Stalwarts of the New Zealand stage choreographer Neil Ieremia and writer Victor Rodger have worked extensively in dance and theatre for more than two decades — but until now, they've never worked together.
Black Grace's Crying Men brings them and their personal stories into conversation as they share ideas about masculinity through the eyes of Pacific men.
"The idea for the work started a few years [ago] with a conversation with a relative of mine who is a public defender," says Ieremia, founder and artistic director of dance company Black Grace. "He's worked with lots of tough guys in prison and he was saying how in every interview he gets to a point where every man cries, regardless of how tough they might come across. That's where the title of the show came from."
It was a key moment in the four-year development of Crying Men, which has seen Ieremia reflecting on several factors including his own views on masculinity and other personal events in his life. It compelled him to reach out to Rodger to develop a story for the dance work.
"I spoke to Victor a lot and he was gracious enough to listen me rant for ages — and things organically came out of that."
That was a special moment not just for Ieremia but also for Rodger, who's been a long-time fan of Black Grace and its work.
"I know crying men," says Rodger. "There are two whom I talk about often: one man who I have always found so gentle and to later hear how violent he had been as a young father — and also when I went to my dad's funeral and realised that ... no man is one thing."
It's a powerful statement and throughout the 70-minute long work, there is an unrelenting sense of truth and the obvious discomfort that brings.
"The narrative is not overt and what I've written is quite spare," says Rodger, "but once you've seen it you can't un-see it and that's the squirm — that's the truth."
Saying that's precisely what we need in theatre, both creatives have worked to bring the "squirm" into the work. With the company now readying itself to move from the studio into the theatre, Ieremia and Rodger are excited to see how the story looks as other artists feed into the process.
Nathaniel Lees will narrate sections of Rodger's monologue, while hip hop musicians Andy Morton and Matthew Salapu have added, says Ieremia, "sonic magic to the performance" by creating a unique soundscape for it.
But getting to this point has involved turns and roundabouts with Ieremia confessing originally he had quite a different idea in mind.
"I ended up saying all this stuff and Victor was incredibly generous, he just listened — and the more he listened, the more I remembered things. There are autobiographical moments in this work and certainly the seed is from that place."
The process allowed Rodger's contribution to weave into the dance. He modestly describes it as "minute" but having contemplated rhythm and his role in the dance, his monologue has poetic and dramatic qualities.
"I wrote it after watching a couple of early runs and it came out as it needed to," he says. "I normally bag poetry but this definitely is conscious of rhythm and timing."
It's also a work to which Rodgers admits he'll be taking the tissues.
"I love darkness and exploring uncomfortable truths but this is one of those where I know I'll be teary-eyed."
"It's a show about speaking your truth," adds Ieremia. "There's no faffing around to make it more palatable for people and it's pushed me to make sure there aren't the usual tricks."
Rodgers and Ieremia are extremely proud of the work — and the dancers who are performing — and it comes with a surge of energy and confidence after making work for more than two decades.
"We have nothing to lose — except everything," says Ieremia, "and there is something very refreshing about that."
What: Crying Men
Where & when: ASB Waterfront Theatre, Thursday, September 6 — Saturday, September 8