In his programme notes, Artistic director Neil Ieremia confesses that like an ‘ageing rocker’ he is reluctant to present a retrospective to celebrate Black Grace’s twentieth anniversary. But what he does, with all the finesse and sophistication that contemporary dance demands, is bring together the narrative strands that have shaped the company and its history for the last two decades.
SIVA is therefore a testament, to the artists and the company, but most importantly to the whanau and families of those who have supported this journey.
The 90 minute production begins in dimness. This is the first section. Peter Langford’s low hanging angular clouds hover gently over a set of creasing, pulsing bodies. The movements are quick and then slow, utterly mesmerizing in their specificity and the silhouettes painted in a range of dusky oranges, browns and yellows are exquisitely burnished by Paul Lim’s delicate lighting design. Hovering over this breathing, birthing and breaking through are the powerful voices of the choir, their powerful acapella renditions cradling a new world that is ushering in her children. Under the brilliant direction of Natassia Wolfgramm, warm voices hold this opening scene and set the tone of what will prove to be a rare and beautifully curated series of vignettes.
Each section, as they are described in the programme, is unique and takes the audience on a journey to explore the self. The master tattooist and his ink (the eight dancers) fly across the stage as they weave and stamp, leap and fly off the giant river stones all set against a backdrop of oceanic power. The wave animation that lights up the scrim in the next section is perfectly matched to the rising and flexing of the dancers’ bodies as we reconceive how insignificant we are in contrast to the mightiness of nature. This particular section has multiple endings; dropping beneath the surface of the water with some beautiful underwater shots and a final gasping breadth. Each one is beautiful in its own right but the finale didn’t need all three.
Following interval, the final section epitomises Ieremia’s ability to honour the past and embrace the potential of the future. Those geometric shapes have now risen, fallen and formed urban cityscape a free and beautiful tension where change is constant. The juxtaposition of the choir (once again impeccably lit) and the literal flowering of graffiti across the stage (Peap Tarr and Lisa Mann) takes this finale right into the future. Minoi Minoi is unequivocally the highlight of the show. Against the vivid colours Black Grace’s fa’ataupati (slap dance) and various elements of other forms of contemporary dance create not a fusion, but a throbbing, rich and holistic climax that propels the audience to their feet. All eight dancers are worthy of being lauded, each offering a committed and compelling performance that does Ieremia’s vision all the justice it deserves.
Often such works, especially when they draw deeply from specific cultural practices become recognisable ‘exploration of cultural identity’ – but in this embodied testament, Ieremia offers not just a glimpse, but a beautifully composed frame of how that future will manifest.
Tonight is closing night but will be followed by 20 for 20 where the company will perform in 20 venues from Kaitaia to Oamaru for just $20.00 per ticket. This will begin two days after Siva’s final performance tonight and encapsulates the commitment of the company to share their talent, strength and gifts with the length and breadth of the country.