Maori dancers want to have an impact
Rugby fans can talk for hours about the history and accomplishments of the All Blacks, New Zealand's legendary national rugby team. Choreographer Neil Ieremia, founder and artistic director of the country's Black Grace Dance Company, intends his troupe to have a similar impact on international dance. He formed the company in 1995 with the objective of creating a cross-cultural blend of Western and Polynesian dance that would make contemporary dance more accessible to the general public in New Zealand and internationally.
Black Grace Dance Company
When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Leeward Community College Theatre
Tickets: $25 general; $20 military, seniors, students, and UH faculty and staff; $15 UH-Manoa students with current ID
Call: 944-2697 or go online at www.etickethawaii.com
A decade later, he and his dance company make their Hawaii debut Saturday at the LCC Theatre.
Expect strong, aggressive movement that draws on Maori and Samoan culture, and which expresses those peoples' experiences in modern-day New Zealand.
"We are able to discuss issues through our dance from a male perspective, issues that we might not otherwise be able to speak about," Ieremia explains in the troupe's press kit. "Black Grace breaks the stereotype associated with the typical 'Kiwi male.' We are doing things that most men don't do or have even considered doing. We dance."
Ieremia epitomizes the cross-cultural foundation of Black Grace. He is of Samoan ancestry but was born and raised in New Zealand. Giving voice to social and political issues, while representing the members' Maori and Samoan heritage, is an important part of the dance company's mission statement.
THEIR REPERTOIRE includes pieces inspired by Samoan children's games and Maori whai (string figure making), as well as movement representative of ballet and more modern forms of Western dance. A drought provided the inspiration for "Deep Far," a piece in which a quartet of dancers represent the cyclic nature of weather patterns. The physical and spiritual elements of the Samoan pe'a (waist-to-knee tattoo) tradition inspired another critically acclaimed piece. Others address the challenges found in personal relationships and the problems of cultural displacement.
The latter is of particular relevance to Ieremia.
"I am a Samoan and a New Zealander, and yet I do not feel I fully belong to either culture. The old ways no longer apply and yet I am tied to them," he said during a tour or Australia and New Zealand in 2004. (Other members of the troupe are Maori.)
To help others cope with cultural and socioeconomic barriers, Ieremia and the troupe have worked with young people in programs that give contemporary dance credibility as street culture, while teaching valuable lessons about the importance of discipline and commitment. In other words, that it's just as cool to dance and create new dance pieces as it is to hang out on a street corner.
It's no surprise then that Ieremia sets his choreography to an eclectic selection of music that includes Bach, Mozart, and the Afro-Celt Sound System, as well as indigenous Polynesian rhythms and the dancers' voices.
In recent years, he has successfully used women as guest dancers in expanding the visual range of his work. Three women will be joining the men of Black Grace on Saturday, dancing with the same aggressiveness as the men.
"Being rough, jumping as high as you can, leaping as far and dancing as hard as you can," Ieremia said.
"Moving until you feel like your lungs are going to explode as the sweat runs from every extremity. This is what I love about our work. The spirit of the dancers is unstoppable. We share a vision together, we believe in each other, and we will not stop until we have taken our vision to the world."