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The Journey from Cannon’s Creek

ďI kind of still have to laugh at this idea of a kid from Cannonís Creek and a bunch of his mates Ö kind of getting together and arriving in Boston, Massachusetts, for one of the oldest dance festivals around and having all these wealthy, arty types come in and watch us. I mean, itísÖ itísÖ I donít know, itís really surreal.Ē
-Neil Ieremia at Jacobís Pillow the day of their first US performance

At the time of filming this documentary, Black Grace was a close ensemble company that not only worked together, but who had also lived and toured together for several years. Originally recruited from Neilís own friends, the company was comprised almost entirely of Maori and Pacific Islander men. Many of the dancers came with no formal dance training; their previous dance experience was hip-hop. They were playful, lively, funny, musical; fond of food and Neil was their leader.

In 2004 Ella Baff, Executive Director of Jacobís Pillow invited the company to the festival. Black Grace was the first New Zealand dance company to receive such an invitation. Located in the town of Becket, in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts, the Pillow was originally a family farm in the 18th century, and in the 19th century was a station on the Underground Railroad for slaves escaping to the North. Its dynamic history grew in 1933, when dancer, teacher, and choreographer Ted Shawn founded the Pillow first as a retreat and then as a showcase for his company of male dancers. Internationally recognized as a mecca for dance artists, the festival has provided pivotal exposure for such dance luminaries as Paul Taylor and Mark Morris.

The invitation to perform at Jacobís Pillow catapulted Neil Ieremia as a choreographer and Black Grace into the highly competitive American market and the international stage. The invitation came on the eve of Black Graceís tenth birthday and fulfilled the last of their goals: ďTo present New Zealand contemporary dance on an international stage.Ē

Video Icon Interview with Ella Baff, the director of Jacob’s Pillow (video length: 5:56)


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