Northrop Presents BLACK GRACE Nov 7
Slap dancing, live singing, and South Pacific storytelling: New Zealand's Black Grace brings its powerful stylings to Northrop on Thu, Nov 7 in a debut that combines eloquent movements with elemental works. Black Grace's founder and choreographer, Neil Ieremia, fuses his New Zealand upbringing with his Samoan heritage for a unique hybrid of old and new dance styles. Ieremia's choreography, often set to scores including works by Bach and Vivaldi as well as the hypnotic chanting of the dancers, has helped the company earn international acclaim.
Thu, Nov 7, 7:30 pm
Carlson Family Stage
Kiona and the Little Bird Suite
As Night Falls - Abridged
Crying Men - Excerpts
Black Grace's choreography is a unique synthesis of traditional Samoan dancing with modern dance influences. Fa'ataupati, known in English as Samoan slap dance, is a recurring theme throughout multiple pieces. This indigenous dance form, which evolved from the movements of slapping mosquitoes off one's body, intertwines with modern dance-style motifs to form the distinct stylings for which Black Grace is known.
Black Grace was founded in 1995 by Neil Ieremia, initially as an all-male, Polynesian dance troupe. Ieremia's mission was to "tell stories as Polynesian men who were passionate about contemporary dance, which was very rare back then." The founding members of the group were far more experienced in sports such as rugby and basketball than dance, which was the catalyst for the unconventional stylings that Black Grace excels in. The addition of female dancers in 2002 added balance and new layers to the company. "Women bring a new fresh energy that we need," Ieremia explains. "Women add a positive energy, a challenge, balance, encouraging us to learn. That's been an important process for me."
Ieremia's piece Crying Men analyzes toxic masculinity and patriarchal attitudes from a New Zealander perspective. In addition to Crying Men, Black Grace will perform an abridged As Night Falls. The piece began as a commentary on the overwhelming amount of negative news in the world, inspired by both local New Zealand and international news. Ieremia views As Night Falls as "[his] very small exchange for some of the darkness that threatens to envelope us." Method, also to be performed at Northrop, was born from childhood memories of rugby games and wrestling. The athletic improvisational exercises offer a striking contrast against the music of J.S Bach. Kiona and the Little Bird Suite pulls from three existing pieces that utilize body percussion and incorporate live drumming, singing, and chanting.
The group gained international acclaim after their first United States performance at Jacob's Pillow in 2004. Since then, they have embarked on multiple international tours, including a stop in St. Paul in 2013 at the Ordway. Ieremia says he did not want to be viewed as someone who choreographed exclusively for "brown men from the South Pacific," pushing him to expand his choreography beyond the traditional Polynesian styles his work has its roots in. They are now considered one of New Zealand's most prominent contemporary dance companies.