POWERFUL STUFF BEHIND IEREMIA’S STRUGGLE
Auckland Festival AK07|
Amata - Black Grace
choreographer: Neil Ieremia
at Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington
From 18 Apr 2007 to 21 Apr 2007
Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan, 19 Apr 2007
originally published in The Dominion Post
The work starts with a solo by Ieremia, a careful sequence contrasting sustained gestures from kava-making ritual with the breathing-out of Tai Chi. You supply your own subtitles, though several clues are there. There's a taut, pent-up emotion of bitterness about colonial white man, with curious props ( Bugs Bunny mask and a faded party dress in an old trunk). Then emerges from the trunk another male dancer ( Luke Hanna) who dances a kind of alter-ego. It's strong stuff and we can tell a struggle of some sort is going on. Ieremia's open-shirt costume allows us to see the scar of evidence of his open-heart surgery. This is not make-up and it seems like a metaphor to me.
All hell then breaks loose with a team of twelve lithe and sinewy, petite but powerful females who deliver an hour-long storm of relentless pump after stylized wave of a dance. They first seemed like red platelets in the bloodstream of someone frantically fighting for survival. They run, jump, twist, turn, fall and stand up, fall and stand up, fall and stand up ... ( I wanted to whisper "Save some of this precious stamina for your later years, dears" but they wouldn't have heard me). I can only describe the dance as one big red sasa.
The sasa is a traditional Samoan dance in which a troupe of seated performers executes a succession of quickfire gestures that flash and flick and sweep and swoop at dazzling speeds, so that individuals become one great pulsing creature that is somehow more than the sum of its parts. The drum is heartbeat. There's political allegory in it too: "If we can dance together like this, imagine what else we can do together."
Occasional songs and quotes ( from Albert Wendt, and from John Pule) allowed a lyrical or contemplative moment, but mostly the astonishing stamina and speed of these dancers carried the performance, till all Heaven broke loose with Diane Cooper's haunting setting of Hine e Hine.
All of us are the stronger for acknowledging that there is a major artistic artery in Ieremia's work which leads back to the groundbreaking dance made by Douglas Wright whose company he danced in and from whom he learned a great deal of his craft. High leaps with dancers pedalling their way through the air, tosses of a vertical dancer even higher aloft, catapult throws of horizontal bodies that then land and roll and recover as though the floor were air. These are some of the hallmark athletic acts of daring that have given New Zealand contemporary dance its international reputation. Amata is adding to that achievement.
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Dawn Sanders QSM