Neil Ieremia on Reframing Masculinity

Born in New Zealand and drawing from his Samoan roots, Neil Ieremia founded Black Grace in 1995 with ten male dancers of Pacific, Maori, and New Zealand heritage. Since that time, Black Grace has become one of New Zealand’s national treasures, and has traversed the globe with its special blend of movement. We sat down with Ieremia to discuss several of the works Black Grace is presenting at The Joyce from October 29-November 3, 2019. 

An Interview with Neil Ieremia by Laura Diffenderfer 

Your work Crying Men explores masculinity through a Pacific lens. Could you talk about the aspects of masculinity you were interested in looking at and why?

It is about the impact of cultural and societal expectations of masculine behavior. I have a son who is now fourteen, and I am conscious of raising him in a different way than how my father raised me, and his father before him. I feel strongly that within my Pacific culture, there are unhealthy patterns and cycles that need to be disrupted – and the best way I can discuss this is through my art. 

You collaborated with acclaimed Pacific playwright Victor Rodger in this work. What led you to want to work with text in this piece, and what can you tell us about the collaboration?

Victor is a good friend of mine and we had both wanted to work together for a long time. In my own creative process, I often incorporate words and text as a source of inspiration for movement, so it was a fairly natural transition to include audible text as the backbone to this narrative piece of dance. Victor and I spent hours talking about our personal stories, which resurfaced memories and experiences that I thought I had well and truly buried. 

Your work is infused with Maori and Pacific Islander indigenous dance. What are some characteristic elements of these dance forms?

The work is very grounded and percussive. The traditions also have a very ritualistic and spiritual nature about them.

As Night Falls is a dance about hope amongst darkness. Where do you find hope when in doubt?

I find hope in my family, and I think as humans, we have a real responsibility to remain positive and hopeful for the future generations. I am also a great believer in the human spirit and think that we are all here for a divine purpose.