Ardor and Sweat

Ardor and Sweat
April 9, 2017 W. Celeste Davis Stragand
Black Grace. Photo courtesy of Newman Center Presents
Black Grace. Photo courtesy of Newman Center Presents

Black Grace. Photo courtesy of Newman Center Presents.

To a nearly sold out audience, Black Grace commanded The Robert and Judi Newman Center on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Hailing from New Zealand, Neil Ieremia’s company danced, flew, cried and awed.

The opening acts, Minoi and Pati Pati, showcased the male and then female dancers of the company, respectively. Sung a capella, the fusion of old Samoan nursery rhyme with F’ataupati sent viewers on a cross-ocean journey into an older, more traditional time. Stomp and slap percussion filled the theater as the company’s exact synchronicity and flutter of actions in precise succession showcased the talent and strength of the company.

The third piece, Crying Men, awakened a Frankensteinian ominous tone with industrial sounding music by Richard Nunns, Mark Lockett and Jeff Henderson. The stage was set in juxtaposition with separate yet intertwined cinematic journeys of male psyche exploration taking hold. The lighting and tech illuminated the intensity with cross hatches shining direct from above onto the dancers. The tension and violent interplay of struggling with one’s identity was palpable. During the talk-back, Ieremia shared more about this excerpt and work-in-progress. To paraphrase, New Zealand has one of the highest rates of child abuse in the world. It also has a very high youth suicide rate. The societal pressures of proper existence are extreme. In this piece, he is exploring the idea of what it means to be male and in particular, what it means to be a Pacific Islander male.

As if to relieve this heaviness, Ieremia then presented (originally choreographed for music video, Frat Freddy’s Drop), Mother Mother. Crisp and upbeat with sentiments of jazz and tumbling, dancers lifted and flew into the air working in concert with one another while infusing the audience with hope and levity.

Upon return from intermission, we were greeted by a raw stage: no backdrop curtain and bare lighting. Using all planes (floor, knees, standing and air), the dancers begin a leap frog of sorts to classical baroque-sounding music that evolves to opera to drums and then back to classical. Dancers are thrown from one to another. Hands raise in surrender with the company on its knees, as if yielding to a great tyrant. From one convulsive shock after another to tip toes and pleading, the physical exploration of protest and faith in anguish consumes.

The intensity, speed, clarity and precision of group movement throughout the evening made you forget you were watching people working hard. Their bodies were fluid and strong, healthy and vigorous. Often times, one dancer shines from among the others. Ieremia has curated a troupe full of stars who work in harmony. They all shine as diamonds in a cluster. It was an outstanding evening and no wonder they routinely sell out. Thank you, Black Grace, for your ardor and sweat.

You truly are courageous elegance.


W. Celeste Davis Stragand: Published author, showcased artist and Denver transplant, W. Celeste Davis Stragand is not new to the art world. Her passion for delving into the root of existence and movement will challenge and praise both choreographers and the audience. A graduate of Texas A&M University, Celeste holds two bachelor of arts degrees, one in Chemistry and the other in English. She is also a graduate of Naropa University holding a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing and Poetics from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. A former national slam team poet, Celeste is a graduate of the Downtown Denver Partnership Leadership Program and sits on the American Institute of Architects Colorado board. Her passion and enthusiasm for the kinetic arts will frolic and frenzy through the upcoming season of performances with many hopes for an encore!

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