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SLENDID TRIPLE BILL WARMLY RECEIVED BY CHRISTCHURCH

Print Version
The Meridian Season of Aurora's Wedding 2011
Choreographers: Andrew Simmons, Christopher Hampson, Greg Horsman
Composers: Philip Glass, Sergei Prokoviev, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Design/Lighting: Kate venables & Jordan Tuinman; Tracey Grant Lord; Gary Harrisd & Jon Buswell

at CBS Canterbury Arena, Christchurch
From 16 Nov 2011 to 18 Nov 2011
[2 hrs]

Reviewed by Toby Behan, 17 Nov 2011
originally published in NZ Ballet's dancers warmly congratulated by Christchurch audince

It was a joy to have the national ballet company in Christchurch once again and the polished performance on display last night is evidence that this team of dancers, supported by an extremely skilful production department and administrative staff, are rising to another peak – the best in the business right now.

The venue was not ideal – but it was a venue, and that was what Christchurch needed in order to see the Royal New Zealand Ballet take to the stage once more, seeing as the regular home of the company (the Isaac Theatre Royal) is still being rebuilt.

The programme on display at the CBS Canterbury Arena was not what the rest of the country is seeing on this national tour, with the other centres instead receiving the full (reportedly splendid) magnificence of a new production of Sleeping Beauty – choreography by ballet master Greg Horsman and design by former Artistic Director Gary Harris. Whilst we had a tantalizing glimpse of what we are missing out on, in the form of Aurora's Wedding (merely a segment of Sleeping Beauty), the audience was also treated to a repeat performance of local choreographer Andrew Simmons' A Song in The Dark, as well as the Balcony Pas de Deux from Christopher Hampson's production of Romeo and Juliet.

Andrew Simmons' parents, amongst the opening night audience, must have been proud parents indeed as they observed 16 dancers execute his choreography with precision, confidence (stemming from familiarity and technical capability) and flair – and proud they should be. There is a tendency in New Zealand Dance (perhaps a Kiwi trait?) where we often feel as though our own artistic productions are poor in comparison to newer such offerings from overseas. This is simply not the case – with A Song in the Dark being nominated for Best Classical Choreography in the prestigious UK National Dance Awards for 2011 and the Royal New Zealand Ballet themselves also garnering a nomination for Outstanding Company. The choreography, the dancers performing it, and the organisation itself represents something for us all to be immensely proud of as New Zealanders.

A Song in the Dark is lyrical choreography, elegant and effortless, set to Philip Glass' outstanding music. Credit must go to Gary Harris for the commissioning of the ballet, as well as the foresight to request the work be made for a large number of dancers, allowing Simmons to utilize his clear choreographic gifts to a degree that perhaps even surprised himself. The company is especially strong and confident with a movement vocabulary of this style – a blend of classical and contemporary with strong New Zealand roots. The benefits of working closely with the choreographer are abundantly evident as Lucy Balfour skims, twists and paints her way across the stage, as Antonia Hewitt (surely an incredible talent within this company growing in stature and effect with every production) executes partnered work with a commanding grace, and the consummate professionalism of Qi Huan wrings every nuance out of the steps with beautiful lines and artistry. Couples melt on and offstage, sometimes walking, sometimes skimming – breaking into duets, trios and quartets in unexpected but visually satisfying ways.  Despite the magnificent individual talents on display, this is a corps de ballet work and all the dancers are to be congratulated (and indeed they were by the audience).

Before the interval, Tonia Looker and Brendan Bradshaw gave a technically assured and polished performance of Christopher Hampson's pas de deux from the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. Looker is every inch the young maiden on the verge of womanhood and throws herself into the work with simultaneous precision and abandon. Bradshaw is an extremely good partner, graciously allowing Looker to shine whilst providing her with the necessary romantic foil. Hampson's choreography however, acts sometimes as an obstacle to the narrative contained within the pas de deux, with floor-based movements and other stilted placements occasionally breaking the building mood and detracting from the believability of the innocent romance that is being portrayed. With the dance building toward the final first magical, tentative kiss at the end of this scene, the two lovers have no business rolling around on the floor immediately beforehand.

Aurora's Wedding provided a glimpse of what a tremendous production we are missing out on in Christchurch – let's get our theatre rebuilt and invite the company back once again so we can see the full show. Horsman states in his programme notes that he dares to hope he might “…maybe even inspire someone as I was all those years ago”, referring to the first time he viewed this ballet himself. One would suggest that this is not a mere hope, but a certainty. Horsman's choreography echoes a beautiful tradition mixed with all the good things that have come about with the evolution of classical ballet in recent years - and the dancers go about their work joyously throughout. Guest artist Stella Abrera radiated warmth and displayed masterful technique as Princess Aurora and was partnered with bravado and splendour by new dancer Sergio Torrado (who will find New Zealand audiences warm to him much more as he opens up to his onstage partner and colleagues). Kohei Iwamoto and Tonia Looker shine as the sparkling Bluebirds, executing demanding solos and pas de deux work superbly. The ever-hysterical Shannon Dawson takes to the stage with comical intelligence yet again, as Catalabutte. 

Such a performance from the company (especially seeing as extra work was brought on tour solely for the Christchurch performances, whilst simultaneously touring a demanding full-length production) was gratefully received by Christchurch last night. On the subject of gratitude (and with sadness) we, in turn,  also extend our thanks and farewells to some company members for the last time as they leave our stage for different destinations next year. For Eliza Madeleine Jost, such a splendid performer and  highly talented comedienne, for Pierre Doncque – a wonderfully committed dancer who gave his all to each and every moment he shone onstage, for Daniel Morrison, an unsung hero and stalwart amongst the ranks for six years, and for Cassandra Wilson, equally hard-working and gracing the stage since 2002. These performers have been wonderful servants of the dance – and so to the company as a whole last night, and to these performers individually – Christchurch thanks you for the good times.


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