Health scare inspires dancer's new work

BACK IN GOOD HEALTH: Dancer, choreographer and Black Grace founder Neil Ieremia at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
BACK IN GOOD HEALTH: Dancer, choreographer and Black Grace founder Neil Ieremia at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

One of New Zealand's most respected dancers and choreographers is working on a new full-length work inspired by a near-death experience.

Neil Ieremia, founder of prestigious contemporary dance group Black Grace, said a recent health scare had changed his priorities and inspired him to create new work.

"It's not so much about death, it's more about life. When you come face to face with death, as I did this year, you start thinking about all the things that contribute to your life and to living,'' he said.

"I had to have a procedure done that bought me pretty close to the edge, but I'm alright.

''It was one of those things where you take a major risk when you have these things done. I have two beautiful children and a wonderful partner so the idea of losing them is just one of those moments. I thought: 'If I live, I'm going to make a dance about this'."

The new work, called As Night Falls, will be his first full-length piece for about three years. Ieremia hopes to work on the new piece next year.

"I'm typically in a rush to get things done. I'm very impatient and always feel like I'm running out of time, but when you are actually faced with the prospect of running out of time it makes you consider things in a different way. Your priorities get sorted out pretty quick.''

He did not want to go into detail about the health scare until the new work was complete.

"I was in New York and I got a phone call from my doctor that set things in motion. You walk around with things for a while and you try not to say anything to anyone.

"I haven't really spoken of it and I've tried to keep it as quiet as I can. I just disappeared for a few months.''

He said it was a scary experience, but he feels better now.

"Of course I was scared, I was terrified. But I didn't tell anyone.

''I think I'm fine. I hope so, but I need to take better care.''

Ieremia is currently in Scotland staging a show for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world.

The show, called Black Grace, is a collection of pieces from the last 20 years of his dance company. It is part of a broader season of New Zealand art and theatre being staged across seven festivals held in Edinburgh every year.

The New Zealand season features 200 Kiwi artists and performers, the largest number to ever appear at the prestigious festivals.

Arts council Creative New Zealand has supported Kiwi artists involved in the season with about $782,000 in funding for airfares, accommodation and freight costs.

Ieremia said bringing his company of young dancers to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe would help improve their craft.

"We're used to being in bigger venues, but it is a young company, so it is important that they go back to the old school - handing out flyers, putting posters up and doing impromptu performances. That's how I started nearly 30 years ago. It's perfect for them to experience that. It goes a long way to helping their craft.''

Charlie Gates is in Edinburgh with assistance from Creative New Zealand.

The Press