Black Grace spotlights Pacific Island experience with “Paradise Rumour” at Harris Theater


New Zealand contemporary dance company Black Grace makes their Chicago debut on March 1st at the Harris Theater at Millenium Park including a family matinee on March 2nd. The group will present “Paradise Rumour” (2023), choreographed by director Neil Ieremia. Both performances will transport audiences to the Pacific Islands in what promises to be a culturally rich and dynamic tour.

Founded in 1995, Black Grace is an internationally acclaimed contemporary dance company that tours to countries around the globe, including Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Australia, the United States and Canada. Director Neil Ieremia grew up surrounded by the art, dance, and storytelling traditions of his Samoan heritage. These influences are ever present in his work, which is known for its intense athleticism and energy as well as its social impact and global resonance. “There’s a spirit to the company that I think is born from the Faʻa Sāmoa or the Samoan heritage,” says Ieremia, “And that really informs our process and our journey.”

In their Chicago debut, Black Grace will present a work that looks to both the past and future. Ieremia’s “Paradise Rumour” is an extension of his 2009 work “Gathering Clouds”, which responded to an unfounded and prejudiced paper claiming Pacific migrants to New Zealand were harming the economy. Returning to the same piece fifteen years later, Ieremia reflects on both positive change and enduring issues.

A lot has changed since 2009, including the 2021 formal apology by New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern for the prosecution of Pacific Islanders in the Dawn Raids of the 1970s, which targeted visa overstayers. With “Paradise Rumour”, Ieremia looks back on all these events and asks, “How far have we really come since then?” and examines the systemic issues still facing Pacific Islanders today. “Thats what in a sense inspired Paradise Rumour,” says Ieremia “This idea that there’s this paradise that's out there somewhere, but no one's really seen it.”

Black Grace presents the Chicago premiere of "Paradise Rumour" on March 1 at Harris Theater; Photo by Duncan Cole

Many timelines and experiences collide in the dream world of “Paradise Rumour.” The work features four sections: hope + resistance, sorrow + acceptance, control + release and faith + crisis. These contradictory states are each embodied by a different dancer and examine what Ieremia describes as “the wonderful conundrum” of the immigrant experience, which is characterized by struggle yet oftentimes greater opportunities. The piece also has a distinctive spiritual side to it, exploring the use of religion in the colonization of the Pacific Islands as well as Ieremia’s personal spirituality.

Audiences are sure to be enthralled by the immersive dreamscape of Ieremia’s “Paradise Rumour”. Ieremia sees art as a way of life, a sentiment that can be seen in Black Grace’s elaborate production process which includes over 100 plants and music inspired by his childhood in the 70s and 80s. The performance will feature music familiar to American ears including rhythms of funk, electronic music, and hip hop. Composed by Faiumu Matthew Salapu aka Anonymouz, the score also includes sound bites of broadcasts and traditional ceremonies.

In addition to the evening performance of “Paradise Rumour,” Black Grace will present a Family Matinee as part of the Harris Theater family series. This show is recommended for children aged four and older, but the Harris Theater welcomes children and adults of all ages.

Fun for the whole family, shows in the family series include an hour-long performance and opportunities to meet the artists afterwards. Black Grace’s matinee will include a breakdown of “Paradise Rumour” where families will see several scenes from the work and hear history and commentary from Ieremia himself. Ieremia will also demonstrate and discuss several traditional Samoan and Cook Island dances.

Ieremia is proud to bring his work to Chicago. “We’re just really excited to be able to come and bring work that is different to [preconceived notions of Pacific Islands] and enables people to get a different view into our world is a huge privilege and a real honor”. Audiences will not want to miss these two beautiful performances and the glimpse they give into Pacific Island culture.

Black Grace presents “Paradise Rumour” Friday March 1st, 7:30pm, and their Family Matinee Saturday March 2nd, 2:00pm at the Harris Theater at Millenium Park, 205 E. Randolph St. Tickets can be found by clicking on the event links below or at