Amata - Black Grace

Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

18/04/2007 - 21/04/2007

SKY CITY Theatre, Auckland

21/03/2007 - 24/03/2007

Auckland Festival 2007

Production Details

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.

Background Information
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.

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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.


dancecritic April 22nd, 2007

The 'Amata' production in my opinion was not about portraying a cultural exhibition. It appeared to be an artistic expression, that was created from the past and the present life experiences of Neil Ieremia, the choreographer. The skills of the female dancer's brought the choreography to another dimension, that most in the dance world would have been envious of. The programme, referred to those selected by Ieremia, at national auditions to be eight highly trained New Zealand dancers with remarkable performance credits: Katie Proffitt, Tracy-Marie Buchanan, Abby Crowther, Jessica Daniel, Luke Hanna, Mylinda Reid and Gabrielle Thomas. There are four Australians: Lauren Carr, Janessa Dufty, Madeleine Legge and one Chinese dancer Sabrina Mandrawata who form the company for this production. The energy and skill that was displayed on stage, together with sound and lighting effects is a credit to each individual in the production. This made it for me a memorable show, that could be of significant interest overseas.

sere March 30th, 2007

Dear burntime. I suggest you track down ANYONE from the beginnings of Black Grace Dance Company and ask how much they got paid. Co-op? what a joke. At least in that situation you get some small amount and at recognition for your work. If you're that incensed that people are reacting to being royally screwed, then go do your research before you spout crap about the 'humble' beginnings of the company. The dancers are easily the best in this country, some the world. How dare you question their right to be 'upset' at the 10 years of their lives they gave to a man, not just a company, for virtually nothing, who then wiped the floor with them. So what? a few white australians want to be kiwis for a bit? Usually they come to NZ cause they can't make it in Australia! Research my friend! If you want a true taste of culture, you would have found more at the Secondary Schools Polyfest. Token tracks and a bit of brown writing does not mean a piece has culture. Although I imagine your esteemed Mr Ieremia was probably also out there scouting for someone else with culture that he can bleed to death. An AMAZING NZ choreographer is Douglas Wright. That is pure genius and talent and dancing glory. You need to go see so much more dance and theatre if you thought that this show was that brilliant. If you knew him personally you would realise that the messages he would have been sending were absolutely as Alexa said. The dude hates women. I don't think we have watched the same piece. But, I guess, each to his/her own. I suggest for your next show maybe you don't really rely on the programme to tell you what its about, but maybe watch it honestly and let your heart feel what you see. And if you don't feel anything, then that's ok too. You don't have to. I do feel like I've been harsh with you, but I object to 'newbie' art supporters commenting on the lives of others. 10 years those guys gave. 10 years. You work for someone who abuses you and yells at you and steals all your creativity and the best possible years of your career - for sweet f.a monetary return, and then see how you feel. And dude, the choreography is not that great. Go see more shows!

Melody Nixon March 29th, 2007

This seems a really complicated issue, and one I can't comment on with any authority! But for those of you interested in a view point different to that of Alexa, Magnolia Wilson writes that: "This production is most certainly a new beginning for Ieremia, and a brave one at that. It is no mean feat to endure harsh public criticism, especially when it concerns the politics of race and gender, and to press forward regardless with even greater conviction." her review on the Lumiere Arts Reader. Perhaps there are aspects of Amata and Black Grace still worth celebrating? [Go to the Forum Black Grace: AMATA for a link to this review.]

sere March 29th, 2007

Dear oh dear...what's it all come to? BLACK GRACE. One male and a stage full of white girls trying to do what the 10-strong company used to do in a dream. I pity Mr Ieremia. Someone just recently said to me "karma is a bitch"...and I have to say, karma seems to be his shadow these days. But I guess that's what happens when you completely screw over your culture, and constantly screw the crew. The original Black Grace Dance Company were AMAZING. Of course after a decade of abuse, why should they stick around for more. Only right that He the master should turn to the ones he loves to play with the best. As for the standard of AMATA...please! Let's take tokenism out of the whole piece and see what is left. A desperate man in a skirt chasing a lot of little white skirts. More needs to be done about supporting the dancers whose lives and careers were dedicated to building the company that once had such leadership and genius. More needs to be done about the constant funding Mr Ieremia receives for his 'works'. The works made famous by an exquisite array of male talent spanning over a hundred years of experience between them. Good on you Alexa for having the balls to open this casket of worms - brave and real. It's about time someone came forward turned the house lights on - people need to know how crap the actual work is without the boys...and that the company would not exist without the hard work of people in the past. I've been following the company since its inception - the list of casualties just grows and grows... And to John Smythe for your support. You've been doing your thing for a long long time. We your readers respect your word and to know you support Alexa gives me hope for the future of our reviewers. Finally, one has to ask oneself. Why would there be only one "veteran" dancer left? A female at that? Me thinks CNZ has to look closer at what exactly they're funding...

KM March 28th, 2007

I am a dancer with links to Black Grace. I saw the production and I do agree the dancers were very talented. However I think Black Grace is not the same without it's male dancers. The male aspect was what made the company different and exciting. I found the production boring and reptitive. Dull, dull, dull!! Very much like the Herald reviewed - Girls doing mens dancing!!! If this is the way Black Grace wants to go (and I think perhaps Neil has no choice really) I think the company needs a new name and image. The name "Black Grace" just doesn't fit the current company.

John Smythe March 27th, 2007

I welcome passionate debate and I’m glad someone has come to the defence of Amata at last – but please let us breathe through our noses now so that the important points are not obliterated by uncontrolled anger and personal insults. Being in no position to see the show at this point, I cannot buy into the arguments about the work itself. But I do draw the line at ‘burntime’ calling the reviewer “derranged”[sic]. A quick glance at the other reviews – see links on the Forum site, Black Grace: AMATA – will show she is not alone in perceiving the work as she did. Matters of factual accuracy aside, all members of the audience must be free to respond personally to performed work regardless of (indeed, in spite of) what is written in the programme. This is not only a fundamental human right, it is inevitable. As I see it, a key part of the critic’s job is to own their own subjective responses then interrogate and share them with readers – and when this happens on a website like this, they have every right to be as challenging and provocative as we like the performing arts themselves to be, because others are equally free to respond on line. I also believe it is entirely valid for critics to comment on the circumstances and politics behind a show. I put Alexa’s review up because she had written it in good faith, her views are sincerely and passionately held, and others were free to disagree. Like Moya, above (who I thank for priming the pump), I’m surprised it took so long. Meanwhile I have asked around to gauge the feeling of the dance community only to find others are much more vituperative in their views. Their consensus appears to be that Alexa did an excellent job in very challenging circumstances.

burntime March 27th, 2007

Which of you whingers have actually seen the show? I went along last Friday, not quite sure what to expect, but it was an amazing performance. The theatre was full and people were both moved and inspired. A couple of people near me were crying with emotion, they were so moved by the performance. I heard one woman say that she had never felt so much like a New Zealander in a theatre, after watching the performance. I think the review has completely missed the mark. I have just now dug out the programme to check your reviewers claims. At $10 I thought was a bit steep, but when I read it found it worth every cent. For instance, to say that the sound track is largely Maori songs turned into chorus opera is crap. There is music from Japan, specially composed pieces, a reading from an Albert Wendt story, a John Pule poem, a traditional samoman hymn, a couple of tracks of Cook Island drumming, and english classics - some performed by the Howard Morrison Quartet - to name but a few. Get your facts right! Why are people obsessed about where the dancers are from?? They were FANTASTIC. OK they weren't men and they weren't pacific island - but so what? Again, I have gone back to the programme to check the facts and it looks like four out of 13 have come from Australia, one from Indonesian and the rest from NZ. How can you say that they are nearly all from Australia? There are a range of backgrounds and ethnicities in the company. It also looks like all the dancers have trained at the New Zealand School of Dance or UNITEC. Is this a bad thing?? I applaud their commitment to stay and work here, if they want to contribute to NZ cultural life. Whats wrong with that? In terms of content, I'd say your reviewer is also completely off beam with what AMATA is about. If she had bothered to read the programme notes she would have had an understanding of what she was seeing. It is not rocket science, in any case. To say that is all some confused "war on women" or some "victim/ abuser" power trip is garbage. Why is the reviewer confusing some personal/ political agenda (and what sounds like a big chip on her shoulder anyway) with the show itself. I would have thought she was there to write a review - a piece of writing describing what she saw, what it was like and to inform or guide the reader about the piece. Instead we get a pseudo rant and a personal attack on the company, the choreographer and some mysterious big brother "funding bodies". The woman is derranged. She clearly didn't see the show that I saw on Friday night. No mention is even made of the amazing set and lighting. I would say it is probably some of the best dance lighting I have seen in a very very long time. The work of John Verryt and Bryan Caldwell must surely deserve some mention, even if she didn't like it??? I can understand that people feel bad or hurt by what has happened in the past, certainly from what I have gleaned from reading about it in the press, it all sounds like a fiasco. But there is no denying that Neil Ieremia is still an amazing choreographer. I doubt the company would have lasted anything like its 10 plus years if it was not for his great artistry and drive. Anyway, whose company was/ is it? Was/ is it a co-op or some other sort of organisation that meant all the dancers were taking a risk like they do in so many other situations? Did all the dancers have to share in footing the bills? Somehow I doubt it. Why are people all putting their hand up to claim it or own the company? I don't get it. People may not like what has happened in the past, and I certainly get a strong sense of that from what other people have written here, but there is no denying his choreographic skill, his artistry and great vision. If anyone bothers to read these, then go and see the show yourself and make up your own mind.

KotiroMaori March 27th, 2007

Boycotting this performance is not hard for me. Like that of the Royal New Zealand Ballet who in the company is from New Zealand? But really! Why do the arts continue to invest in False Representation of Aotearoa? "Gee I like that song, I dont know what it means but it sounds neat, and besides we can say its bridging the gap and supporting and exposing the arts of the tangata whenua"...mmm?

ex BG dancer March 27th, 2007

i would like to say that as a former member of black grace, that i think this review is bang on and is one of the most honest reviews i've read about the company and the behaviour of our society and the behaviour of the founder. i think that it is a great opportunity for the young dancers and they were not the reason for the all company members leaving (except one-Abby crowther, black grace "veteran" the herald captioned under a photo.) i just hope that they are safe and do not get taken for advantage like how all of us did, even people who HELPED FOUND the company in 1998. I wonder what did happen to the so called investegation by creative nz? did they not ask why all the dancers left? why the board left? i agree that it is unfair that the ones' who suffer or are the victims seem like they deserve it if the "Bully" says he was sorry and that he has some issues! sorry, everyone has issues and what makes yours more valid then mine? just before i finish i have to say, that in an article last year about why the company broke apart, there was a remak by neil that there where no male dancers good enough in NZ, and all i can say is; He had them.

Moya Bannerman March 26th, 2007

Okay, good. But when Alexa writes: "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." - is she talking about the actual content of the work? Does the review's heading, therefore, reflect such content? I am trying to distinguish and separate the critiques within the work (of human behaviour), of the work (in the way it uses its dancers), and of the company itself. The review seems to be saying that the work 'dramatises' issues that relate directly to what has upset the dance community about Black Grace and / or the choices made by its founder / director and those who fund him / them. Or has the reviewer confused the issues?

MARIA dabrowska March 26th, 2007

This review is great, i'm glad Alexa is brave enough to start public debate on the whole Black Grace debarcle. Thank you Alexa

Moya Bannerman March 26th, 2007

Please can someone who has seen this BLACK GRACE production tell us if this is a valid review or not. The minute I read it I felt it was inflammatory and expected objections / rebuttals / ripostes within the hour. Does this silence mean she is right? Or is it in the hands of lawyers?

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