Black Grace: From Cannons Creek to Jacob's Pillow
Follow a Pacific Islander modern dance troupe’s journey to a premiere dance festival
- Aileen O'Sullivan
- Toby Mills
- Full-Length Film
- Subject Matter
- Dance, Maori, New Zealand, Aotearoa, Performance, Samoan
- 60 Minutes
When Black Grace, a dance troupe of Pacific Islander and Maori men, first burst onto the New Zealand stage in 1995 they were a revelation. Fusing traditional Pacific and contemporary dance forms with athleticism and grace, they electrified audiences. Led by Artistic Director Neil Ieremia, Black Grace evolved from a crew of Neil’s “mates” into one of New Zealand’s national treasures and conquered the world’s dance festivals culminating with Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshire hills of Massachusetts.
Black Grace: From Cannon's Creek to Jacob's Pillow follows Black Grace’s journey from Cannon’s Creek, a small town outside of Wellington, New Zealand to the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the oldest one of its kind in North America. Today, Black Grace is New Zealand's leading contemporary dance company. Melding Pacific and contemporary dance in an extraordinary and dynamic form, Black Grace has become internationally renowned for its artistry, creative excellence and innovation, while also becoming the world's leading exponent of Pacific-infused contemporary dance.
Producer/Director Aileen O’Sullivan has directed documentaries, theater, and radio broadcasts and has worked as a producer, writer, actor, teacher and journalist in New Zealand. Among her recent film credits as producer or producer/director are the documentaries The Family, An Inside Story, The Golden Hour and Wit!, examining various social and historic issues within the New Zealand community. For New Zealand television, she directed Gypsy, about Lee Grant’s role as Mama Rose and The Further Adventures of the Black Stallion, a Canadian/New Zealand co-production. Among her theater directing credits are Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing and Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls for the Court Theatre.
Producer Toby Mills is a producer, actor and director. His latest documentary, Up For Grabs, looks at the impact of the intellectual property system on Maori and the appropriation of traditional symbols, images and words in the global marketplace. Other recent documentaries include Journey of Discovery, Driven, Syd Jackson: Life & Times of a Fully Fledged Activist and My Home. Toby is also Artistic Director/Manager of Moana and the tribe for their International Concert Program throughout Europe. They have performed over 300 concerts since they started touring in 2002. Mills was awarded three Nokia Television Awards for Best Maori Program of the Year on New Zealand television.
PBS’s Black Grace: From Cannon’s Creek to Jacob’s Pillow page
The official site of the Black Grace Dance Company
The official site of Jacob’s Pillow
The Boston Globe article: "Black Grace troupe melds Maori culture and modern dance"
The Village Voice article: "Summer Visitors"
More About the Film
The Boston Globe dance critic Karen Campbell says: "Black Grace: The name combines a world that in New Zealand is slang for daring and bravery with a quality not attributed to men. It’s exquisitely apt. Never before has this reviewer seen a group of male dancers who seemed so gentle yet breathtakingly virile. The New Zealand-based all-male troupe can rock the house."
The all-male dance company Black Grace boasts some of New Zealand’s finest and most respected contemporary dancers. Predominantly Pacific Island and Maori, this company is renowned for their unique ability to combine traditional and contemporary dance forms. This sets this innovative company apart from any other professional dance company in New Zealand.
Based in Auckland, this relatively young company has developed a crossover audience from the Pacific Island, Maori, and European communities in New Zealand. Their tours to Sydney and New Caledonia in recent years have demonstrated that the company’s appeal can also cross international boundaries.
Neil Ieremia, founder, Artistic Director, and Chief Executive of Black Grace, is unquestionably one of New Zealand’s most accomplished and hard working choreographers. Following his graduation from the Auckland Performing Arts School, Neil joined the acclaimed Douglas Wright Dance Company and subsequently worked with many of New Zealand’s leading choreographers. In 1995, Neil formed Black Grace Dance Company, debuting with a record-breaking season at Auckland’s Maidment Theatre.
Over the past decade, Neil has also choreographed work for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Opera New Zealand, New Zealand Wearable Arts, the New Zealand School of Dance, and the Rotterdam Dance Academy. He has extensively toured his company, Black Grace, throughout the main centers and regional New Zealand, including sold out performances at New Zealand International Festival of the Arts. They have performed right across Australia including the Festival of Dreaming, Sydney, and UWA Perth International Arts Festival.
In 2003, Neil and the Company toured the Netherlands, performing at the Holland Dance Festival. During this year, Neil recieved a nomination for the prestigious international Rolex Mentor Programme. The following year, Black Grace debuted in the United States to audience and critical acclaim, at the world-renowned Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.
"He has spread his artistic roots in several rich pasts and grown up and out into a sunlight of his own making." — The New York Times