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Flash Review, 9-19: Men at Work
Gusto for Dance from Black Grace

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2005 Maura Nguyen Donohue

NEW YORK -- Pacific Islanders, fringe members of the Asian-American dialogue, have often served as my best antidote to the emasculated Asian male image in this country. Gotta love The Rock. Black Grace, an all-male company of predominantly Pacific Island and Maori descent running at the New Victory Theater through October 9, is currently providing ample opportunity to see some seriously hard-bodied virility in 'skirts.' These guys, led by artistic director Neil Ieremia, are blasting apart all kinds of notions about men and dance.

The program, as seen yesterday afternoon, opens with a song and a piece inspired by a traditional Samoan dance known as "Sa sa" -- which, considering the influence of the ferocious Maorian haka, is a name suitably shared with my daughter. "Fa'a Ulutao" is one excerpt from a work about the four traditional symbols of the Samoan tattoo. The dance is full of jumping and rolling bodies, both bound and explosive energies captured like a rugby game without those troublesome scrums. "Minoi," Ieremia's signature work, blends traditions of voice and body with contemporary dance and deftly brings tribal modes to the concert stage with authenticity and vibrant joy. The dancers perform a variation on the Fa'ataupati (Samoan slap dance) in taut, rapid-fire motions, punctuating with voice, hands and feet before bursting into a frenzy of ecstatic bouncing. "Deep Far" is a pulsing, geometric work for four men who continuously rotate positions in a windy, circling dance. Choreographically speaking, the final dance of the first half, "Open Letter," is the most compelling and complex, though perhaps not the most accessible for the Sunday matinee family audience I was a part of. Ironically, it was created by Ieremia in collaboration with two women. Guest dancers Abby Crowther and Desiree Westerlund perform with a power and fluidity that the men don't reveal during the first half of the program despite rigorous, athletic movement and impressive musculature. With soft, fine hair tossed about like an additional limb the two women dance with violent attack through rapid shifts and partnering while achieving lines with clarity and grace.

The second half of the program continues away from traditional inspirations, positing Black Grace as a first rate modern dance company and not merely an exotic token of adapted Polynesian Cultural Center style fusion fare. "Human Language," a kinetic response to two paintings by Pablo Picasso, begins with playful gags during which Sam Fuataga, Sean MacDonald, Tamihana Paurini, Daniel Cooper, Jeremy Poi, Taane Mete and Ueta Siteine blow up and pop balloons as Crowther, Westerlund and Natalie Hona each perform short solos. The dance is fun and flirtatious. The women, in summery feminine dresses and pony-tailed hair, are bright and beautiful outbreaks of color. The gender play is simple and safe in a guys 'n' gals kinda way -- pretty and fluid next to rough and tumble. But here everyone is strong and energetic. The program ends with "Method," a dance originally commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, set to Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G." This is simply an excellent dance showcasing the company of men as technically proficient dancers and strong guys. It is filled with running entrances and exits and constantly flying bodies. There is such fervent festiveness in everything they do that I wish we could tour this company to small towns across the globe and incite fathers everywhere to let their sons dance.

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