Gathering Clouds

The Civic – THE EDGE®, Auckland

05/03/2009 - 08/03/2009

Opera House, Wellington

26/03/2009 - 28/03/2009

Production Details

Auckland * Wellington * Manukau * Kerikeri * Hamilton
March/April/May 2009

"It’s unabashedly virile, dangerous and terrifically exciting." – The Ottawa Citizen, 2008

Fresh from a sell out tour to North America and Canada, including a season at the prestigious Kennedy Centre in Washington DC, internationally acclaimed dance company Black Grace presents a brand new full-length work, Gathering Clouds.

Created by company founder and artistic director Neil Ieremia, Gathering Clouds promises to be "beautiful in its fury" and debuts at Auckland Festival 2009 on Thursday 5 March at The Civic, THE EDGE®, before touring to Wellington, Manukau, Kerikeri and Hamilton.

After 13 years at the forefront of New Zealand dance, Black Grace is set to astound audiences again with Gathering Clouds, a response to controversial claims made by economist Greg Clydesdale in which he warns that Polynesians display "significant and enduring under achievement" – a problem he believes immigration is making worse.

"I have always believed in the spirit of the Long White Cloud that embraces everyone equally," says Neil. "But after reading these claims and reviewing passages of my personal journey, I realise the Long White Cloud has become dark in places and it feels like a storm is brewing."

"Perhaps the most significant aspect of Black Grace’s repertoire is how Ieremia has stayed true to his roots while transporting Samoan ritual to a broader canvas." Globe and Mail, Toronto, 2008

From New York’s 42nd Street to our very own Land of the Long White Cloud, Black Grace will again fuse Pacific and contemporary dance in an extraordinary and dynamic form, the hallmark that has helped Black Grace become the world’s leading exponent of Pacific contemporary dance.

"… pulse-pushing, blood-stirring, and sweat dripping tours-de-force." Pasatiempo, The New Mexican, Santa Fe, 2008

Black Grace performs Gathering Clouds at
The Civic, THE EDGE®, Auckland from March 5-8, then at
The Opera House, Wellington from March 26-28;
TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre, Manukau on April 16 and 17;
The Centre, Kerikeri on April 22 and 23; and at
Hamilton’s Clarence St Theatre from April 29 to May 2.
For more information and ticket details visit


Artistic Associate:  Wendy Wallace
Cultural Advisor:  Mr Siufaitotoa Simanu Ieremia
Lighting Design, Technical Manager:  Nik Janiurek
Costume Design:  Zambesi
Fashion liaison:  Atip Wananuruks
Music Engineer:  Juse of Woodcut Productions

Music Direction:  Neil Ieremia
Cook Island Drumming:  Ngativaro Iorangi and Tuaine Robati
Hymns:  Suifaitotoa Simanu Ieremia / Rev Maligi Evile / Afioga Tofa Lautiso / Simanu ma le Tausi / Afioga Tofa Teoteo
Tongan Chants:  Niulala Helu

Song Sung Loudly
Elvis Presley:  It's Alright, Suspicious Minds, There'll be Peace in the Valley (for me), Can't Help Falling in Love, If I Can Dream

Keep Honour Bright
Goldberg Variations:  J. S. Bach
Aria and Variations:  Played by Murray Perahia
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 31

Stage Manager:  Johnny Chen
Photographer:  Duncan Cole
Voiceover:  Joel Tobeck
Script Advisor:  Oscar Kightley
Administrator:  Helen Langford
Business Manager:  Aimee Yeap
Black Grace Patrons:             Neville Findlay, Ian Fraser, Bernice Mene
Black Grace Trust Advisors:  Neil Ieremia, Susan Paterson, Dean Poole, Brett Shepherd, Haydn Wong


The Pacific experience

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 08th Apr 2009

Black Grace choreographer and director Neil Ieremia made this dance work in response to criticisms made in an academic report by Greg Clydesdale.

Gathering Clouds deals with anger, frustration, conflict, late-night evictions, humour, slapstick, grace, lyricism, and strength. Ultimately these 10 dancers show us that there is a way forward.

The Cook Island drumming, Tongan chants and other Pacific references help encapsulate the whole Pacific experience.

The influence of the church is dealt with in a beautiful sequence in which an entire congregation fall softly from their pews and are constantly replaced by new worshippers.

The power of home ties is evoked, so too the stress created by the splitting of families as the young leave home to earn money.

All the dancers take the space, and grab the air, with strength and fearless body throws. Repetition and unison are the underpinning structures used throughout and we see phrases constantly cut the air in different costumes to different songs.

Giant jigsaw puzzle pieces form a very effective staging device. As they lock together the slogan "Keep Honour Bright" is framed by young Samoan faces bursting forward at us, cleverly letting us reflect on the past and anticipate a better future at the same time. This felt like an ending to me, but the puzzle parted and Bach’s beautiful Goldberg Variations filled the theatre.

Lovely dancers in unflattering costumes on a cross-hatched lighting design like a woven mat made dance the final image. Reminiscent of Douglas Wright’s Gloria this section drew the 70-minute work to a close.

The blindfolded and tyrannical figure that controlled the story, Ieremia himself, removed the blindfold, lay down his "talking stick" and left it to us, the audience, to make our own decisions about whether the clouds are still gathering?
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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Bach goes nicely with Pacific Grace

Review by Jennifer Shennan 29th Mar 2009

"Clouds Dispersing…"

Black Grace choreographer/director, Neil Ieremia, was provoked by the somewhat ill-judged report by academic Greg Clydesdale which questioned Pacific Islanders’ economic contribution to New Zealand. Clydesdale had further spurious claims about how to teach students what Bach’s music is all about.

Fortunately for us, Ieremia has a rather better handle on both subjects and this choreography triumphs as a portrayal of his journey away from anger, through sadness, poetry leavened with humour, being led by larger-than-life photographs into a clearing where dancers can leap to affirm life on everyone’s behalf, all dna considerations long sidelined.

Cook Island drumming ignites a group prologue with its arm motifs resonating as Pacific dance gesture to song text, and recurring throughout the 70 min. work.  

Tongan chants accompany the dutiful attendance at church in a truly beautiful canon of turning and tumbling off, on, along and under the pews, as though is search of prayer that really means something. Amene.

There is Samoan fa’ataupati, some slapstick humour, a fuataime conducting his choir, and many other Pacific fragments spliced in to the first section, ‘Exodus’, that sees migration to a new land.  The second section, ‘Land of the Song Sung Loud’, has scenes of life and play and Elvis and Bruce Lee, with striking giant jigsaw chunks of photos by Marti Friedlander of beautiful young Pacific Island New Zealanders. 

Come the third section and apotheosis, ‘Keep Honour Bright’, these cuts are slowly danced, to Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’, to connect into a fine full picture. More eloquent cross-over of visual and danced imagery would be hard to find.

The ten fully charged dancers all give strong performances. Long ago, in this same theatre, Ieremia and Lisa Densem  performed an extraordinary duet in the shadowy centre of Douglas Wright’s iconic work, ‘Forever’. It lasted all night, or at least 20 minutes, which has to be a marathon. Its tender lyricism within waves of torrid eroticism remains timeless in my memory, and will also have etched into the consciousness of the performers. Wright’s way of leaping to clutch and catch the air has become part of Ieremia’s dance dna, and stands as fine tribute to them both. Measure that, Dr. Clydesdale. O fanatu e.  


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Energy, precision, athleticism and power

Review by Jo Thorpe 28th Mar 2009

Neil Ieremia’s latest work for Black Grace is a triumph – lovingly crafted and danced with passion and commitment.

Much has already been written and said about the catalyst for Gathering Clouds: Ieremia’s anger at claims made about Pacific Islanders and his desire to respond to those (false) claims through dance.  Yet, contrary to the menacing publicity photos which show Ieremia – masked, clad completely in black (suit, shirt, tie, leather gloves) and holding a carved ceremonial stick, while behind him dancers, armed with a club, gun and stick, inflict violence on their victims – Gathering Clouds is not a dark work. 

Yes, we see the name of the NZ ship which brought a deadly flu virus to Samoa in 1918 and wiped out nearly 20% of the Samoan population.  Yes, there are references to missionaries destroying Samoan religion. And yes, we hear the knocks at the door during the infamous dawn raids.

But none of this is in-your-face polemic.  Rather, Gathering Clouds is rich with allusion. When dancers cross the stage pushing huge jigsaw pieces illustrated with children’s faces, we know these are parts of a puzzle which can be put back together, given the will.  When cross-hatch lighting depicts a woven mat on the stage, we sense a desire to bind together. And when Ieremia finally takes off his black mask, we feel the time has come to stop hiding behind a disguise and celebrate identity. 

There are hymns and prayers, blessings and recurring motifs – as in the running sequence symbolising perseverance, and in the photos of laughing children coming out of school, running across the playground towards some bright moment.  And what could be more affirming than the title of the third section: ‘Keep Honour Bright’?

Visual and linguistic allusion aside, there is, above all, the dance.  From the opening sequence in which five males perform in superb unison, to the uplifting, leaping finale, Gathering Clouds impresses with its energy, precision, athleticism and power.  These have always been the hallmarks of Black Grace.  For many years, it was an all-male company and this year, three female dancers bring a welcome softness – not only through the red-gold light in which they are often bathed, but through their different movement vocabulary with its curve and flow, lift and arch. 

In Gathering Clouds the choreography is driven by the music.  Cook Island drumming, Tongan chants and the resonant singing in harmony of unaccompanied hymns (oh to have heard them live!) define the first section.  Next there are songs from the incomparable Elvis.  And finally, Bach’s Goldberg Variations.  

Dizzying leaps, hurls, spins and tumbles contrast with moments of controlled stillness – as in the humorous  ‘snapshots’ of a 1970’s party in which the flirting and coupling (between 2 women and four men) changes as the party progresses.  There are tableaux and a moving frieze; jerky, angular movements, and those which are sculptural and flowing.  There is the irony of Elvis Presley’s Peace in the Valley accompanying a dance of fear and incipient violence. And there is a Samoan slap dance to Bach.

Indeed, Bach would be staggered by Ieremia’s translation of every phrase of his complex music into physical form. Towards the end, excited little backward jumps in rapid succession give way to a slow walk forwards, with all the dancers lined up in a row and beautifully lit.  And then the raw physicality and energy returns as all eight, in full flight, fill the stage.

There are moments when I find the movement vocabulary a little repetitive, and some of the costumes by Zambesi unflattering, but these are minor quibbles.  Ieremia is a charismatic performer and as conductor / preacher in the ‘church scene’, power and music seem to course through his every muscle.  In a very moving sequence, the singing, dancing worshippers begin to drop away from high off their pews in breathtaking, dangerous free fall.

If, as I believe, art teaches a way of looking, then Gathering Clouds shows a slice of NZ through Ieremia’s finely-tuned Samoan / Kiwi eyes.  We learn things.  We are reminded of a past.  We are shown a possible future.  And all the while, we are treated to moving and impressive dancing. 


Celine Sumic March 28th, 2009

As I watched Gathering Clouds unfold, it seemed to me that the choreographer had made a detailed study of the shifting colour and character of clouds which he appears to have consciously employed as an aesthetic weave for this work.  I felt the varied costumes successfully supported this effect as dancers alternate between narrative elements and more abstract references ranging from lyrical, dreamy softness to cumulative sombre-toned billows to the gilded dissolve of dusk.

Interestingly, Neil’s cameo appearance has him looking strangely vulnerable while also threatening, despite /because of his mixed metaphor ‘disguise.’  Presenting at the same time a leader, a man in mourning, a vengeful hit-man, a superhero and a sophisticated businessman, in the one image I perceive power, responsibility, grief, regret, anger, mal-intent, courage, good intent, strength, capacity and knowledge.  What really delivers on this image though is how Ieremia then dances in this outfit to Elvis, with all the power of his years, but in such a way that I also picture him dancing as a teenage boy in front of his bedroom mirror..

In this way, Ieremia reveals himself - flawed, forceful and vulnerable under our shared, eternally changing sky.

Nice one Neil.

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Beauty vies with puzzling choices

Review by Bernadette Rae 28th Mar 2009

Neil Ieremia’s new work, a response to Dr Greg Clydesdale’s discussion paper and its negative and subsequently discredited conclusions on the impact of Pacific Island migration, is a mixed bag.

The new company are extraordinary and breathtaking in full flight. Full of grace at speed, they hurl and bounce and leap and roll and collide and evade and soar and earth and soar again. When a gentler pace is required they control and balance and hold and defy gravity in a more subtle but just as impressive way. [More]


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