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Tower Tutus On Tour 2011
Tower Tutus On Tour 2011
Choreography: Toby Behan
Music: Andre Messager, Les Deux Pigeons
Verdi Variations
Choreography: Greg Horsman
Music: Giuseppe Verdi

at St James Theatre, Wellington
From 24 Feb 2011 to 27 Feb 2011

Reviewed by Jenny Stevenson, 25 Feb 2011

Toby Behan, a former dancer with the Company, has clearly earned his choreographic stripes in his first-ever full-length ballet Pinocchio, created for the Royal New Zealand Ballet's Tutus on Tour series. Breaking with the tradition of presenting several short works, the Company has opted instead for a solid programme of two ballets: the story-book ballet, accompanied by a more traditional classical ballet – Greg Horsman's Verdi Variations.

The season opens with the Northern Company's performance of the programme, with the Southern Company opening in Blenheim on 5 March. Between them the two groups will perform in 40 centres throughout New Zealand over the next month, although they will not be able to fulfil their engagement in Christchurch. 

Behan's penchant for the quirky is given full rein in Pinocchio: a parable of human kindness triumphing over man's baser instincts. The adventures of the life-sized marionette, are enacted in a fantasy world as seen through the eyes of a child, with a luminous blue fairy, giant puppets, dancing animals and the sheer wonder of old-school theatrical effects.

Set to a recording of Andr
é Messager's Les Deux Pigeons, Behan sketches the characters through signature movement styles which define their intent and whether they are on the side of good or evil. Julian Southgate's design is a rag-tag riot of colourful costumes and beautifully crafted props and puppets, which are lit with sensitivity by Nigel Percy.

Pierre Doncq as Pinocchio proves to be a master of body rigidity in the first half of the work, with only his mobile face mirroring his emotion: initially devoid of conscience, as Pinocchio is willingly led through all manner of mischief by the irascible Lampwick, danced by Medhi Angot and then sorrowful and determined, as he seeks to make amends for his mistakes. 

In contrast the wily Fox danced by Paul Mathews and the Cat danced by Adriana Harper, create their cunning personae through movement alone – ingratiating themselves with curving, sinuous, bodies that are never still. Geppetto is beautifully realised by Qi Huan and Jaered Galvin clearly relishes the role of the flamboyant Stromboli with his Machiavellian tendencies. 

Behan is creative in his ensemble work with only a few sections needing tightening and simplifying. Various characters including the Blue Fairy – danced with tenderness and delicacy by Antonia Hewitt – appear and disappear as though in a dream, throughout the work. This mechanism serves to create the narrative of a magical world where logic flies in the face of a host of non-sequitur events.

Verdi Variations created for the Company by Ballet Master, Greg Horsman, is however, the polar opposite in terms of construction: a model of classical balance and control. Led by a radiant Abigail Boyle and Qi Huan, the company dancers show off their strength and their crisp, concise execution of the steps while maintaining their poise and balance. Horsman has some fun with the perennial gag of dancers seeking the spotlight and milking the applause but in between these shenanigans the dancers perform some demanding variations with strong commitment to the classical ethos as celebrated in the Russian ballet tradition. 

Keeping the Italian theme intact in the music, the work is created to Guiseppe Verdi's I vespri siciliani and J
érusalem. The dancers' lovely white tutus are designed by Tutu-Meister, Gary Harris with a flattering figure-hugging style, which looks as though the dancers have been poured into them. 

Lead soloist, Abigail Boyle is in top form, having reached a stage in her career where her steely strength matches her exquisite grace and line. Similarly, Qi Huan is given the opportunity to display his abilities, tossing off the difficult variations with ease. Musically the demands were tough, but most of the ensemble coped well with the fast footwork and turns. 

This is a programme to entrance the young ballet-lover and the young-at-heart. The Royal New Zealand Ballet clearly knows its audience as it journeys into the heartland of New Zealand.

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 Rosemary Martin
 Kasey Dewar