• Insatiable + Black Grace

  • Back

Portland Taiko is one of the leading taiko groups in the country always fusing styles and tradition with a focus on pushing the artform into new territory. Dmae Roberts talks with dancer/musician Michelle Fujii, the artistic director of Portland Taiko about their new Spring concert Insatiable. And in the latter part of the show, hear Dmae’s feature story about New Zealand’s Black Grace Dance that originally aired on PRI’s The World.

Fujii leads the conversation between taiko as a preservation art as well as a artform that creates new original work. With her skilled ensemble of professional taiko performers including Toru Watanabe and new managing director Robin Mullins, Portland Taiko is on the cusp of moving the organization to new heights.


Michelle Fujii & Toru Watanabe, 2010 spring concert, The Way Back Home, at the Winningstad Theatre at PCPA  2010 Photo: Rich Iwasaki

Portland Taiko’s  Insatiable is a new compositions exploring as they say “the possibilities of the art form of taiko through contemporary reflections on Japanese folk dance.” The program mixes drumming, dance and voice to explore the title of the piece and what it means to be insatiable.

Show times for Insatiable:

Friday, March 29th 8:00 pm
Saturday, March 30th 2:00 pm & 8:00 pm
Lincoln Hall, PSU 1620 SW Park Avenue, Portland
Tickets on sale now!

Purchase tickets online here
Also available at PSU Box Office

discounts for Seniors, Students, 10+ Groups, and PT Members.
Contact Portland Taiko for more information 503 288-2456.


And in the latter part of the show, hear Dmae Roberts’ feature story on Black Grace, a New Zealand dance company that fuses Samoan and Maori traditions and contemporary dance.  This piece originally aired on PRI’s The World.

Read the story here:


Black Grace

Eleven mostly Samoan and Maori dancers filled the stage when I saw them in Portland, Oregon. They performed a piece based on the traditional ideas of Samoan slap dancing. The dancers made sky-high jumps and quick turns to create complex rhythms of floor stomping, cries and body slaps.

Black Grace artistic director Neil Ieremia says he took Samoan slap dancing and melded it with a children’s hand game to make a dance statement about child abuse.

“It’s a big thing back home,” Ieremia says. “And particularly being Pacific Island descent, I had kids, mates, turn up school with bruises and what have you and sometimes they wouldn’t turn up at all. Or, they might turn up six weeks late later after the cast had come off a broken piece of their body or something. So it was tough to reflect that back on our communities but I really thought that was part of our responsibility.”

That responsibility to tell authentic stories through dance was something Iremeia felt passionate about 18 years ago when he formed Black Grace. But the decision to become a professional dancer wasn’t met with enthusiasm by his Samoan family.

“In New Zealand the Pacific island culture is a minority and it isn’t huge and had its fair share of knocks,” he says. “We’re normally thought of as unskilled labor and when you finish high school, if you finish high school you’re either going to go on welfare or get a job in the local factory. I tell my parents I wanted to go to dance school. I’ve been working at the bank and was doing rather well but I told them and my mother cried. And my father simply did his traditional Samoan tsk, tsk, tsk shook his head and walked away from me.”

Black Grace

Black Grace

In the end, his parents supported his plan to start a Samoan and Maori contemporary dance company. And during lean times, they even put up their house as collateral for a loan. Ieremia says that kind of courage is at the heart of the name Black Grace. The risk has paid off. Ieremia says Black Grace is now the largest contemporary dance company in New Zealand.

You can hear Stage & Studio at: