There's more going on in New Zealand than jet boating and bungee jumping. Neil Ieremia's all-male troupe, Black Grace, an amalgam of Samoan tribal dance and American modern dance, transcends its beginnings without losing sight of its roots. This is more difficult than it sounds. Given that Ieremia's virile dances are crowd pleasers, the company could easily tour for many seasons without ever testing the choreographer's limits. But he has chosen the more challenging path of creating dances that celebrate the complexities of the present as they honor a traditional past.
In pieces like Traditional Challenge/Hand Game, Fa'a Ulutao, and Minoi, the men, whose taut musculature is suited to highly athletic movement, explode into combative, rhythmic patterns using chants, song, and movement shot through with warlike zeal. It's easy to make the connection between these pieces and the reputedly fierce Maori culture that inspired them. It's also easy to dismiss them, despite their authoritative beauty, as glamorous tourist entertainment gussied up for proscenium stages.
Things get more interesting as Ieremia edges away from traditional dance. Method is--in Taylor-esque tradition--a modern paean to the glory of male athleticism. The men fly out of the wings at full tilt, flinging themselves to the floor and leaping up with rough abandon. An arm is pushed until its owner is forced to turn. A leaping dancer's foot hooks onto another's until the second tips forward into a roll. A trip becomes a zany dive that barely avoids a collision.
But when women show up in Human Language, Ieremia displays his versatility. This romp through the games of courtship opens with a telling metaphor: As the men stand in a line, a single woman, aware of her appeal, strides by; the men inflate balloons as she pauses; when she exits, the balloons sputter and spew until limp. The men are sweet and sexy, the women coy, and a glowing moon makes the whole thing feel like a school dance in which nothing goes wrong.
Open Letter (200S) dispels any notion that Ieremia is a poster child for the New Zealand tourist industry. This duet for guest dancers Abby Crowther and Desiree Westerlund, described as "exploring the concept of being physically close but mentally, spiritually, and emotionally distant," is brutally physical. Ieremia exploits the women's physical strength (they're a whirl of skirt, slip, and hair) while allowing them to retain their femininity. We're never sure why they're so alienated, but we can identify with their desire to crawl out of their skins.
A Maori saying asks, "What's the most important thing in the world?" The answer is "People, people, people." With women weighing in at S0 percent of the world population, and because Ieremia does some of his best work when he includes them, he may want to continue adding female energy to his fine ensemble. See www.blackgrace.co.nz.
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|Title Annotation:||tradional dance|
|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2006|
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