BLACK GRACE, Whangamata, Friday May 10

They do indeed have grace. And vitality, and muscularity, and a sense of drama and of humour. They are Black Grace, and this five strong dance troupe of young men and women presented the crowd in the Coromandel town of Whangamata with a bravura display. For my part I can say that over the course of an hour I was often smiling, on one occasion had tears streaming down my cheeks, and most of the time was left shaking my head in admiration at the ingenuity of the ideas and the excellence of their execution.

Introducing the performance, director Neil Ieremeia told the audience that this was a follow up to the original 20/20 tour, which was all about marking the group’s 20 year anniversary with tickets priced at $20 each. The dance troupe are soon to mark 25 years in the arts, and were going to spend some months preparing for a North American tour later this year. But after the events in Christchurch on March 15, they felt they needed to get out in the community and perform.

So we have a collection of dances performed to Bach, to Nina Simone, to Chaka Khan, and more besides. The stories behind the dances are not always easy to pin down, but giving the audience room for interpretation is surely the point. Given the impetus behind this tour is the trauma of the March 15 massacre, the dances often reach into dark places. But they seek some light, and resilience seems to be one of the themes in play.

In one dance, the troupe is kneeling, and move to get up but something hits them and they fall to the ground, only to get up again. But again they are struck down, and again they get up. This action is repeated for some time. It seems a clear expression both of the impact of trauma and of a refusal to submit to it. Another dance features the performers attempting to do head stands, and struggling to raise their bodies to the sky. Yet by dance’s end, they have succeeded, and the image of their heads down brought to mind the muslim prayer.

The most straightforward story was, for me at least, the most affecting. The two men, 24 year old Shane Tofaeono and 24 year old Rodney Tyrell, told the story of a son’s lament over the death of a father. It encapsulated the rebelliousness of youth and even though its gestures were often laced with humour, at its core it revealed  the love of a parent and the emptiness you are left with when that parent is gone. Its combination of movement and music nearly had me sobbing at one point and it was quite overwhelming. I found out later that none of the group grew up with fathers and all were raised by single mothers. I didn’t think the dance could have been more emotionally charged than when I watched it unfold before me, but learning this made it even more so.

In yet another dance 32 year Sarah Baron laughed her way through much of the story.  What did the laughter represent? Those around me had different opinions. Sometimes the story is presented to you, and sometimes you find the story yourself.

The dances themselves fused all manner of styles: ballet, martial arts (especially from 25 year old Demi-Jo Manolo, Maori (particularly from 22 Keana Ngaata) and modern dance moves, and straight out gymnastics. The pace doesn’t let up for the hour and apart from anything else you’re left in awe of the stamina and concentration of these young people.

It’s still early in the tour and Black Grace still have several towns to visit. They are great. Go see them.

The rest of the 20/20 tour:

11 May, 7:30pm
Raglan Town Hall

12 May, 6pm & 8pm
The Meteor

14 May, 6pm & 8pm
Baycourt Community & Arts Centre
* service fees will apply

15 May, 7:30pm
Ōhope Hall

16 May, 7:30pm
Gisborne War Memorial Theatre

17 May, 7:30pm
Henry Hill School

18 May, 7:30pm
Whanganui High School

19 May, 7:30pm
Otaki Memorial Hall

20 May, 7:30pm
Te Rauparaha Arena
* service fees may apply

Lower Hutt
22 May, 7:30pm
Little Theatre

24 May, 7:30pm
Motueka Memorial Hall

25 May, 7:30pm
Marlborough Boys’ College

27 May, 7:30pm
Papa Hou

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