New Zealand dance group brings Samoan roots to Syracuse

Review: With a Samoan dance style, Black Grace brought talent and tradition to Goldstein Auditorium for a night filled with cultural.

It may have been a snowy Monday night in Syracuse, but that didn’t stop people in the community from coming out to see New Zealand’s leading contemporary dance group, Black Grace, perform their athletic and traditional repertory.  

“We love seeing live dance and there’s not many opportunities in Syracuse to see it. So, whenever we have an opportunity, we try to see it,” Sarah Saulson of Syracuse, who attended the event with her husband Peter, expained.

The audience in Goldstein Auditorium, consisting of about thirty people, seemed relaxed before the show started.  However, that quickly changed once the first piece started.

The company started off the show with six, strong male dancers in the center of the stage.  The shirtless men were singing and making music by clapping, stomping, and hitting their own body.  This traditional Samoan dance style started off the show with a cultural bang.

“What I especially liked about that was I felt the type of dance that they do really worked with the traditional percussion that they were using," Saulson said. The repetition in the dance replicated the repetition of the sound."

The entire first half of the show consisted of four short works.  While the first two were more traditional, the final two seemed to have more of a modern flare that had the audience clapping wildly during the dancers final poses. 

The final two pieces used more recorded music, while the first two were more about using the body as an instrument.  A few of the dances throughout the first act also had dramatic pauses in the middle of them and audience members would clap and even let out a few shouts not knowing if the dance was going to continue on. 

One of the crowd favorites that closed out the first half was “Method", which was an all male cast dressed in all white with a single spot light coming down in the middle of the stage.  The piece is about boyhood memories of backyard games. 

“They just kept pushing off of each other, jumping over each other, rolling under each other,” Syracuse University political science senior Jaylyn Noble said. “It was just very crazy and it’s very simulating to watch as an audience member.”

The second half consisted of a full-length work titled “Gathering Clouds.”  This piece really allowed the audience to see Artistic Director Neil Leremia draw from his Samoan and New Zealand roots as inspiration for his choreography.

Focusing on the story of the impact of Pacific Island migration, the work consisted of some athletic movement as well as softer, more emotional sections.  At one point in the nearly hour long piece, dancers walked across the stage each holding a piece of a puzzle.  When they finally brought the puzzle together it formed a picture of young children laughing and playing.  You could have heard a pin drop in the audience when this happened, earning the company a standing ovation at the end.

“I think that when people are that talented, we need to respect that and go and support that as much as we can so it doesn’t die out completely,” said Noble.

Black Grace is touring throughout the United States until the end of February. Tickets can be purchased online.


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