All that glitters is not gold [by Sharu Delilkan]
Having followed Black Grace almost as long as we have been here (over 13 years now), I have a vivid recollection of their 10th anniversary show held at the Viaduct a decade ago. At the time it was a new experience seeing Pacific and contemporary dance infused to such a high standard. It was also a great introduction to the world of dance in Aotearoa. But I digress.
Siva, a culmination of 20 years of excellence by Black Grace, was definitely a milestone that I’m sure everyone who has been religiously following them has been hanging out to see.
Siva – which is Samoan for dance – is indeed a percussive and strikingly beautiful work, rich in imagery and which undoubtedly acknowledges our ever-changing world.
With Neil Ieremia at the helm, the formidable team that has been assembled for this larger than life work has definitely left an indelible mark in my memory. But ironically it is the superb production values of the evening that has made this lasting impression.
From the minute we took our seats Peter Langford’s minimal yet effective set transported us into the desired subconscious world. Likewise Melbourne-based Paul Lim‘s dramatic lighting design complemented and heightened the on-stage ambience. Simon Barker‘s (Lotech) stunning audio-visual design was equally responsible for enhancing our experience of Siva. Cambodian-based visual artists Peap Tarr and Lisa Mam as well as James Duke‘s superb animation were perfect accompaniments for Barker‘s design. Fashion designer extraordinaire Lindah Lepou’s costumes were subtle yet stunning to say the least. A particular favourite were the costumes adorning the male dancers in the beach scene where they were emulating crab-like movements on large boulders. The way in which their costumes hugged their torsos accentuated each male dancer’s movement and the physicality impeccably.
The amazing sounds emanating from the melodious singers – Paul Fagamalo, Moses Maika, Moses Uhila, Karena Koria, Lavinia Uhila, Milly Grant and Mapihi Kelland who were led by Maua Miller and Milly Grant – absolutely took my breath away. And if I’m honest, at times the a capella choir stole the show. And last but definitely not least the phenomenal soundscape composed by the powerhouse that is Nastassia Wolfgramm, provided an excellent backdrop for a majority of the pieces on stage tonight.
As a piece of theatre Siva shone bright and was entertaining throughout the entire 90-minute show. The injection of a great deal of Pacific Island cultural music and movement helped give this evening’s work a unique edge that is definitely worth experiencing. And as a punter I loved that skew injecting heaps of Pacific Island dance like the fa’ataupati (slap dance) and music. So if that’s the intention and future direction of Black Grace, I’m all for it.
On a separate note, if what I overheard from a number of contemporary dance buffs as we filed out of the theatre is a majority opinion, I suspect that this evening didn’t provide sufficient ‘food for thought’ for contemporary dance lovers to digest. Black Grace has undoubtedly created a large slick work that thrills audiences with shiny bells and whistles. By contrast other leading contemporary dance companies in Aotearoa are creating equally dramatic works, which include cerebral commentary that moves audiences. Shouldn’t the later be the benchmark for dance and ultimately the future direction of contemporary dance in Aotearoa? I suppose that’s something to ponder…
Presented by Black Grace, Siva plays at ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre until 7 Nov. Details see Auckland Live
Details about upcoming tour 20 for 20 see Black Grace