Siva - Black Grace
6 November 2015, Aotea Centre - Auckland
Reviewed by Francesca Horsley
The sea in all its moods is a link between Neil Ieremia’s works in his company, Black Grace’s, 20th anniversary work Siva.
It washes over in a soft soundtrack; it swirls through a rocky shore in a looping film clip, and in a clever video, stylised waves (galu) lick at the edges of the performance frame. Finally it nearly obliterates all, as a giant wave animation referencing a woodcut by Japanese artist, Hokusai, crashes over the dancers, sending them into the watery depths. But arresting AV is just one of the distinctive trademarks that make up Ieremia’s legacy. Others are power-packed physicality, off-beat humour, muscular super-sized sets, inventive musical riffs - and the Pacific.
After 20 years of making dances as artistic director of Black Grace, there is no doubting his strong bond to his ancestral homeland, Samoa. A mix of mythology, tradition, ritual and personal inspiration brings his South Pacific world to life.
While not a retrospective, Siva celebrates the company’s signature works - Surface, Minoi, Waka - in a programme carefully chosen to represent his, and the company’s, own development. Although the works span two decades of creativity, the shape and design of each section is carefully woven into an organic whole. For audiences new to his work, it is a cohesive programme; for others a chance to revisit old favourites. It is rich and beautifully rendered.
Siva begins with a Pacific creation story. Light captures sculptured bodies lying prone, that heave and turn, and then freeing themselves from each other and the floor, they separate as the new day flows in.
In Surface, abstract representations of the traditional tattoo process and design, (Saemutu and Lausae), giant river stones provide the platform for high action and explosive physicality, as dancers fly like the ink tapped into the skin, crouching and sliding over the stones.
Waka, a clever integration of the destructive impact of the colonisation of Māori, and their remarkable renaissance, features dancers in soft, flowing movement, in balletic style, as the sea roars around them.
In reference to Black Grace’s youth dance project, UrbanYOUTH Movement, outsized plinths and blocks are rearranged into architectural representations which act as launching pads for dancers to propel themselves - catching, throwing, circling and falling; quintessential Black Grace.
An acapella chorus ushers in each section, with glorious harmonies composed and arranged by Nastassia Wolfgramm and Millie Grant. The singers populate the stage with a powerful sense of community - empathetic, passionate, mournful, adding depth and humanity to the programme.
The finale Minoi, featuring a remarkable AV projection, is a beautiful rendition of growth, change, regeneration, focusing on a new born child anchored in the present, and a simultaneous journey into adulthood. The backdrop, a multi-flora mural, gradually explodes across the back wall, symbolising the increasing richness of creative endeavour. The movement flows in and around the mural, at one with its vibrant energy. Minoi is a tour de force, a tight ensemble work of muscle, song and sinew. In a powerful rendition of traditional dance, the dancers slap, clap, stretch and crouch bringing the audience to their feet.
The programme is a celebration – not only of Ieremia’s choreography and dedication, but also the rich heritage that has made Black Grace such an iconic dance group for the past 20 years. Much of the credit must go to the company’s dancers who have delivered on the challenging choreography, performing at a consistently high standard of work year in, year out. This is an extraordinary achievement and an exemplar for other New Zealand dance companies. Especially impressive is the grace and energy of Sean MacDonald, a foundation member of the company in 1995, and still a commanding presence on the stage in 2015.
The programme features first rate production values – costume, lighting, AV, and music sourced from talented Pasifika artists, including contributions from Ieremia - giving each work added lustre and character. Siva is vintage Black Grace – an authentic voice that enriches our sense of place, celebrating the stories that give texture and meaning to our identity as island people of the South Pacific.
Black Grace’s national 20 for 20 tour runs from 10 November to 6 December