Paradise Rumour

SKY CITY Theatre, Auckland

07/06/2023 - 07/06/2023

Production Details

Choreographed by Black Grace founding Artistic Director, Neil Ieremia
Paradise Rumour features six performers including dancers, Demi-Jo Manalo, Rodney Tyrell and
Faith Schuster. Original soundtrack by Anonymouz.
The work is also inspired by the poem Paradise Rumour by Neil Ieremia (2008);

Black Grace

Paradise Rumour which is choreographed by Black Grace founding Artistic Director, Neil Ieremia
(ONZM), was specially commissioned by Hoor Al Qasimi and Sharjah Art Foundation and will be
performed on Wednesday, June 7 at Auckland’s SkyCity Theatre.

Neil Ieremia says; “Paradise Rumour is an extension of my 2009 work Gathering Clouds, a
response to an economist’s discussion paper on Pacific migration titled “Growing Pains: The
valuation and cost of human capital and the impact of Pacific migration on the New Zealand
economy”. The Human Rights Commission released a review of Dr. Clydesdale’s paper titled
‘Pacific Peoples in New Zealand; review of the public controversy about a discussion paper on
immigration policy and the economic contribution of Pacific migrants to New Zealand’.

It foundthat the paper was poorly researched and prejudiced, I couldn’t help but feel that the damage
had already been done”.
Ieremia adds, “The provocation for Paradise Rumour, was based on the central question of, how
far have we really come since then?”
Paradise Rumour bounces back and forth through time and space, starting with the arrival of the
missionaries to the Pacific, and collecting memories, visions, experiences both personal and
Weaving together four separate parts of the same experience within the one person, the first
dancer represents hope + resistance, the second sorrow + acceptance, the third control +
release, and the fourth faith + crisis.
Paradise Rumour features six performers including dancers, Demi-Jo Manalo, Rodney Tyrell and
Faith Schuster. Original soundtrack by Anonymouz.
The work is also inspired by the poem Paradise Rumour by Neil Ieremia (2008);
Here come the skybreakers, god traders
renovating my culture to fit in an apartment box
with a flat screen and a flat nose
dressed in white with black book measles, muskets and blankets
Flavour said ‘fight the power’
hand vs. knife,
knife vs. gun,
gun vs. bigger gun vs. bigger bomb, vs. bigger budget vs. bigger dick, vs. nothing left
to touch, feel, eat, see, or love
I who am
Must assimilate, replicate, dislocate, shut the gate so the sheep don’t relocate
to Australia, where the tax rate is lower,
human rights is slower
I will return to her someday
I owe her

Paradise Rumour features six performers including dancers, Demi-Jo Manalo, Rodney Tyrell and
Faith Schuster. Original soundtrack by Anonymouz.

Pasifika contemporary dance , Contemporary dance , Dance-theatre , Dance ,

60 mins

The irrefutable force of continual cultural renaissance.

Review by Dr Mark James Hamilton 11th Jun 2023

This bold choreographic work by Neil Ieremia was commissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation and debuted in May at the Sharjah Biennial 15, UAE. It tours to the USA in early 2024. I was honoured to be invited by Black Grace to review their New Zealand premiere. Though I’ve lived in Aotearoa since ‘98 and I am long familiar with the company, I speak no Samoan. The lyrics of the work’s songs and nuances of cultural references elude me. So, what you read here is the perspective of a dancer, a British émigré, and manuhiri in the Pacific. 

From the production’s first moments, the lush music of Faiumu Matthew Salapu floods the auditorium with a monumental emotive sweep. There’s a pull like a big cinema score. So too, JAX Messenger’s saturated lighting washes the stage in Technicolor magenta, cerise, and cyan. The opening tableau formed by the company of dancers, fringed on both wings by giant potted palms, is in the same arresting movie-scale register. Tina Thomas’s costuming is ingenious. Only slowly could I verify that a cloud was floating where a woman’s head could be. A man crawls crab-like with a shower of arrows lodged in his back. A slight woman is wearing a bullseye target on her chest. Two veiled sentinels stand watch in the background – unmoving, preternaturally still, almost inanimate. Their spectral presence is a haunting thread in the performance. 

Over time, when the cloud dissolves and the arrows fall away, I come to see the central trio of dancers as a kind of family – not explicitly, but by inference, through their collusion and connections. This familial bond seems especially brought to the fore when the man and woman lift the target-marked dancer aloft (Demi-Jo Manalo). Her slight stature, in contrast to theirs, suggests she is their child. The weaving of relationships pitches these three together against a tall lean priest, who stalks the stage (and the ‘family’ themselves) wrapped up tight in his high-necked black frock coat. The priest seeks to exert control. He is all about ceasing things, like a stern guard. The sentinel figures are equally cloaked in darkness, yet in contrast to him, they wait by as guardians. The muted matt charcoal paint (coating their bare torsos, faces and arms) and their carefully controlled movements — carrying a kava bowl ceremoniously, slipping silently and smoothly through the space — resonate with rich possibilities. This potential comes slowly to fruition when they sing, acapella and sonorously, in the denouement.

It is a long and twisting journey to this poignant close. In the program notes, Ieremia shares his desire to uplift us all from the trough of post-pandemic. He gets us there via tough matters. Responding to anti-Pasifika xenophobic messaging was his creative starting point. He builds into the work the alarming sounds of the dawn raids — the rattling tattoo of sudden door knocking and the rasping of police dogs’ barking. A plumy voiceover tells us explicitly about the persecutory tactics employed at that time against Pasifika families. The voice goes on to name and decry the conversion missionaries who sought to erase older Samoan practices of faith and replace it with their Christianity. The inclusion of this explicit commentary makes clear the prejudices and cultural shifts that Ieremia wants to refute and critique. But the voice is an additional pointer, for the fight to throw off restraint is fully manifest in the big structures and detailed nuances of the choreography – it’s in the tensions, phrasing, rhythms and ellipses of the dance motifs. 

For so much of the performance, the dancers’ potential to flow is frustrated. With staccato shuffles, they edge across the floor. Like a set of still images, they jerk from point-to-point in broken gestures where fluid phrases might surge. They are halted in arresting attempts to gain impetus — caught in bound actions and held stuck in postures. There is constriction and restriction: sometimes the dancers are knotted. But they and their dance are never defeated. We see a continual project of resistance to refute the priest’s limiting instructions (he carries a sign demanding silence) and his invitations to assimilate (he offers the target-marked dancer a stack of stilettos to entrap her bare feet). In defiance of the priest, the ‘family’ push through to reach the flow that is invited by the pulsing beats and slick rifts surfacing in the score. The music’s call towards life lived more freely is met by the dancers. The priest’s commands are refuted, and they break into the lyrical release they have been pursuing. Indeed, the priest is converted himself. He half-removes his coat, tying it at his waist. Torso bare, he merges with the family. He joins in the dance. Lightness and ease surfaces. Something of a party emerges (a dancing on the barricades?), before the sentinels’ sonorous voices call. The focus lands in the anchoring gravity of the spot lit kava bowl, luminous in the darkened stage. About it gather the dancers, and the dance settles. The union of the ‘family’, the priest and the sentinels pulls the work’s tense narrative to the beginning of a resolution. The commanding song calls us to the deep message in the performance; the irrefutable force of continual cultural renaissance.


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