Contemporary dance group Black Grace set for series of performances at 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe
UK debut by New Zealand's leading company combines traditional Samoan fa'ataupati slap dance with Western choreographic techniques
This article is from 2014.
Founded by choreographer Neil Ieremia in 1995, Black Grace draws upon Ieremia’s roots as a New Zealand-born Samoan for many of its themes and much of its style. His aim with the company is to create work accessible enough ‘so that someone who knows nothing about dance can walk in and enjoy themselves, and yet the choreography’s so layered that dance-goers can appreciate the rhythms and composition.’
Most of the company members coming to Edinburgh are New Zealanders with various backgrounds: Samoan, Tongan, Maori and even Scottish, plus two guest performers from the USA. How does he select them? ‘I look for the technical ability you’d expect,’ he says, ‘but, most importantly, also a good attitude.’
Ieremia will steer them through a mixed bill of short works expressed with a richly physical raw power and flair. The oldest, dating from 1999 and based on a nursery rhyme, combines the traditional fa’ataupati (or slap dance) with Western choreographic techniques. Another, featuring seated body percussion, taps into male stereotyping in the Pacific.
‘I grew up in Porirua, just outside the capital city of Wellington,’ Ieremia explains. ‘It was a tough, working-class environment, so you can imagine how difficult it was as a young male to be interested in dance. Pacific and New Zealand men are supposed to be farmers, hunters and labourers, not dancers!’
The rest of the programme balances a high-impact tribute to Ieremia’s mum in amongst political edginess and a fantastically romantic take on gender differences. About the latter Ieremia says, ‘For the first seven years of Black Grace, I only worked with male dancers. Then, in 2002, I brought three women into the studio. The effect was incredible. All of a sudden the guys were behaving differently, looking after themselves. The studio smelt better too.’
Assembly Roxy, 623 3030, 2–22 Aug, 7.20pm, £14--£15 (£13--£14). Previews 30 Jul--1 Aug, £10.