Black Grace (2023)

Black Grace, Paradise Rumour, 2023. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation. Credits: Neil Ieremia (creative direction); Faith Schuster, Rodney Tyrell, Demi-Jo Manalo (dancers, from back to front). Photo: Toaki Okano


Contemporary dance company Black Grace will premiere Paradise Rumour at Sharjah Biennial 15. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation, this performance is an extension of their work Gathering Clouds (2009), which addresses prejudice and xenophobia against Pacific migrants in Aotearoa [New Zealand]. Asking ‘how far have we really come since then?, Paradise Rumour deals with personal and collective memories and experiences of the Pacific Island community, starting with the arrival of the missionaries.

Black Grace incorporates elements of contemporary dance into Indigenous Samoan and Mãori movement patterns. Informed by the narrative traditions of the South Pacific, their performances engage audiences with a gamut of musical genres, from Bach and Vivaldi to Samoan hip hop to the electropop stylings of Lorde.

Their choreographic range juxtaposes the dynamism of high-paced acrobatics with the vulnerability of theatrical narrative, braiding these elements together into a universal physical language.

Founded in 1995 in Auckland by artistic director Neil Iermia, a dancer and choreographer of Samoan descent, the company is grounded in the ancestral Samoan principles of fa’amaoni [integrity, honesty and pride], fa’amalosi/loto tele [perseverance and determination] and fa’aloalo [humility and respect].

Ieremia’s repertoire often draws from traditional Samoan forms, such as sasa [seated dance] and fa’ataupati [slap dance], both of which emerged originally as expressions of everyday Samoan life. In 2018, Ieremia and Black Grace founded the Guerilla Collection, a transdisciplinary arts festival that foregrounds contemporary Pacific culture.

This performance is made possible with the generous support of Bank of Sharjah and Sharjah Government Media Bureau. Bank of Sharjah's sponsorship of the Sharjah Biennial aligns with its focus on social responsibility and fostering cooperation among communities and connecting them through the arts.