Saturday I saw Black Grace perform in the Schouwburg. Black Grace is a New Zealand dance company led by Neil Ieremia. Ieremia choreographs dances inspired by and drawn upon both his Samoan heritage and the current world of New Zealand. They’re doing a tour of the Netherlands with a show called Verse 3: a collection of five short works and excerpts of various older works.
Pati Pati (2009) was the first. It’s a mix of fragments from four other works using Samoan seated dance (Sasa) and slap dancing (Fa’ataupati). It has pieces from Relentless (1998), Black Grace (1995), Fia Ola (1998) and Amata (2007). I really loved this because of the rhythm and repetition. It’s meditative.
The second was Human Language (2002), a work inspired by the body language of men and women when they start getting romantically interested in each other. It also mimics various forms of mating behaviour. It starts out, for example, by the men blowing up colourful balloons. As the girl parades in front of them they raise their heads so the balloons hang at throat level. Similar to how some birds inflate their necks to show of their vibrant neck and belly feathers. As the girl turns them down, they let go of the balloons in defeat, letting them shoot away as they deflate.
Gathering Clouds (2009) was made in answer to an article in a New Zealand newspaper. The article went on about how Pacific Island immigrants to New Zealand had the lowest education levels, were most represented in prison, most without jobs and so on, basically saying they were bad for New Zealand. This pissed Neil off so made this work to deal with his feelings and show that things aren’t perfect, they evolve and change and unrest comes from that, and helps with that. The dance starts with strong Samoan influences, traditional dancing and traditional music and halfway through morphs into more modern dancing on a number of Goldberg Variations by Bach to show that yes, we’re all different, but we’re all also the same.
Mother Mother (2013) was choreographed on request of New Zealand group Fat Freddy’s Drop. They wrote a song called Mother Mother and wanted Neil to make a dance for the videoclip. Ieremia refused a couple times but eventually agreed. The work starts out with a lot of physical manipulation of the body culminating in the literal raising up of women as a symbol for how Mothers help their kids up.
The final piece, Minoi (1999), is traditional. It is a Samoan song which literally means to wiggle. It starts with a woman singing the song and then blends with the dancers. They appear behind her and take over the singing. Mixing it with slap dancing and turning the song into a round it becomes a mantra.