Acclaimed contemporary dance company Black Grace are visiting Te Auaha this week where they are working with Whitireia Performing Arts students and also taking the opportunity to create their own work.
They were welcomed yesterday with a mihi whakatau in which the Performing Arts students sung, and the company members, not being renowned for their singing, returned the gesture with dance, each performing a brief solo piece.
Programme Manager of Performing Arts, Pip Byrne, thanked Black Grace and told them "It is a great privilege for us to be working with you." She noted that the students would be able to spend time with the dancers from Black Grace and in so doing aspire to be like them.
Tutor and graduate Krystal Clarke led students and company members in an initial session and Black Grace director Neil Ieremia returned the favour in the afternoon, taking the students through an intense workshop.
Ieremia has a long history with Whitireia, dating back to his role as a tutor during the formative years of the Performing Arts programme. Several early members of Black Grace came from the programme too, including founding member Sam Fuataga, a high school friend of Ieremia’s who began studying music at Whitireia before being convinced to turn his skills to dance.
Whitireia graduates continue to find opportunities with Black Grace, with Ieremia speaking highly of the skills they have instilled in them by the programme. "They bring a real rawness, a real energy that I really appreciate. Sometimes you go to dance school and that stuff gets beaten out of you and you become disciplined to a particular point and don’t necessarily have that edge anymore. That coupled with a really great training regime will put anyone in good stead."
As Ieremia notes, the philosophies of Black Grace and Whitireia Performing Arts have much in common. “Students come through with real perseverance. At Black Grace, we’re natives I suppose and we value similar things, respect and honest communication. So the students coming out of Whitireia often have that respect and humility.”
The visit to Te Auaha is providing Whitireia Performing Arts students with the opportunity to work with an internationally renowned dance troupe, but it is not a one-way conversation. "I’m always interested in finding ways to collaborate with people I like, so being here with the company this time I think we’re looking at finding a way to work together on a piece in the future" said Ieremia. "I think what Whitireia are doing here is really interesting and has real potential to go on and develop into a different thing. I want to come in and share some of that and some of my experience, so we can find a way to work together and create an original piece of dance."
Performing Arts Programme Leader Tuaine Robati also spoke of the visit as one of collaboration, with both parties participating in an exchange of techniques, skills and experience. "They’re coming to our classes and then we’re going to their classes," he said.
Ieremia reflected on how the Whitireia Performing Arts programme has grown over 30 years from its early days in Porirua to the current state of art surrounds of Te Auaha. "When courses like this can continue to grow and evolve, to see that they’re still around is a real testament to the spirit of the thing."