October 30, 2019
The Joyce Theatre debut of New Zealand-based Black Grace brought the audience to their feet. Breaking cultural barriers for nearly 25 years, Black Grace founder and artistic director Neil Ieremia fuses Samoan and Maori movement with contemporary dance and sensibility.
Who would have thought a Samaon dancer would take on the fading entitlement of men, which Ieremia does with Crying Men.
“It is the end. I feel it, “ says a matter-of-fact voiceover in the beginning of Crying Men. Three figures wearing two feet (or more) high tuigas, headdresses worn in traditional Samoan ceremonies, sit downstage left. Center stage, a man lifts a girl who squirms and fights until he drops her. Another man gestures to a girl who stays unresponsive in the dark. His summons become more frantic accelerating into a hip hop frenzy until the girl faces him, mimicking his gestural dance with such vehemence that the man slinks back into the shadows. A muscular tree of a man stands and quietly removes his tuiga and his cloth. “It is the end. I feel it, “ repeats the voiceover. “I am broken.”
The premiere of Kiona and the Little Bird Suite begins with the company dressed in black facing inward in a circle. Body percussion along with live drumming by Isitolo Alesana, singing and chanting by the group expose us to Samoan Sasa, a seated dance, and Fa’ataupati, a slap dance, along with canon rhythms.
As Night Falls set to a range of music, including Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons makes clear why these dancers hold their own on their tours around Europe, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Australia, New Caledonia, and New Zealand. Their speed, attack, precision, and flight are all hallmarks of today’s contemporary dancers. One image from As Night Falls that lingers is of the dancers surrendering with the hands slowly rising to eye level, as they cower in the blast of light targeting them from down stage left.
In 2004, Black Grace made its USA debut, performing a sold-out season at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, with a subsequent return to the Festival in 2005. Since then, the company has performed regularly throughout North America earning audience and critical acclaim.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Deirdre Towers