Dance troupe Black Grace tours Manhattan, Joyce and New Zealand

When New Zealand choreographer Neil Ieremia christened his troupe Black Grace in 1995, he was not thinking of his indigenous Pacific Island roots, nor of the various national sports teams with the word “black” in their names, and the vigor of their steps. He had in mind the local slang, in which “black” means brave or even daring. For Ieremia, you couldn’t apply “grace” to a bunch of short, stocky men like him, whose legs were the happiest when bent, and not precede it with a nod. The word seemed purely aspirational.

Twenty-seven years later – and at the end of any Black Grace show – it has become a fact. The dozen or so dancers in the company, now male and female, not only soar through the air as easily as cats and land as softly, but they also possess a kind of spiritual grace. Humble and candid except when mocking themselves, they succumb to native ritual spells that descend unceremoniously and diffuse just as quietly. For an American comparison, imagine the Paul Taylor of Esplanade: dancers who run, jump, fall and crawl, in tune with the masterful Bach. (Ieremia also has a penchant for the baroque, with its plunges of rhythmic courage into deep wells of feeling.)

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