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