Black Grace a-beckoning

Dancers embark on nationwide tour of NZ

BRIDGET JONES
Last updated 05:00 23/07/2012
LYLE MCMAHON

Sean MacDonald and Thomas Fonua talk about their roles in acclaimed New Zealand dance group Black Grace.

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Watching them move, it's hard to understand what the dancers of Black Grace mean when they say it takes blood, sweat and tears to get this far. In fact they make it look far from difficult.

The company are in the final stages of rehearsals for Waka, a work that explores the idea of a raft as a metaphor for hope, drawing on everything from video installations and a Goldie painting for inspiration.

It's a production that, after it debuted to a glorious reception in Germany earlier this year, has been elongated for full audience emersion.

"We did a first draft, or first chapter of it, [in Germany] and this is the expanded version, the full length version," says senior dancer Sean MacDonald.

"There were full houses and standing ovations for, well it seemed like hours. You just got a really great feeling from them that they appreciated it, they got it."

By fusing Pacific and contemporary dance, and using artistry, creative and innovation, along with traditional movement, Black Grace - led by artistic director Neil Iremeia - has cemented their place as international dance leaders over the past 17 years.

As well as Germany, the company has toured Canada, the South Pacific, Mexico, Japan, and Switzerland, and they will return to North America next year for a series of shows.

But it is New Zealand's turn to see just what the fuss is about, as the company embarks on a nationwide tour.

The production features dancers both experienced, like MacDonald, who has been with the company (on and off) since it's inception in 1995, through to newer talents.

Thomas Fonua is one of the youngest members of the company, and at 19, has had to juggle the pressures of growing up as well as being a professional dancer.

"NCEA, touring, rugby - all the crazy, normal things a teenage boy would do. Barr the ballet," he says.

"It's been quite a journey...I sort of haven't looked back since."

Fonua joined Black Grace almost four years ago through the Urban Youth Movement mentoring programme, while still at Onehunga College.

He and MacDonald believe the stigma attached to both male dancers, and contemporary dancing, has long disappeared.

"There's been so much dance on television, and now dance is part of the school curriculum now, it's a lot more accepted. I think people who just did hip-hop maybe laughed at contemporary, but they are starting to open up to it more now," says MacDonald.

Fonua says the choreography of the latest work in particular moves away from the stereotypes, describing the production as "relatable, not too abstract and pretty right to the point".

"The movement pallet is very broad and very grounded; it's gritty, a lot more real and a lot more athletic," agrees MacDonald.

Black Grace - Waka
National tour starts in Nelson on July 24.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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