Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace, New Plymouth

22/06/2017 - 22/06/2017

Opera House, Wellington

24/06/2017 - 24/06/2017

Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

26/06/2017 - 26/06/2017

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

28/06/2017 - 28/06/2017

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

30/06/2017 - 30/06/2017

Production Details

Neil Ieremia

Black Grace and Tour-Makers

Following a sold-out Auckland season in 2016, and a 10-centre tour of the United States, Black Grace and Tour-Makers are proud to tour the critically acclaimed As Night Falls to seven national centres from 22 June – 6 July around Aotearoa.

“Neil Ieremia creates a new masterpiece. As Night Falls is full of inventive choreography and thoughtful concepts.” – National Business Review, 2016
A poetic ode to our troubled world, As Night Falls is Artistic Director Neil Ieremia’s latest full length work, beautifully set to the timeless and passionate sound of Antonio Vivaldi.

Black Grace was founded by Neil Ieremia in 1995 and continues to draw inspiration from his Samoan and New Zealand roots to create innovative dance works that reach across social, cultural and generational barriers. Ieremia has been met with widespread recognition for his legacy of work from both audiences and critics alike, all over the globe. He has taken home the Senior Pacific Artist Award from Creative New Zealand and has made the Queen’s Birthday Honours List becoming an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Meri

Dance , Pasifika contemporary dance , Contemporary dance ,

1 hour

A desperately beautiful piece of dance

Review by Hannah Molloy 01st Jul 2017

As Night Falls is a desperately beautiful piece of dance, full of submission and fire and polish. The sound of breath and rushing bodies syncopated against Vivaldi’s violins captures the audience in a complete stillness filled with concentration and expectation. The sparse stage, with no wings and exposed loops of wires hanging from the lighting grid, leaves nothing to distract from the movement of bodies and the light and sound. The dancers are fast and flowing with immaculate timing and precision. There are moments of softness and passivity juxtaposed against an anxiety and urgency of motion that is at all times effortless and grounded in choreographer and Artistic Director of Black Grace, Neil Ieremia’s very clear vision, explained in his programme notes as “ images of broken bodies … protests … the aftermath of more natural disasters. I needed to try and create some light from the darkness.”

The dancers maintain a lovely looseness in their limbs inside the very crisp structure of the choreography, with tumbling masses of bodies and serried rows, marching hunched back and forth, leaving a feeling of bleakness and the inevitability of death before releasing the audience into a feeling of the necessity of holding on and caring enough to persist. There are hisses and susurrations of surprise and delight from the audience at some of the more acrobatic leaps and passing of bodies through the air and an emphatic and sustained applause at the end. The dancers look as pleased with their performance as the audience demonstrates it feels – something I find deeply satisfying. Believing that the people who create such beauty love and value what they do and find pride in offering it to the rest of us makes it so much more resonant for those who love to watch the result of such hard work.

It has been eight years, I think, since Black Grace last visited Dunedin. I hope they find their way back here sooner, and that Dunedin finds its way into supporting their visits.


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Exhilarating and life-affirming

Review by Dr Ian Lochhead 29th Jun 2017

Black Grace founder, Neil Ieremia has never been afraid of big themes and his 2016 work, As Night Falls, is the choreographer’s response to the troubled state of a contemporary world plagued by civil war, terrorism, mass migration and wanton destruction.  If these themes suggest a bleak and negative outlook on the world this is only part of the story.  While dance certainly has the capacity to explore these issues and reflect their impact on people’s lives, the very nature of human bodies in motion is inevitably life-affirming, and the work that Ieremia initially conceived as a response to the darkness of a troubled world ends with a message of hope.  First performed in Auckland in 2016, When Night Falls was subsequently performed in ten cities across North America earlier this year.  Only now is it touring the rest of New Zealand.  Set to the music of the Venetian Baroque composer, Antonio Vivaldi, Ieremia has collaged movements from a range of concertos, including excerpts from The Four Seasons, in a sequence that fits the development of his own choreographic ideas.  Interpolated into this framework of 18th-century music are two contemporary percussion pieces, Progression for Hand Clap by Noriko Hisada and Gareth Farr’s Little Sea Gongs, works that one wouldn’t normally associate with Vivaldi but which, because of the their insistent rhythms and repeated patterns, emphasise these same qualities in the Venetian composer’s works.

The eleven dancers of Black Grace are ever responsive to the ebb and flow of the music as it unfolds over the work’s 50 minute duration.  Ieremia also reflects the music’s evolving patterns in his choreography, building powerful sequences through repeated steps, lifts, leaps and falls, sometimes simply sending ranks of dancers striding across the stage.  The work opens with dancers lying prone, as if the victims of a cataclysm that has already occurred.  Gradually they pick themselves up and as the work develops passages of violent movement are contrasted with sequences of reflective calm.  An intensely moving central section, filled with gentle lifts and soft falls, is set to the Cum dederit movement of Vivaldi’s Nisi Dominus, recorded with eerie intensity by the French counter-tenor, Philippe Jaroussky.  While images of desperation, terror and shock recur throughout the work, no more so than when the massed dancers respond to an unseen event signalled by a blinding flash of light from behind the proscenium arch, the concluding image is one of human solidarity and hope.  As the dancers advance arm in arm to the front of the stage they fall as if struck down singly and in groups, only to reassemble as we hear the consoling massed voices of a Samoan choir intoning the Lord’s Prayer.  This seems like an ending, but Ieremia adds a coda full of life and energy to an exhilarating Vivaldi allegro for strings, returning us once again to the light of day and the prospect of a new beginning.

A large audience responded with enthusiasm to an exhilarating performance and it was a measure of the work’s impact that more than half the audience remained for the Question and Answer session with Ieremia that followed the end of the show.  His relaxed, humorous and self-deprecating response to the audience’s questions expanded on the background to the work’s creation and gave insights into his choreographic methods as well as his admiration for the works of masters of modern dance such as Paul Taylor and Pina Bausch.  Not surprisingly the final question was “When will you be back?”  It is a sad fact that limited funding for the arts in New Zealand means that Black Grace’s overseas tours help to subsidise their New Zealand performances.  Companies of the stature of Black Grace should surely be funded to ensure that they tour nationally on an annual basis rather than the current situation where those living beyond Auckland only see their work irregularly or not at all.


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Stunning five star dancing and choreography, yet a hollow offering

Review by Sam Trubridge 25th Jun 2017

Wellington-born NZ dance legend Neil Ieremia came to the Opera House this weekend with his internationally acclaimed Black Grace dance company, on their eight-venue tour of New Zealand with a new work. 

Somehow I have never seen Black Grace before. But I recall the excited audiences rushing around Maidment Theatre in the 1990’s to see their first shows, and here 20 years later I can finally catch up with the rest of the world. For over that time Ieremia and his company have broken into international markets and prestigious venues worldwide, defining a strong Pacific voice for contemporary dance alongside Mau, Okareka, and Atamira dance companies.

As Night Falls is described by Ieremia as ‘a dance about hope’ that reflects on news stories from around the world of conflict, disaster, persecution, and struggle. I do not know how Ieremia has addressed current events in previous works, but it is a big challenge for any artist to take on such broad concerns.

In the twilight moments before the show I see a mirage, a shape in the darkness that reminds me of how we experience the world from New Zealand. It wasn’t intentional, but the faint light of the auditorium cast two identical shadows of the side balconies (the boxes) onto the theatre curtain in the middle. These mirrored shadows looked like two arms of a bay reaching for each other, with a faint horizon (the sea?) held between. There we were, inside the bay, at the beach, in the auditorium. It was a safe, comfortable image, looking out from a sheltering landscape. In that almost-darkness before the show, in that landscape that I had imagined in the shadows of the auditorium, I thought about Ieremia’s words, and how naïve we can be, living so far from the conflicts that we see on television.

And then the curtain opens, lifting to reveal a garish red light and a tableau of bodies frozen in anguish, like a fresco carved upon ancient buildings, or like bodies trapped in broken buildings – Pompeii, Damascus, or Christchurch? Inside, the stage is stripped of all drapery, and looking into this space we can see up into the lighting grid, and to the back wall where ladders and other apparatus of the stage sit. Usually concealed or removed, these details gave a bareness to the stage and a utilitarian aesthetic. It worked wonderfully with the costuming – in light greys, cut to shapes that allowed the bodies to move through various cultures and contexts without ever being one in particular. It was an eloquent and subtle consideration, and a refreshing change from the NZ dance tropes of ‘non-costume’, wearing rehearsal clothing or oversized suits over singlets.

Ieremia has chosen Vivaldi to play in much of this work, and it began with The Four Seasons (Summer). The skirling violins seemed to classicise or romanticise the scene in a way that I am immediately uncomfortable with. They are interesting recordings, and certainly not conventional, with the majority played by Berliner Philharmoniker and Nigel Kennedy. At times it almost worked, particularly with a recording of Concerto in G Minor played by Ton Koopman, Yo-Yo Ma, Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Jonathan Mason. Here the lead violin saws and scrapes in front of the light patterns and strains of the orchestra to create a wonderfully discordant but flowing dialogue. But a lot of the time the use of Vivaldi felt a bit twee, or embroidered, in the Baroque style that philosopher Gilles Deleuze describes as ‘endlessly producing folds’. This is certainly fitting for the beautiful architecture of Wellington Opera House, its folded curtain, and its intricately carved reliefs.

The dancers are fantastic. They are incredibly strong and lightning quick on their feet, leaping in the air and at each other with great strength and precision. The choreography is wonderfully ornate and textured – with great tidal movements as the company turn and run from the stage, or in lines slowly lean past one another in tilting seesawing motion. One dancer moves alone in this swaying field of bodies: jerking, frenetic, and urgent – like the lead violinist. It is immaculate, beautiful work, but the choreographer’s statement about the work seems far from what I see on stage. It all seems a bit vanilla, or even a bit white. I wonder what international audiences might think, because it looks like an emulation of Netherlands Dance Theatre, Rosas, or Wayne McGregor: more stylistic than emotive, more textural than polemic, more European than Pacific. Ieremia’s choice of music seems to tone the dance in this way, lightening the mood, pulling it into a classical space, and washing it of the depth, friction or irony that it could have, or that was promised when the curtain rose on that powerful opening scene.

There are moments. Sean MacDonald’s solo in dark warm lighting pulls you in. It is fantastic to see in this moment the rest of the dancers frozen, half offstage, about to exit – a pale mass of bodies caught in the gloom on the edges of seeing. But the applause after each of these sections suggest that the audience has picked up on the tone of the work, and are responding fittingly to demonstrations of skill and choreographic beauty, rather than strong editorial decisions around its core concept. It needs dramaturgy, but instead it seduces us with its incredible choreography and its outstanding performances. There is some stunning group work from the ten dancers that uses all corners and levels in the space, low fast rolls, high lifts, bodies locking together, bodies thrown… It is almost combative, and with Vivaldi’s choral piece – Nisi Dominus – it seems to find the mood that Ieremia is going for. One dancer flops in the arms of another – a pieta – that timeless image of a parent holding their dead child.

Possibly the strongest part occurs when Ieremia uses music by local artists: JPC Percussion Museum & Gareth Farr. The four male dancers move together, arm in arm, brothers, comrades, fused at the shoulders or by their synchronised movements. With the drumming soundtrack and choreography I feel our place in the world is being spoken: starting tender, but picking up with the fervent Pacific beat, palms swiping the ankles and the head, the flicking feet, bouncing on the heels, hands that slap flesh. It is a brilliant sequence. Yet still the applause punctuates the moment between this scene and the next, reminding us that there is still a demonstration here.

Somewhat jarringly, Vivaldi returns. I do truly love Vivaldi. When I was a child, my father used to play The Four Seasons in the mornings as the family woke up. It is music so redolent with hope and movement. But it is also the sound of Europe, of the Baroque empires that claimed these Pacific islands. The dancers move well to it, but perhaps this is the problem: it is all too beautiful, too familiar, and too comforting for any irony or ambivalence – especially with the dancers using balletic movements and classical lines. The Four Seasons has been used to sell cars, TVs, bathrooms, garage doors, and bread. It played in a classic 1990’s National Bank ad campaign with a smooth voice intoning ‘The time is now to be all that you can be. Seize the day, and the future is yours. Choose those who don’t stand in the way of dreams, but help make them realities”. Images showed white New Zealanders running with purpose, and a black horse cantering alongside a Palladian line of columns. Somehow the dance cannot escape a Western hemisphere with this music overlaying so many scenes.

In one moment the dancers fall to the ground to a sudden flash of bright light. They freeze. It could be an explosion, a military spotlight, or the doors opening on a shipping container full of refugees, letting the blinding sunlight in. Hands slowly raise over their heads, they bow, lower their heads to the ground. Then they rise up on toe-tips, back away, and huddle together protectively. They lift arms, supplicating, begging, before their arms tense to become shaking fists. These transformations speak of the power in a group, and how they can submit, acquiesce, but also become strong and united. It is possibly the most hopeful moment in the work.

Following this, the dancers advance on us, determined, resolute, holding each other’s hands. But then Paige Shand twists under the impact of something – a rubber bullet? – a riot stick? – a real bullet? – an explosion?  Then another buckles. Each time one falls they rise again to rejoin the line, but piece by piece the chain of bodies slowly disintegrates to the Choir of the Western Samoa Teacher’s Training College singing The Lord’s Prayer. It would have been a nice ending, with the cast lined up under these brutal columns of light, their bodies still panting from the exertion, their eyes on us. Almost defiant.

The lights drop and we applaud, louder now. There are cheers as well, showing that people think it is over. But we are cut short by more Vivaldi and a final sequence of skilful, twisting, flickering movement. This final coda doesn’t offer much, except perhaps a gesture towards the ‘hope’ that Ieremia mentions in his notes. But it is a hollow offering, only meant to soften the impact of the earlier image and let us off the hook.

If Ieremia hadn’t said this work was about hope, or about the many awful things happening around the world, then I might have enjoyed this fantastic five-star dance that we have made here in New Zealand. But I cannot, because Ieremia says this is about suffering, and considers it an offering of hope in response to crises in other countries: “beauty for ashes, oil of joy for mourning, a garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness”. But I don’t see anyone here to accept the offering.

The bourgeois audience are here though, and they love it: this bright, curling music that they know so well, and the fantastic, able bodies that make the swirling notes dance on stage with the same energy. Perhaps the final scene was hopeful, but only in the sense that it helps this specific audience to recover their distance from the events that have been hinted at. We return from the streets of Ferguson, Standing Rock, Aleppo, or Baghdad to our safe cove by the ocean. We put on this beautiful music, and for some reason we have hope. We don’t know why, except perhaps because it all felt like a dream, all of that awful stuff happening elsewhere. And we feel satisfied for having thought about it a little. So of course the audience applauded. It was a fantastic work of great mastery. Because like any good drama it took us to a place of danger, tragedy, and uncertainty – and then it so deftly brought us back home safe and sound. How much more hope can we be given than that? And how beautiful a thing hope is to the privileged, but how cruel it is to those who need it the most. 


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