Reviewed by Malcolm Calder
Life – O Le Olaga Dances
By Neil Ieremia
Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre
Wellington 6 Sept
Christchurch 10 Sept
Reviewed by Malcolm Calder
After being stymied for two or three years though lockdowns, travel restrictions and other constraints our world-leading contemporary dance company is back in Tamaki Makaurau. And back in a big way.
With a gentle, humble and humorous backgrounder from Neil Ieremia the performance opens with the physically percussive Handgame, an excerpt from his 1995 gem Relentless. This attention-grabbing entrée immediately brings the sellout audience into Black Grace’s Samoan world. Featuring Lorde’s Royals, it harks back to Ieremia’s own background growing up in Porirua.
The second work, Fatu (Heart), a New Zealand premiere, is inspired by an artwork gifted from eminent visual artist Fatu Akelei Feu’u (ONZM) and performed to an original soundtrack including live drumming by Isitolo Alesana and the vocal colours of Te Vaka.
Interestingly, the three swirling colours derived from Fatu’s original are a delicious contrast to the straight lines and clear definition of more traditional Samoan art. Here fluid bodies become things of beauty constantly in motion and the three key colours of the artwork meld into a single swirling unity. It is light, it floats and it is filled with joy, freedom and exhilaration. It is brilliant.
The final work and a further New Zealand premiere is Black Grace’s latest work, O Le Olaga (Life). This a deeper piece that reimagines Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria in D Major and is a tribute to Neil Ieremia’s own parents. Black Grace brings this to Aotearoa after triumphant seasons at the internationally-renowned Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts and at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan.
Life addresses the obstacles, hurdles and obstacles confronted, overcome and adopted by his family, celebrates their life and their journey through time. He sees himself as a survivor from a place where cultures have collided, and it is through this lens that he has been inspired to collect and reorganise elements of beauty, rhythm and ever-present music. These are illustrated through the explosion of colour and pattern found in his mother’s dresses, the pride with which his father reveals his traditional tattoo when he dances, the murmuring of nightly prayers and the cracking of voices as hearts are lifted in traditional hymns of praise.
Vivaldi’s Gloria in D Major forms an achingly joyful and triumphant environment that becomes a hymn of praise and worship dividing the work into natural movements that range from profound sadness to festive brilliance. Quite fittingly O Le Olaga was rewarded with a standing ovation.
The design and lighting of JAX Messenger is a large part of these three works, the Auckland Gospel Choir also feature and company has again partnered with Zambesi in costume design.
It has been a significant couple of weeks for Samoan art and Samoan artists in Tamaki Makaurau with three productions taking place over two weeks. Each is different, each is significant and each can stand proudly on the world stage.
Black Grace matou te fa’aaloalo ma fa’afetai.