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Photo: Evan Li
Photo: Evan Li
Stravinsky Selection - Royal NZ Ballet
Petrouchka - Choreography Michel Fokine | Producer Russell Kerr.
Satisfied with Great Success - Choreography Cameron McMillan
Milagros - Choreography Javier de Frutos

at Aotea Centre at THE EDGEŽ, Auckland
From 25 May 2011 to 28 May 2011
[2hr 25min (with 2 intermissions)]

Reviewed by Raewyn Whyte, 26 May 2011

The very stylish, brand new Cameron McMillan dance work,Satisfied with Great Success, is the delight in the Royal New Zealand Ballet's Stravinsky Selection, set between the whirling white skirts of the award-winning Milagros (2004), and the lavish colours of the now 100 year old Petrouchka story ballet from the Diaghilev era.  
McMillan's Satisfied with Great Success  is his third commissioned work for the Company. Just 20 minutes long, it is nevertheless packed with technical and expressive risks. There's an array of extraordinary moves and demanding partnering sequences, which all 12 dancers perform  with verve and precision, bringing the occasional frisson of excitement. There's a spectacular section danced by six men, marked by a flying, circling, turn-inside-out-and-click-your-heels-before-landing-on-his-chest/flank/hip leap which all have cleanly mastered. And there's an array of subtle interactions and mood switches which echo the astonishing range of variations within the score played beautifully by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. The score delights in breezy, optimistic mixes of strings and brass, some charming melodies, a long sequence with gentle intertwinings of strings and flute (originally intended for soloist and corps de ballet), leading  to a beautiful combo of trumpet and solo strings, then martial drums which promise discord followed by strident blasts of sound.  With sections ranging from 30 seconds to almost 5 minutes in length, it's no wonder this is a dance full of surprises.  
Stunning lighting by Nigel Percy picks up on the high fashion theme signalled by Karen Walker's designs -- part Fashion Week, part studio photo shoot, part trendy stage lighting with just a hint of haze -- it's a delicious combination of intense side lighting, subtle back lighting and a bit of topdown glare which utterly reveals the dancers, drawing attention to the way muscles move to achieve the fine articulation demanded. The lighting too brings into focus their extremely fashionable, though at time very distracting, clothing. Walker's basics are plain navy blue t- shirts and polo shirts for the men,  with walk shorts in navy blue or gold or taupe; and variations on navy leotards for women, with contrasting accents - a belt, a collar, a flirty tiered skirt, peepshow knickers, a waist frill - in taupe, white, a patterned dark grey, deep gold, and sharp neon-lime. The men look like athletes, swimmers, rugby players, the women reminiscent of waitresses or flirty flaunty clubbers: quite contrary to what is conjured by the interplay of dance and music.
The world conjured in Milagros is built equally by movement, design, and music, by the play of light on moving bodies as they endlessly circle their dance floor, or prowl the invisible perimeters of their territory, awaiting the outcome determined by the patterns of fate. It is not a pleasant world they inhabit, and by turn they may be harshly handled, or provided with pleasure, subjected to torture and pain, or transcend all else in moments of ecstacy. The dancers are obviously attuned to that place, and their focus never wavers, and though the impact is never electrifying, it still carries a chill. The poignancy of the lambent piano roll version of the music to which we are treated seems entirely appropriate here.
Stravinsky's music for Petrouchka provides the narrative throughline for action over four scenes, two in a crowded fairground replete with gypsies, an acrobat, a performing bear, Cossacks, policemen, and lots of onlookers, and two in the puppets' private rooms.  Three puppets - the tragic clown Petrouchka (Christopher Hinton-Lewis), the Ballerina (Adriana Harper) and The Moor (Paul Matthews) - are manipulated by their puppet-master, The Charlatan (Sir Jon Trimmer) into a doomed love triangle which inflects their fairground performances.  It's a monstrous tale, of course, and has been interpreted as a criticism of the profit motive which The Charlatan obeys -- he tortures his puppets to intensify their performance, and thus to earn himself  a greater box office take.
Though the story is clearly conveyed, and the dancng competent, this presentation lacks the verve of the contemporary works. This is the third time Russell Kerr has reconstructed Petrouchka for the Company, and perhaps the final time. Kerr danced it in London in the early 1950s, and has modelled his choreography after  the Michel Fokine original. Design of sets and costumes by Raymond Boyce are also after the Alexander Benois originals - though the costumes for The Puppet and the Moor have significant differences from the original designs.  I wonder what Benois would have thought  about this particular version of the Moor's pants, made from the gleaming  liquid gold synthetic fabric much loved by belly dancers? ).


See also reviews by:
 Bernadette Rae (NZ Herald);
 Greer Robertson


Helen Wenley posted 28 May 2011, 05:13 PM

 I watched this production last night.  I am not a ballet fan.  However I was blown away by the fluidness and precision of all the dancers.  It is a spectacular and enjoyable production.