Neil Ieremia is a hard man to pin down.
Not least because he’s just become a father (again) but between choreographing his latest work, As Night Falls, he’s also collaborating with a dance company in Taiwan.
“My daughter is only 15 weeks old,” he says, arriving at our interview flushed and out of breath. “I was supposed to have flown out to Taiwan last week but I couldn’t leave – not just yet.”
Literally cradling multiple worlds, Ieremia’s comments reflect his approach to his latest work. As artistic director of Black Grace, one of New Zealand’s premiere dance companies, he has been provided, by As Night Falls, with an opportunity to explore, investigate and push boundaries. It has involved plunging into the darkest cracks of our humanity to emerge, surprisingly, with a refreshingly light work.
“I’ve been thinking about this piece for a long time and I’ve been really concerned with what’s happening both in New Zealand and internationally,” Ieremia says.
“Yes, there’s the cost of housing in this country and its impact – the added pressures on our social services, the widening gap between those who have and those without – but also the realisation that although we feel far away from the rest of the world, we are, in fact, so deeply connected and at a human level that has a profound impact on us.”
After surrounding himself with tension and conflict-riddled stimuli, Ieremia realised there was a point at which he had simply had enough.
“Out of something quite dark, this work has started taking shape,” he says. “The vocabulary is drawn from my thinking about these images, these stories, and in the midst of it all, I found I wanted to lift myself from that heaviness. I believe this is my exchange: beauty for ashes.”
As Night Falls has multiple strands with the potential to offer genuine introspection, thoughtful reflections and thought-provoking commentary. It’s an hour-long piece marked by a very particular approach, one that isn’t new but specific to how Ieremia wishes to choreograph the latest addition to Black Grace’s repertoire.
“Together we’re creating a world that simultaneously has physicality, narrative, theme and concept; and equally, nothing except trails and traces and the wonders of what the imagination can suggest.”
It’s a quiet moment and suddenly his phone rings. He quickly apologises, explaining it’s his colleague from Taiwan for their morning meeting. Even halfway across the world, thanks to videos and face-to-face interaction, art is being created.
“I’d never really thought about how technology can hold so many stories simultaneously,” he muses, “but that’s part of the world we have built. There is so much stimuli and imagery that it can overwhelm us … if we choose to let it.”
It’s clear that this work has been carefully crafted. Colour is essential to layering its various conversations and Ieremia describes the world they’re creating as one full of “gentle colours, yet with fabrics and textures that are surprisingly resilient”. He is also the costume designer, a process that after his last stint with the Royal New Zealand Ballet for Salute, he has embraced.
“I’ve got confidence in my choices when it comes to costumes. It’s not bold but the fabrics are soft and light and quite a mixture from different cultures.”
This is further aided by Ieremia’s choice of music, predominantly Vivaldi.
“I don’t have as much time to just sit alone and listen to music,” he says, “but in between swapping from Muddy Waters and old school hip-hop to Gareth Farr and John Psathas, Vivaldi was just there.”