Galvanising introduction to one of New Zealand’s finest at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
This article is from 2014.
'Mighty impressive' would be among the first things to say about this collage of excerpts from the work of the Samoan choreographer Neil Ieremia. Next would come words like dynamic, layered and propulsive.
Black Grace was founded nearly two decades ago as an all-male company. Ieremia has in the interim been developing a bold, distinctive signature that filters cultural traditions through a contemporary Western dance sensibility. For the company’s UK debut he’s chosen seven pieces which he introduces himself. I’ve heard some complaints about the bittiness of this approach, but the format didn’t bother me. Not when the compositional patterns are as strong as they are here, and the dancing so exemplary and full-throttle.
Black Grace is a mixed group now, with three compact, tightly-wound women holding their own amidst a handful of taut-figured men. Ieremia keeps them moving in an exhilaratingly alert, lightning-struck style. The use of body percussion, a speciality of his people, is more than mere novelty; it could be a declaration of flesh, bone and spirit.
Executed with fierce precision, it crops up early in the programme among striking samples of older repertoire. Ieremia later began moving beyond outright references to his native culture. Totem channels the rocketingly visceral energy of Jimi Hendrix’s classic track ‘Voodoo Child’ with galvanising results. Ieremia’s dancers are exciting to watch even if I wearied of his choreographic overdrive before this hour with Black Grace was over. A piece set to Bach didn’t do much for me; it felt pushed without good reason. Ieremia occasionally relinquishes his killer instincts.
For a dance about fundamental gender differences he adopted a more light-hearted, comic attitude, evident in the use of balloons both as a symbol for breasts and a metaphor for male desire. The bottom line is I’d jump at a chance to see this company again.
Assembly Roxy, 623 3030, until 22 Aug, 7.20pm, £14–£15 (£13–£14).