The six men of the New Zealand-based Black Grace Dance Company can thump their chests, slap their thighs, pound the floor, and fling themselves with primal energy into all manner of jumps, falls, flips, and rolls, their grunts and shouts exuding a fierce virile pride. But they can just as easily sing in sweet three-part harmony, accompanying their lyrical vocals with gestures that gently curve and sway, alluding to ritual, respect, and humble introspection.
It's just this sublime mixture that makes the 13-year-old troupe, which is New Zealand's leading dance company, such a powerful, memorable draw. The company's Boston debut last night at the Tsai Center, presented by the
But tweak the basic material just a little and set it to the music of Samoan hip-hop artist King Kapisi, and the movement of "Minoi 2" has a vivid contemporary edge and a "don't mess with me" feistiness. Sculptural posturing explodes into jagged-edged kicks and turns with an occasional shoulder shrug or club-dance hip swagger. Throw in some capoeira-style acrobatics and the exploration of cultural identity morphs into brilliant cultural fusion.
The most riveting work is "Deep Far," originally commissioned by the Royal New Zealand Ballet. The quartet fluidly layers curving, curling shapes into expanding and contracting floor patterns. Arms reach up and out, down and back, as torsos undulate and their relationship to one another forms a blur of kaleidoscopic shapes - a square dissolves into a line, then reforms as a diamond. At one point, the energy escalates and the dancers spring upward, backs arched, arms out, like dolphins breaching the water.
"Method" is a charming nod to Paul Taylor's classic "Esplanade." Using some of the same music, Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, it features the men flinging themselves into one another's arms and exuberantly jumping over a body rolling across the floor. But Ieremia's exploration is a lot more rough and tumble. You can see backyard rugby games and impromptu wrestling matches in the dancers' kicks and headlocks, with spins that flip on a dime.
While the two works featuring female guest artists aren't as aesthetically distinctive, they do allow Ieremia to explore traditional male/female relationships and stretch to include narrative concepts. "War Brides" begins with four women left behind as their men go off to war. Ieremia doesn't take it easy on his guests, as these excellent performers repeatedly crash to the floor. But they also portray a vulnerability and nurturing not seen in choreography for the men.
"Human Language" is a breezy flirtatious romp that represents the choreographer at his most playful. The beginning bit with the balloons is a riot - I won't spoil it here, but the sexual innuendo launches the piece into a high-energy flurry, with quick partner changes and eye-popping lifts of cartwheels and over-the-shoulder flips.