A Maori-Modern Fusion Takes a New York Stage
By JENNIFER DUNNING
Published: September 15, 2005
Black Grace made a largely unheralded United States debut in August 2004. Based in Auckland, New Zealand, the company was unknown to most Americans. But by the end of a weeklong engagement at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshires, Black Grace was playing to vociferously enthusiastic, soldout houses. Now it is about to take on New York City, with a season that opens tomorrow at the New Victory Theater.
New Yorkers will see six men of Pacific Islander and Maori descent who do not fit the American stereotype of a dancer. They are short, stocky and robust, bounding into the air like spaldeens and coursing across the stage like rushing brooks. The pieces they perform, all by the company's founder, Neil Ieremia, fuse modern and traditional Pacific Island and Maori dance forms smoothly into pieces imbued with feelings of nature and spirituality as well as gutsy humor and athletic propulsion.
The tinge of spirituality that informs Mr. Ieremia's aesthetic is perhaps not unusual given the spiritual nature of Maori and Pacific Islander dance and its ancestral themes. And Black Grace is not the only dance troupe in New Zealand to draw on the indigenous arts that are an integral part of the country's culture, performed and taught in schools throughout the nation. Before each important match, New Zealand's world-famous national rugby team, the All Blacks, performs an adaptation of the cherished Maori Haka, a traditional war dance that serves as a challenge to the other team. Black Grace has merged it with a Samoan version that communicates respect for the rival. [read on...]