The recent history of New Zealand's leading contemporary dance company is as stormy as its work.
Founded by gifted choreographer and dancer Neil Ieremia in 1995, Black Grace made a name for itself with its forceful rhythms and all-male volatility, blending traditional Pacific dance - like Samoan slap dancing - with contemporary style. Ieremia himself received numerous awards, including the 2005 Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award for outstanding creative achievement and contribution to the arts.
But in 2006, soon after Black Grace's triumphant debut in New York, the same passion that gave the group so much strength caused it to combust into flame. All but one of Ieremia's dancers was fired or resigned, and the board and administrative staff left as well.
Black Grace brings a passionate blend of traditional and modern dance from New Zealand.
Sheer physicality has long been a trademark of Ieremia’s choreography.
With the group split apart and his own marriage disintegrating, the Samoan-born Ieremia drew back to do some serious soul-searching. "I just took stock I cried a lot, I got angry, I laughed, I did a whole of things during that period," he later told TV New Zealand.
When he emerged in 2007 with a new work called "Amata" (which means "to begin" in Samoan), he brought a newly rebuilt Black Grace with him. New Zealand audiences were stunned. Ieremia had traded in his trademark Maori and Pacific Island male dancers for 12 young Pakeha (white) females, stirring up controversy among his supporters as well as his critics.
Over the years since then, Black Grace has continued to evolve, incorporating both males and females of all ethnic backgrounds, but it retains the sheer physicality that has always been its trademark. His dancers' explosive style reflects the way Ieremia has always refused to be put in a box, preferring to continually explore new means of expression. As he told TV New Zealand: "The door is never closed; it's always open, because in Samoa, we don't have doors, we have fales with no walls."
Following last year's successful tour of Switzerland and Germany, Black Grace has now embarked on a 2010 tour of North America, which includes four stops in Hawaii.
On Thursday, Feb. 11, Ieremia brings his creativity and passion to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater. The performance will feature highlights from the group's 15-year repertoire, including pieces like the signature "Minoi," celebrating the fusion of Samoan and Western contemporary dance; excerpts from "Surface," inspired by traditional Samoan tattooing; and excerpts from "Gathering Clouds," Ieremia's latest full-length work.
* Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12, $25 and $35. Applicable fees are added to tickets for all MACC shows, available at the MACC box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.
It's all about the message when "Go Ask Alice" wraps up this weekend at King Kekaulike High School. Chris Kepler's acting class presents this sobering story of a 16-year-old girl who slips into the dark abyss of drug addiction and never gets out. As an integrated project with the drama students, the school's Peer Education Program will have an informational table with flyers and information about substance abuse and other high-risk behaviors. The play is based on a real-life diary and features dark material that may not be appropriate for children under 11.
* Showtimes are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the student dining room. Tickets are $6 for adults; $4 for students; available at the door.
If there's one thing Maui theatergoers can count on, it's a fun show from Judy Ridolfino. The energetic leader of Judy's Gang brings her annual show to the MACC's Castle Theater at 7 p.m. Saturday. This year's theme is "Count on Me," and all the dances have numbers in their names (like "42nd Street," for example). Age is just another number for the 120 jazz and tap dancers, who cover the spectrum from 3 years old to senior citizens, some of whom have been dancing with Ridolfino for over a decade.
* Tickets are $14 for adults, $10 for seniors and students age 6 to 12; free for keiki age 5 and under, available as above.
Maui's own multitalented kumu hula Keali'i Reichel returns to the MACC's Castle Theater for Valentine's Day weekend, with two shows at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 13 and 14. "Kukahi 2010" is a fundraiser to send Reichel's Halau Ke'alaokamaile back to the Merrie Monarch Festival, following up their award-winning debut performance at the competition last year. Reichel has won 19 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards and represents Hawaiian music, chant and hula in venues around the world. Next weekend's show will include appearances by special guests Leokane Pryor and Uncle Bill Kaiwa.
* Tickets are $12, $35, $45 and $55, available as above.
"The Vagina Monologues" are back for Valentine's Day! At 7 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 14, V-Day Maui 2010 in association with Maui Academy of Performing Arts presents a benefit performance of Eve Ensler's famous creation. Held at Steppingstone Playhouse at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center, the "Monologues" will feature Kathy Collins, Rochelle Dunning, Robin Garrison, Julie Kawamura and Kristi Scott. The event is part of a worldwide effort to educate and empower communities in the effort to stop violence against women. Proceeds will benefit Women Helping Women.
* Tickets are $15 at the door.
This month's Bare Essential Theater at the Historic Iao Theater is "Half Dozen Long Stem," by Maui-born playwright Lee Cataluna. The comedy is about grouchy flower shop owner Mrs. Fujiuchi, who is debating what to do with her business and employees after her ex-husband dies and leaves half the shop to his new wife, Roslyn. Humorous characters include hopelessly romantic sales clerk Nornette, reluctant employee Bully, and regular customer Bertram, who's on the lookout for love. Cataluna, a Baldwin High School graduate, has worked with Kumu Kahua Theatre on Oahu to produce many of her plays. The free BET reading takes place at 6:30 p.m. Friday. For more information, call Maui Onstage at 244-8680.
Maui OnStage will hold auditions for "Godspell" starting at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 14, at the Historic Iao Theater. The Broadway and off-Broadway smash is based primarily on the Gospel According to St. Matthew and features hit songs like "Day by Day." The show is directed by Alexis Dascoulias and runs April 30 to May 16. Those who audition are asked to prepare one verse and chorus of a contemporary musical theater or pop/rock song, and to bring sheet music, a head shot and resume. For more information or to set up an audition appointment, call 244-8680.