Center for the Arts Presents New Zealand Dance Troupe Black Grace

Posted: March 4, 2010 at 1:17 pm

For more than 14 years, this troupe of male dancers from New Zealand called Black Grace has “rocked the house” with thundering stomps and syncopated body slaps, singing in beautiful three-part harmonies with movement that softly curves and sways.

The ensemble, with its fusion of traditional Pacific cultures and contemporary dance, will appear at the Center for the Arts Concert Hall on Saturday, March 6, at 8 p.m.

Black Grace will perform a program that includes “Fa’a Ulutao,” a dance that represents the courage and bravery of a young warrior; “Minoi,” a fusion of traditional Samoan dance and western contemporary dance as means of exploring cultural identity issues; “Gathering Clouds,” a response to a claim about Pacific Island immigrants made in a leading New Zealand newspaper, which caused a national uproar and a great divide within the country; and “Exodus,” a dance that celebrates the artistic and cultural traditions of Pacific Islanders and denotes the beginning of an important journey; among others.

The work is set to a unique soundtrack featuring everything from Samoan indigenous songs to classical music to hip hop.

Black Grace was founded by choreographer Neil Ieremia, a New Zealander of Samoan descent. He created the ensemble to bring a Pacific Island presence to the dance being created in New Zealand, which at the time was largely modern dance and ballet created and performed by European women and men living in the country.

The term “black” in the company’s name was Pacific Islander slang in the 1980s that means “courageous” or “brave.” “Grace” is a quality that Ieremia admires and to which he aspires.

Composed of men of Pacific Islander and Maori descent, the ensemble features seven robust dancers (and often a few guest female dancers) who do not fit the American prototype of a dancer. Nevertheless, their movement is filled with incredible athleticism and awe-inspiring beauty.

The Auckland-based group made its U.S. debut in 2004 at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshires. Black Grace’s appearance at the festival was also the subject of the PBS documentary “From Cannon’s Creek to Jacob’s Pillow.” The company has performed in New Zealand, Australia, Asia, Europe and North America to audience and critical acclaim.

Originally from New Zealand’s Cannon’s Creek in Porirua, Wellington, Ieremia began martial arts training at age 11 as a way to keep fit and stay out of trouble, and at age 19, he began training in modern dance and ballet at Auckland’s Performing Arts School. Shortly after he began his training, Ieremia was offered a job with the Douglas Wright Dance Company, which was the leading contemporary dance ensemble in New Zealand at the time.

In addition to his work with Black Grace, Ieremia has choreographed work for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Opera New Zealand, New Zealand Wearable Arts and the Holland Dance Festival.

He is the recipient of the prestigious Laureate Award from the Arts Foundation of New Zealand for outstanding creative achievement, as well as the Paul D. Fleck Fellowship in the Arts from The Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada.

A discussion, free to ticket holders, will begin 45 minutes prior to the performance on the Center’s Grand Tier III. Pre-performance discussions are sponsored by the Friends of the Center for the Arts.

Tickets are $42, $34 and $21. Charge by phone at 888-945-2468 or visit

Write to gazette at