New Zealand dance troupe back in Isles
By Carol Egan
Special to The Advertiser
After thrilling audiences on several continents, Black Grace, the explosive New Zealand dance company, brings its unique blend of traditional and contemporary dance to Leeward Community College on Saturday. Dance fans look forward to its return after a five-year absence.
Founded by Neil Ieremia, its artistic director, choreographer and driving force, Black Grace offers a blend of traditional Sāmoan and Maori movements fused with modern dance. Chanting, body-slapping and virtuosic athleticism combined with flying leaps, percussive falls and arched suspensions lend the group its distinctive style. Ieremia's choreography, rich in imagery and ideas, is exquisitely crafted and meaningful.
When Ieremia decided to form an all-male dance company in 1995, he felt the need to find a title that would speak to his fellow countrymen. To prove that dance was something men could pursue, he chose to combine the word "black," which in New Zealand connotes strength and courage, with "grace." The combination of words gave a sense of the kind of energy and masculinity he was hoping to achieve.
As the company prepared for its Hawai'i visit, we talked by phone with Ieremia:
Q. Are the core company members the same as when you last performed here in 2005?
A. No, only a couple of dancers currently in the company performed in Hawai'i in 2005. Most of
the company in 2005 were coming to the end of their dance careers.
Q. Although your performances include female dancers, Black Grace still calls itself an all-male company. Why?
A. The current touring repertoire for the U.S. involves female roles. I also enjoy the challenge of working with women, having worked with all men for the majority of the company's life.
Q. Are you still performing?
A. Occasionally, in more pedestrian-type roles. I don't have enough time in my schedule to dedicate to the discipline of dance performance, and my work is more suited to a younger, more energetic body.
Q. How has your creative work evolved since the company was founded?
A. I'd like to think that my work and professional practice has improved. I feel more comfortable taking risks, and feel I have gathered more tools over the last 15 years.
Q. How many dances have you choreographed?
A. I haven't kept a count of the works that I have choreographed, but probably over 30 pieces. I have a substantial collection of short works, and several full-length works.
Q. When do you devote rehearsal time to creating new works?
A. I like to create a brand new full-length work biannually, dedicating several months to research, and at least three months for the creative period.
Q. Who or what do you consider has most influenced your artistic development?
A. My family, my Pacific island heritage and the country I live in.
Q. What are your plans for the future?
A. Be happy! I would like to see Black Grace continue to become better, to become a better choreographer, storyteller and leader for my company, culture and community.
Q. Do you have any advice for first-time viewers? Anything special they should be looking for in the performance?
A. Keep an open mind and enjoy the ride.