Black Grace, New Zealand's Leading Contemporary Dance Company, Makes Portland Debut with Thrilling Program Blending Samoan Movement and Contemporary Dance



Who: Black Grace, Artistic Director Neil Ieremia
Presented by: White Bird
When: Tuesday, February 19, 7:30 pm
Where: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, Portland
Sponsors: Marc Walters, Gary Nelson & Minh Tran and The Oregonian
Tickets: $26-$64 available at and at PCPA Box (ZERO ticket fees).  Also available at 1-800-380-3516 (additional fees will apply).
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“Black Grace has what it takes – energy, artistry and depth.
- NZ Listener


White Bird is proud to present the Portland debut of New Zealand’s acclaimed Black Grace on Tuesday, February 19 at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall with a program blending Samoan ceremonial movement and contemporary dance. Based in Auckland and under the artistic direction of Neil Ieremia, Black Grace is New Zealand’s leading contemporary dance company and has held a unique position on the world stage for over 17 years with its powerful ensemble of Samoan and Maori dancers,  many of whom transitioned to dance from an athletic background. The term black in the company name Black Grace refers to courage in the New Zealand Māori/Pacific Islander argot of the 1980s.  Neil Ieremia’s distinctive choreography incorporates elements of slap dancing, which include speaking, singing and slapping the bodies.  Germany’s Main Post has called Black Grace “a thrilling bond between ceremonial dances…and an athletic form of modern dance.”


Black Grace is the inspiration of White Bird’s 13th Outreach Project with Portland Public Schools, which will include a multi-disciplinary on-line curriculum on the theme of “Indigenous Cultures in New Zealand and Australia,” culminating in a free student performance for PPS at the Schnitzer on February 20 (this is not open to the public).


Black Grace’s evening program on February 19 will begin with Pati Pati, which uses body percussion influenced by traditional Samoan Sasa (seated dance) and Fa’ataupati (slap dance).  Movement segments, dance phrases and motifs have evolved from past full-length works, including  Relentless, inspired by children’s hand games as well as gestures taken from personal stories about child abuse (1998); the self-titled debut season piece Black Grace, a work exploring male stereotyping in the Pacific (1995); Fia Ola, a piece about the challenges Pacific Islanders face when they leave their traditional homes to settle in New Zealand (1998); and Amata, a work choreographed for 12 women (2007).


Next up is Amata Act 3 – “o le amataga fou” (a new beginning),  an excerpt from a full-length work entitled Amata, which premiered at the Auckland Arts Festival in 2007 and marked a significant change in the history of Black Grace.  Originally featuring a cast of 12 women, Amata explored the theme of change with a compositional structure and floor patterns based on Samoan fine mats know as “ie toga”.  The mat’s linear nature and weave pattern can also be found in the movement vocabulary, which is composed of various versions of a basic language phrase derived from letters, spoken conversations, arguments and apologies.


The evening concludes with Vaka that uses the idea of a raft as a metaphor for hope.  It was inspired by The Raft video installation by Bill Viola and the controversial portrayal of Maori explorers in the infamous painting The Arrival of the Maoris in New Zealand by Louis J. Steele and Charles F. Goldie 1898.  As Neil Ieremia explains, “The journey of every vaka (canoe) faces challenges and danger as it navigates towards an often unknown future.  We are constantly asked to evolve and adapt in order to survive.  How much of ourselves do we allow to change?  The question I was struck with when I considered The Raft was ‘why does it often take a disaster or life threatening events for humans to demonstrate humanity?”


Black Grace Founder and Artistic Director Neil Ieremia is in the vanguard of New Zealand's most accomplished choreographers and his vision has imbued Black Grace with an explosive mix of rhythm, spirit and energy.  Forming Black Grace in 1995 after working with many of New Zealand's leading dance companies, Neil has choreographed all of the Company’s major full-length works and created the concepts behind “New Works”, “Black Grace & Friends” and “UrbanYOUTHMovement”.  Neil has also choreographed work for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Opera New Zealand.  In 2003 he was nominated for the prestigious international Rolex Mentor Programme and in 2005 received the Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award.  In 2009 Neil accepted a Resolution passed by the Guam Legislator in recognition of his work in Guam.  Neil is a 2009 recipient of the Paul D. Fleck Fellowship in the Arts from The Banff Centre, Canada.


Black Grace is New Zealand’s leading contemporary dance company and has held a unique position on the world stage for over 17 years.  Fusing Pacific and contemporary dance in an extraordinary and dynamic form, Black Grace has become internationally renowned for its artistry, creative excellence and innovation, while also becoming the world’s leading exponent of Pacific contemporary dance.  Black Grace has toured extensively throughout New Zealand and internationally to audience and critical acclaim, performing at New Zealand’s ‘100% Pure’ event in Sydney, the Aichi World Expo, Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Noumea, New Caledonia, the Tram Theatre in Tokyo and the Vancouver Cultural Olympiad, Canada plus multi-performance stops in the US, Canada, Switzerland and Germany. In 2009 the Guam Humanities Council invited Black Grace to lead a series of workshops and hold discussions and performances for the people of Guam, and on a recent tour, the Mayor of Honolulu, Hawaii officially proclaimed February 6, 2010 “Black Grace Day” in Honolulu. 


White Bird’s 15th season (2012–2013) is supported by the Regional Arts & Culture Council and Work for Art, The James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, PGE Foundation, The Jaffe Foundation, Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon Cultural Trust, Starseed Foundation, Trust Management Services, and Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation.

White Bird’s 13th Annual Outreach Project with Portland Public Schools is supported by a major grant from PGE Foundation, with additional support from Trust Management Services, Regional Arts & Culture Council,  Oregon Cultural Trust, Target, Multnomah County Cultural Coalition, Eric Wan and Michele Goodman Fund of The Oregon Community Foundation, Edwards Lienhart Family Foundation and Portland Center for the Performing Arts.