New Zealand’s Black Grace helps demystify contemporary dance

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      A Vancouver International Dance Festival presentation. At the Playhouse on Friday, March 19. No remaining performances

      New Zealand’s Black Grace put on a muscle-pummelling mashup of contemporary and South Pacific styles, but what was happening in between the dance pieces was often just as fascinating as what was going on on-stage.

      We in Vancouver are used to seeing multicultural dance hybrids, but we’re not accustomed to the artists standing up between numbers and explaining their works. But there he was, our affable host for the evening, Neil Ieremia, throwing out humorous anecdotes about his Samoan father’s reaction to him wanting a dance career, or explaining how he got so pissed off at a Kiwi MP’s calling his people lazy that he created a work to show off their talent, or just joking that he was giving his performers a rest. So often, contemporary dance occurs in a vacuum; sometimes you don’t even get so much as a program note. You could argue Ieremia’s talks broke up the flow of the evening, but it was hard to deny that his openness was tied directly to the wildly enthusiastic audience response his all-male Black Grace got here—and reportedly everywhere else on the seven-week North American tour that preceded it.

      Granted, he’s an exceptionally charming bloke, but from what played out on-stage, he’s a formidable choreographic talent, too—despite his unassuming, “g’day” folksiness. That talent was at its peak in Minoi, a masculine, amped-up remix of explosive slap-dance, with chanting and a playful Sesame Street rhyme drawn from Ieremia’s westernized New Zealand upbringing. Deep Far was techno-clubby yet graceful, a call for rain that found two male and two “guest” female dancers reaching to the skies and retreating, like waves cresting and breaking. The arm strength, stamina, and synchronization of these dancers are something to behold.

      And the cutesy play of Human Language, in which the men blew up a rainbow of balloons as women flirtatiously danced by, was offset by the technical rigour of “Keep Honour Bright”, an excerpt from the full-length Gathering Clouds—Ieremia’s Johann Sebastian Bach–set answer to that prejudiced MP. Featuring dancers dressed in tights and historical jacket-tunics, the balletic yet hugely athletic piece climaxed in the dancers leaping on-stage and rolling on the floor, like human marbles being tossed out by some godly hand, over and over.

      Though the theatre wasn’t sold out, the response from the audience was almost feverish. Productions like this, combined with the popular free Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre shows that happened throughout the week, helped this year’s dance fest demystify the contemporary form for wider audiences, and made it accessible without dumbing it down. As Ieremia himself might put it, “Good on ya, mate.”




      Sep 4, 2010 at 9:05am

      The bloke could dance. This show, even though a while ago, was one of the best shows in the festival. They were like dancing muscles doing ballet tricks.Craig from <a title="" href=""></a>