Jun 20, 2022 What's On
Being shut off from audiences is not natural for performing artists, and in 2022 Black Grace is re-entering the world in spectacular fashion.
When Black Grace had their 2004 USA debut at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts, the New York Times called them “startlingly fresh and full of invention, humor and infectious exuberance.”
Now, 18 years later, and hungry to get to the stage, Black Grace is back. Artistic Director Neil Ieremia (ONZM), and a company featuring some of New Zealand’s finest contemporary and traditional Pacific dancers, are returning to the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival for the third time, before heading onto The Joyce Theater in New York — the “spiritual home of contemporary dance” — for the world premiere of two new works, O Le Olaga (Life) and Fatu.
On return from the US, Black Grace will launch into their national tour focusing on three centres Auckland (Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre), Wellington (Opera House) and Christchurch (James Hay Theatre). To top it all off Black Grace will close out the year with a large-scale, immersive dance experience in Aotea Centre. Currently titled FA’A BLACK GRACE, this ground-breaking, first of its kind project combines dance, cinema and installation to allow audiences to have unique insight into the Black Grace way. Look out for the “death star” type structure coming to Aotea Centre.
Now in its 27th year, Founding Artistic Director Ieremia tells me they are doing things differently, “We believe there’s a better way.” Throughout the pandemic, Ieremia began to find beauty in “unexpected places for unexpected reasons” sparking a desire to “start making beautiful things.” Although what exactly beauty looks like to Ieremia is yet to be known, this has had a profound influence on O Le Olaga (Life), which draws from memories of his parents set to a reimagining of Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria in D Major; and Fatu, which means heart in Samoan, inspired by the work of renowned Samoan visual artist Fatu Akelei Feu’u (ONZM) and set to an original soundtrack both live and recorded.
Working from a new studio nestled in stunning surrounds in deep West Auckland, Ieremia confides that he long pained over the work Black Grace produced, feeling the weight of being a Brown artist. “I’ve always felt like the wrong person in the wrong place.” However, the pandemic, an environment which shook many artists and made all performing arts near impossible, provided the impetus to think otherwise. “After a Covid hiatus, it’s time for us to get out there,” shares Black Grace Trustee Bernice Mene. And Black Grace is getting out there in an unprecedented way. After feeling as if he’s had to dance for the Man, Ieremia is emboldened to make art for himself, and the result is a visceral and spine-tingling experience of full physicality.
After several years focusing so heavily on making accessible programmes, Black Grace returns to the beautiful spaces their work was made for, enabling full-scale productions. “Dance in this country has been suffering for a really long time,” Ieremia tells me. “Dance used to be a meeting place for lots of people — but that has gone.” This new era for Black Grace then wants to change this, driven by a desire to make Aotearoa a global dance powerhouse.
Emboldened by new ideas and new desires, Black Grace’s return to stage is not to be missed. “I want black grace to win,” says Ieremia. “It’s time.”