Black Grace: Verse 2

Opera House, Wellington

12/09/2011 - 13/09/2011

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

05/10/2011 - 11/10/2011

Production Details

Alongside favourite segments from ‘Verses’ (2010) and ‘Gathering Clouds’ (2009), debuts a new work titled ‘The Nature of Things’. This evocative new work features live music composed and performed by acclaimed Samoan harpist Natalia Mann.
Verse 2 features an eclectic soundscape including traditional Pacific music and body percussion as well as pieces by Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Dancers: Sean Macdonald, Thomas TJ Tigafua, Justin Haiu, Zoe Watkins, Abby Crowther , Sarah Baron,  Michelle Henderson,  plus student dancers from NZ School of Dance in PatiPati (Wellington)
Student guest dancers from NZ School of Dance - Wellington season: 
Rebecca Bassett-Graham, Zoe Dunwoodie, Kimiora Grey, Michael Gudgeon, Samantha Hines, Simone Lapka, Alice Macann, Andrew Miller
Isabelle Nelson, Mark Semple, Pamela Sidhu, Carl Tolentino

70 mins

Celebrating the vitality and strength of dance

Review by Roxanne de Bruyn 06th Oct 2011

Black Grace’s much anticipated production, Verses 2, is a dynamic and vibrant joining of Pacific and contemporary dance. Including excerpts from Verses and Gathering Clouds, as well as a new work titled The Nature of Things, Verses 2 is a wonderful celebration of the vitality and strength of dance.
The production opens with Pati Pati, a piece which is heavy inspired by Samoan slap dance. It is strong and rhythmic with an almost militaristic precision to every movement. The dancing is simultaneous and synchronised, with body percussion and stylized gestures contributing to a tribal flavour. It is an arresting, intense start to the show and it is definitely a group piece – there is the feeling of many joining together to be one and the individuals don’t stand out.
Next are excerpts from Verses, each introduced by a Neil Ieremia poem about identity and culture in the context of the Pacific and New Zealand. The excerpts are exciting and entertaining, performed to an interesting mix of songs, and give an interesting reflection of pop culture. Modern and edgy, they combine power with fluidity and grace.
The Nature of Things is a softer work, accompanied by the haunting Samoan harp strains composed and performed by Natalia Mann. Meditative and flowing, there seems to be something spiritual about it, perhaps because of the music. For the first time, the dancers interact with each other, and the piece ebbs and flows to create interesting forms.  The harp gives the piece a unique, unusual quality. The dancers’ breathing is audible over the harp music, and perfectly timed, so that their breath, movement and being all seem to be seamlessly intertwined with the music.
Last on the programme is Keep Honour Bright, a segment from Gathering Clouds which is performed to Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The choreography is beautiful and the dancers jump, turn and roll, creating something uplifting and dreamlike, with a sense of strength and purpose. The freedom of the dancers was lovely. They flew through space, in an unrestrained but utterly deliberate way.
Throughout the programme, the dancing is excellent and the dancers’ agility and athleticism is on full display. Polished and strong, the dancers are expressive and precise, without giving much sense of the identity of the individuals. Instead, there is a feeling of melding one with many to create something new. The interaction between dancers is untraditional – there is almost no male-female partnering – and it feels like the interaction is more about shape than the relationships between the dancers.
The lighting was dramatic, both setting a mood and theme and playing with the dancers’ bodies, highlighting then hiding their sculpted forms. Together with the music, an interesting mix of traditional, classical and contemporary, and it creates structure and context around the different works.
Given that Black Grace is a Pacific contemporary dance company, there doesn’t appear to be a strong feeling of Pacific Island identity or culture in the performance, despite the references to it in the Verses excerpts. The production is so powerful, energetic and athletic, yet the message of Pacific identity and place, which is often associated with Black Grace, just doesn’t quite seem to be there.

Instead the audience is left awed by the dancers’ skill, strength and grace and the complexity and intricacy of the choreography. And, in many ways, the message seems scarcely necessary when watching dancing of this standard. Everything is so measured, yet free and the production is a joy to watch. The dancers are polished and energetic and there is a feeling that one can simply fall into their movements and go with them on a journey to dreamlike places.


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Unfaltering energy

Review by Jennifer Shennan 15th Sep 2011

Verses 2 has thematic contrasts yet consistent movement vocabulary across an energized programme of short works. The stamina, speed and precision of the performers are all to the max. Leaps, falls, rolls, pauses, gestures and runs combine balletic borrowings with athletic delivery. Gyms would lose their livelihoods if everyone achieved these aerobic levels (though the theatre’s sound system could do with a fitness check.)

Pati Pati references two Samoan dance forms, the sasa, with flashing split-second uniformity of gesture – and fa’ataupati, a virtuosic yet slapstick display of macho prowess. The original forms are good-humoured and extrovert, though Neil Ieremia has here choreographed dense and intricate layerings of rhythmic body percussion with a fully serious purpose, as though the dna of everyone on stage requires its perfect delivery. No-one faltered.

Two poems by Ieremia set the tone for a bracket of dances that refer to poignant themes of self discovery and identity, with New Zealand and Pacific references and containing some powerful imagery.

The Nature of Things, to music composed and performed on stage by harpist Natalia Mann, brought an intriguing dance / music relationship in parallel. A sense of dream-like exploration gave this striking work’s title a true resonance, and the final percussive heartbeats shaped both dance and music composition.

But it was the final choreography, Keep Honour Bright, that truly took to the air and invited us along for the flight. Ieremia has always choreographed superbly to Bach, as though surfing on the waves of that most eminently danceable composition.   ‘The Goldberg Variations’ gave the dancers metric and spiritual springboard, and the choreography, through its light and shade, breathed with a fine sense of phrasing. It seemed in retrospect as though the preceding works had all been preparation and warm-up for this shining cameo of dance-making. We could have watched it all night, but then we’d have missed the magnificent bright full moon hanging in the sharp clear Wellington sky that seemed like appropriate sequitur to the dance we had just seen. Keep Honour Bright indeed. 
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All things change - even Black Grace

Review by Greer Robertson 13th Sep 2011

I can instantly recall my physical heart pounding and the exhilarating fresh sensation that I felt fourteen years ago, when I first saw  a new company called Black Grace who had exploded onto the New Zealand stage. Back then they were the ‘talk of the town’, an all-male company comprised of Maori and Polynesian dancers with fire in their eyes, hearts and bellies. Within minutes, they had carved themselves a unique niche in Pacific contemporary dance,  eventually going on to global exposure  and accolades of high praise.
But like anything else, in the fullness of time,  things change. Things evolve, things  dissolve, and even dance companies  become different.
After nearly a decade and a half, the name remains the same but the content is quite changed. Black Grace, still in the hands of Neil Ieremia, Founder and Artistic Director, is in itself, testimony to the passage of time, directed by his unrelenting, ongoing commitment, tenacity and belief.
Nowadays,  the all male company is no more. The current members of the company are  five females and three males.  Clipped and concise, more angular and angry, the full physical agility and integrity of the dancers is paramount. And although Ieremia, as in previous seasons, addresses his roots and announces his choreographic intentions for each piece, this brief narration now feels unnecessary.
Numbers are swelled for the Wellington season by inclusion of  twelve students from The New Zealand School of Dance for the opening number Pati Pati, which is pretty impressive as they execute intricate, often very complicated body percussion based on traditional Samoan seated and slap dance phrases. 
More exciting work is seen in the second piece, a collage taken from last year’s Verses season.
Third on the programme is a new work, The Nature of Things, which demonstrates Ieremia’s  choreographic penchant for a softer piece. In this, performing her original composition on harp, Natalia Mann sits proudly onstage to accompany the dancers.  Perhaps more ethereal in nature because of the sometimes haunting music, the dancers portray a more malleable flavour and entwined bodies interact for the first time in the programme. Men with men, ladies with ladies, but very seldom traditional male and female partnering.
The programme closes with Keep Honour Bright, a constantly flowing segment from Gathering Clouds (2009) set to Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
Overall, the polished performance of Black Graces’ profound energy, rhythm and grace remains the same, but the art of communication stops at the proscenium. What about the audience? I needed and wanted more!
I left the theatre unrequited and dismayed that the strong emotional connection of raw energy and hunger once extolled appears to be currently lost in technical translation.
Did I feel that electrifying former experience with the four short pieces presented in Verse 2? 
I was hoping to: sadly, I did not. 

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