Amata - Black Grace
18/04/2007 - 21/04/2007
21/03/2007 - 24/03/2007
Choreographer: Neil Ieremia
A time to cry; A time to laugh; A time to grieve; A time to dance …
Acclaimed Black Grace founder and choreographer Neil Ieremia presents “Amata”, an evocative new dance work for 12 women that will push the limits of physicality, passion and grace.
Amata explores inner conflict and its impact on those closest to us. The misplaced sense of fulfilment gained through the collection of material possessions often numbs us to our past traumas and indiscretions and dulls the sense of control we have over our future.
Amata is a celebration of the human spirit. Inspired by explorations into our ability to love fearlessly, lose bravely, learn endlessly and survive, to once again embrace life and accept change.
Black Grace founder, CEO and Artistic Director Neil Ieremia is in the vanguard of New Zealand’s most accomplished choreographers and, through his vision, imbues Black Grace with an explosive mix of rhythm, spirit and energy. In recognition of his considerable achievements, Neil was the recipient of the 2005 Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award for outstanding creative achievement and his contribution to the Arts in New Zealand.
Black Grace is New Zealand’s leading contemporary dance company and has held a unique position on the world stage for over 10 years. Fusing Pacific and contemporary dance in an extraordinary and dynamic form, Black Grace has become internationally renowned for its artistry, creative excellence and innovation, while also becoming the world’s leading exponent of Pacific contemporary dance.
Black Grace has toured extensively throughout New Zealand and internationally to audience and critical acclaim. In 2005, the company celebrated its tenth anniversary and performed to sell-out seasons in Auckland, followed by an extensive tour of the US and Mexico. During this time, the company performed a return season at the prestigious Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival, debuted on New York’s 42nd Street for a four-week season, and performed at Mexico’s renowned Cervantino Festival. Black Grace also performed at Tourism New Zealand’s ‘100% Pure’ event in Sydney, at the Aichi World Expo and for the New Zealand Embassy at the Tram Theatre in Tokyo.
Making new marks: time to rebrand?
Review by Dawn Sanders QSM 21st Apr 2007
Fresh from the Auckland Festival AK07 and a North Island tour, Black Grace brings Amata to Wellington, ushering in a new phase in the life of this company.
Neil Ieremia stands in front of a trunk, pulls out a favourite toy, a dress with treasured memories. Luke Hanna, the dancer (Ieremia himself?), emerges from within the trunk, inner strength physicalised through his skilfully controlled movements. The music changes rapidly, Japanese, Māori, text by Albert Wendt Pint Sized Devil on a Thoroughbred, read by Aileen Davidson, representing people, cultures and ideas.
Enter a troop of a dozen young women in red, who dance with military like precision, angry, aggressive, stylised goose stepping. The frenzy finishes to a juxtaposition of birds, a tranquil bush setting, bringing the New Zealand context fully into view.
Act 2 begins with Ieremia and another solo by Hanna, athletic and raw. A pot-pourri of music, indulgences of Ieremia’s past? Howard Morrison, Where have all the Flowers gone, the Virgin Mary with a special poignancy from Sophie Ryan, standing clutching a bunch of flowers. Ryan’s solo resonates, a controlled calm presence with equal ability to be fiery and feisty. A pile of bodies, stand for nothing, signifying everything.
The dancers’ loose long hair flicks in choreographed harmony to a miscellany of music – Māori, Samoan, Japanese, English … even The White Cliffs of Dover, and more prose – a poem Loto, Tagata Kapakiloi Restless People by John Ouhuatua Pule, read by Katrina Hobbs.
The women reach crazy moments, contrasted by the fragility of Tracey Marie Buchanan, the sensitivity of Janessa Dufty and quiet fortitude of Ryan. Dubbed the end of forever and featuring the War Brides, Act 2 ends with tranquillity, ‘a space for crying and a space for peace’, says Ieremia, inspired by Wendt’s Sons for the Return Home.
The 3rd Act is entitled ole amataga fou (a new beginning). The anger of the troop has gone, but the pace does not let up. Shape and form sometimes give way to repetitive release and fall. However, the finale of the women walking towards the light, facing their new beginnings is a haunting ending.
Irrespective of the meaning of the term ‘black grace’, it is such a visual oxymoron when confronted with a strongly predominantly white group of dancers oozing with vitality and energy, maybe it is timely for Ieremia to rebrand this troupe to reflect its collective attributes. They have certainly made their mark.
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Powerful stuff behind Ieremia’s struggle
Review by Jennifer Shennan 19th Apr 2007
Amata, a full-length choreography by Neil Ieremia, premiered recently at the Auckland Arts Festival and has since toured to several North Island cities. It is an enigmatic work of curious structure and casting, yet smoulders with multi-layered references to culture, history, emotion, memory, loss and a desperate search for resilience within the politics of gender. Whilst some of the choreography could be edited to advantage ( the same could be said of most dance works), the overall effect of Amata is powerful and poignant.
The work starts with a solo by Ieremia, a careful sequence contrasting sustained gestures from kava-making ritual with the breathing-out of Tai Chi. You supply your own subtitles, though several clues are there. There’s a taut, pent-up emotion of bitterness about colonial white man, with curious props ( Bugs Bunny mask and a faded party dress in an old trunk). Then emerges from the trunk another male dancer ( Luke Hanna) who dances a kind of alter-ego. It’s strong stuff and we can tell a struggle of some sort is going on. Ieremia’s open-shirt costume allows us to see the scar of evidence of his open-heart surgery. This is not make-up and it seems like a metaphor to me.
All hell then breaks loose with a team of twelve lithe and sinewy, petite but powerful females who deliver an hour-long storm of relentless pump after stylized wave of a dance. They first seemed like red platelets in the bloodstream of someone frantically fighting for survival. They run, jump, twist, turn, fall and stand up, fall and stand up, fall and stand up … ( I wanted to whisper "Save some of this precious stamina for your later years, dears" but they wouldn’t have heard me). I can only describe the dance as one big red sasa.
The sasa is a traditional Samoan dance in which a troupe of seated performers executes a succession of quickfire gestures that flash and flick and sweep and swoop at dazzling speeds, so that individuals become one great pulsing creature that is somehow more than the sum of its parts. The drum is heartbeat. There’s political allegory in it too: "If we can dance together like this, imagine what else we can do together."
Occasional songs and quotes ( from Albert Wendt, and from John Pule) allowed a lyrical or contemplative moment, but mostly the astonishing stamina and speed of these dancers carried the performance, till all Heaven broke loose with Diane Cooper’s haunting setting of Hine e Hine.
All of us are the stronger for acknowledging that there is a major artistic artery in Ieremia’s work which leads back to the groundbreaking dance made by Douglas Wright whose company he danced in and from whom he learned a great deal of his craft. High leaps with dancers pedalling their way through the air, tosses of a vertical dancer even higher aloft, catapult throws of horizontal bodies that then land and roll and recover as though the floor were air. These are some of the hallmark athletic acts of daring that have given New Zealand contemporary dance its international reputation. Amata is adding to that achievement.
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Tyranny, abuse, exploitation …
Review by Alexa Wilson 22nd Mar 2007
In light of the politics of Black Grace in the past year, which I won’t mention as the work speaks for itself, I question what warrants Neil Ieremeia being supported by ample amounts of tax payers money using 12 stunning young (largely white Australian) female dancers and one male to reflect his public therapy and evidently misogynistic vision as if it were compassionate.
I’ve never liked the tyrannical way in which large scale contemporary dance functions and this work parades the abuse and exploitation of this, while manipulatively also heralding the victim as triumphant and unbreakable. Once again exploitative.
If Amata is a work reflecting Ieremeia’s ‘personal battles’ then it is a war on women, who, as an endless supply of brides, we see snipered down only to get up again. This is a sentiment we see a lot through the work. If it is to reflect ‘elements of a global climate’ then it is proving how a tyrant remains supported, though perhaps feeling a little guilty.
With a soundtrack of largely Māori songs turned into chorus opera, we watch far too many dancers on stage – who have no sense of individuality with distracting costumes and hair wild like a Pina Bausch work from 20 years ago – work and dance very hard. There is some beautiful dancing but the choreography is repetitive, though with the usual Black Grace trademark of being high energy, and it is all over the place.
If it is themes of loss being explored, it is through abuse that loss occurs, which is a long and demonstrative movement sequence repeated four times, ending the work as whole. While the ‘victim’ walks into the light, the ‘abuser’ walks into the darkness.
All credit to the dancers, whose freshness is utilised to the maximum, but I’m sorry, it is very easy to be the one to herald hope and strength when you are the one who has walked away with everything because the system privileges you. And then to use the stories of the people you have used in the past to further your career is even more reproachable.
What made Black Grace was not just Neil Ieremeia but his whole company or community of Pacific Island (largely) men. But the funders and the public seem to think otherwise. All this is part of what of I mean, where the victims have no support and a capitalist system makes a mockery of community.
Part of the way tyrannical systems operate is through silencing people and I have never wanted to applaud that. Everything is personal in dance and in my view political, but there is no system to support that view. If we are all ‘part of an uneasy tapestry that binds us together’ then what can we do about changing systems of abuse and exploitation within the performing arts? Because people are breakable and dance does not have to be this way.
To take abuse should not be the only way to be strong in society’s eyes and to challenge abuse should be an option.
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