted to be closer to them. But she had gone from working at her art constantly to being at a standstill. The Cape was noticeably less diverse than Salvador de Bahia. And dance seemed scarce here.
But Muhana says she imagined there was potential here. She was determined to gather the dancers of Cape Cod for a concert.
The couple had met dancer and choreographer Naomi Turner 10 years earlier, when Muhana traveled to the U.S. for a research project on dance and somatics. Turner is a cofounder of the Tides Dance Company in Chatham, a nonprofit bringing opportunities to dance students across Cape Cod.
“Naomi’s friends became the first people willing to dance with us for a summer project,” Iannitelli says. They called their first show “Movimento,” or movement in Portuguese. Wellfleet Preservation Hall welcomed the performance and has since become Movimento’s regular venue.
In terms of style, Muhana says the organization takes an eclectic and unconventional approach. “Everybody does a little tap, a little jazz, a little Afro-dance, a little modern dance,” she says. “We draw the choreography from the backgrounds of our dancers.”
The choreography also has a unique relationship with physical space, she says. The dancers are not limited by a stage. Aerial acts are common. “For our first show, I wanted to have people swinging from those trees,” says Muhana, pointing to the back yard of the building. “The hall didn’t allow that.” Instead, Movimento’s debut dancers moved through their performance on foot, along the hall and around the sides of the building.
The troupe’s size changes every summer. This year, there are 11 dancers. Their ages range from 8 to 62.
“Dance is needed in the world right now,” Muhana says. “This connection to the body in an expressive, artistic, existential way is something that people are missing.”
She says that kids are especially in need of physical expression. “They spend hours in front of screens and develop anger in their bodies,” she says. “They’re outside of their bodies. Dance can bring them back.”
After a two-year hiatus, the Movimento Project returns with a new perspective on the world. That’s why this summer’s show is called “Reset.” The performance will focus on renewal, overcoming, and reimagining life after these last few years of stress, separation, and fear.
There will be no aerial acts in this show. Muhana wants the audience to feel grounded. Dancers will perform a series of connected scenes that refer to the recent past.
“The world is not the same.” Muhana gestures to a passerby. “We are not the same. This show asks, ‘What are our fears and our hopes for this world?’ ”
People will come away from the performance with a new energy, she says: “We’re facing what has happened and asking what is important now.”
A Place in the World
The event: The Movimento Project performs “Reset,” a contemporary dance concert
The time: Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 9-10, 7 p.m.
The place: Wellfleet Preservation Hall, 335 Main St.
The cost: $20