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Black Grace’s ‘As Night Falls’: Beauty for ashes

Black Grace's 'As Night Falls'. Photo by Duncan Cole.

If you watch or read the news, it doesn’t take long to get depressed about the state of the world we live in. The media is brimming with stories of war, greed, hatred and intolerance. It’s easy to respond with anger, but as humans we have a collective responsibility to combat hate with love, despair with hope.

This seems to be a key theme in As Night Falls, the new work by New Zealand contemporary dance company Black Grace.

“I had initially wanted this work to be the expression of my concerns and fears of the darkness that seems to be eroding the value of equality and human life,” says choreographer and Artistic Director Neil Ieremia. “Instead, I feel compelled to respond with a contrasting beauty and physical vitality, musicality and hope. It is my offer of beauty for ashes.”

Set to a rich baroque score by Vivaldi, As Night Falls is as bright and colourful as the muumuu dresses worn by the choreographer’s mother “without shame or ceremony”.

Long-time company dancer Sean MacDonald calls it dance “in the traditional sense: physical, intricate, lyrical.”

Sean MacDonald. Photo by Simon Wilson.

Sean MacDonald. Photo by Simon Wilson.

Currently in the early stages of rehearsals, MacDonald and his fellow performers are still somewhat in the dark as to the precise concepts the choreographer is exploring. Rather than incorporating the dancers in his creative development process, Ieremia has returned to a more conventional approach, creating the movement on the dancers rather than with them. This presents a different set of challenges to a more collaborative approach.

“It’s still early in the physical development of the work,” explains MacDonald. “Sketches that are on their way to being finished paintings. Neil has gone back to an older traditional process where he is making all the movement and we are his paint so to speak. I’m enjoying the challenge of trying to execute it all to how he needs and wants it to be and trying to work out what it all means without having to be told.”

Outside of the studio, MacDonald is paying attention to local and global news to develop a greater awareness and sensitivity to bring to the work.

“Because of the nature of this particular process, where we aren’t having discussions about what it’s about, and we aren’t being pointed in any specific research directions, I’m just trying to be aware, paying attention to what’s happening locally and globally,” MacDonald says. 

It’s an exciting time for Black Grace, with a trip to Taiwan and a U.S. tour coming up, before more shows in New Zealand next year. The company has made numerous visits to the U.S., but this time is adding more centres to its tour. In Taiwan, Black Grace will be working with a local company, aiming to gain a deeper understanding and knowledge of its culture, as well as sharing its own. Upon return to its homeland, Black Grace will develop As Night Falls further before presenting it to Kiwi audiences.

In the meantime, though, it’s long days in the studio, creating a work that responds to a troubled world with beauty, joy and hope.

The future may remain uncertain, but we have the choice whether we fill it with darkness, or with light.

“When I think of the title As Night Falls,” says MacDonald, “it could speak of that in-between time, that transitional time where there is mystery, where anything is possible, and makes one ask the question: what is about to happen?”

Sean McDonald performs in the new work from Black Grace, As Night Falls, which plays 1 – 5 November at the Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre. For more information, visit blackgrace.co.nz.

By Rain Francis of Dance Informa. 

Photo (top): Black Grace’s ‘As Night Falls’. Photo by Duncan Cole.

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