Thursday, March 14, 2013

Basic Black

Like many in the city who went underground following the collective fever dream that was the 2010 Winter Olympics, I missed the New Zealand dance company Black Grace when they came through as part of the Vancouver International Dance Festival that year. Fortunately, VIDF co-producers Barbara Bourget and Jay Hirabayashi brought them back for this year's festival, and so last night Richard and I braved the rain and made our way to the Playhouse to take in their work.

Founded in 1995 by Artistic Director and chief choreographer Neil Ieremia, Black Grace combines contemporary dance with traditional Pacific (chiefly Samoan) movement scores to create an explosive and intensely rhythmic style. This was certainly in evidence during the first two pieces on last night's program. Pati Pati, an amalgam of excerpts from older works in the company's repertoire, was highly percussive, featuring phrases built around clapping, body slapping, and vocal call and response. Likewise, the excerpt from Amata that followed took its basic compositional structure and the patterns of its floorwork from the weaves found in Samoan mats.

Following intermission, the company presented the full-length Vaka, which allowed the company to display more range in its movement vocabulary, including some delicate partnering and several graceful group lifts. While I felt the piece--like the entire program--was a little long, I was swept away by many of its sections, effectively enhanced by Bonnie Burrill's subtle lighting design and, in one stunning sequence, a series of panoramic projections.

I look forward to the company's next visit.


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