Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 12, 2010

Black Grace Dance Company

UMass, Amherst, MA
by Amy Meek
March 9, 2010

"I am proud to be a Pacific Islander, a Samoan. Equally, I am proud to be a New Zealander, a Kiwi...Despite our struggles, it is in this land and under these Gathering Clouds where I will learn, live and love." These words from choreographer Neil Ieremia are used to describe one of the dances in the program by the Black Grace Dance Company, but they can just as easily summarize the content of the entire show. Ieremia's work fuses his native Samoan roots with his acquired Westernized training to create a unique and vibrant dance form. The dances reflected elements of Samoan culture as well as those of nature and family.

The dancers' movements were athletic, yet artistic -- alternating fluid with percussive moments. The troupe manipulated rhythms through the use of the traditional Samoan dance called Fa'ataupati, in which they furiously slapped their hands together and on their bodies in unison to create complex sounds along with vocalizations. This dance was an intense moment -- amazing to watch as the speed and precision with which the dancers moved was lightening fast.

One of the highlights was Ieremia's personal commentary about every piece in the program. It is not often that the choreographer speaks directly to the audience about his experience in creating the dances, but his insights gave those in attendance wonderful vision into his process. He spoke of the challenges of growing up in his Pacific Island culture and his desire to defend that culture from societal criticisms. His words and choreography showed hope amid change and the celebration of a changing culture of people.