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New Zealand School of Dance 45th Anniversary Graduation Season
Choreography by: George Balanchine, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Garry Stewart, Claire O’Neil, Parrish Maynard, Loughlan Prior and Mia Mason

at Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington
From 21 Nov 2012 to 1 Dec 2012
[90 mins]

Reviewed by Greer Robertson, 22 Nov 2012

With polish and panache, the full time training students graduate with a fine display in an evening of joi de vivre.

To mark this milestone of producing dancers for not only a national but an international market over the past 45 years, this Graduation Season definitely shows where their strengths lie.

Carefully selected pieces from globally recognised choreographers not so often seen in New Zealand, such as George Balanchine, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Garry Stewart, are presented.  What a delight for the dancers to get their teeth into such well reputed pieces, honing and performing their carefully learned skills of up to 3 years of artistic sweat and labour.

With a burst of energy and unbridled enthusiasm the classical ballet students explode onto the stage first in a presentation of nine pieces which include works by Edmund Stripe, Mia Mason and Parrish Maynard, and world premieres of works by by Claire O'Neil and Ivica Novakovic.

A brisk, swift Valse Fantasie by Balanchine sets the tone for things to come with fast-paced, intricate, often very difficult work. The dancers instantly charm and smile their way into the hearts of the audience who are often sitting on the edge of their seats in their fleet-of-foot wonderment and appreciation.

The solo work Faun is inspired by the works of Diaghilev and Nijinsky one hundred years ago, and was originally commissioned from choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui by Sadler's Wells. A powerful physical command of the body's complete working is required, permeating every muscle and fibre, coupled with a mature historical and soulful understanding. Faun is presented by Gareth Okan who, as a student hungry for a career in dance will undoubtedly advance in his maturity and delivery through this experience. Huge applause to the staff and Garry Trinder, Director of the New Zealand School of Dance since 1998, for exposing and allowing students the opportunity to immerse themselves in such powerful pieces.

Birdbrain was originally premiered in Australia with choreography by Garry Stewart. Based loosely and playfully on Swan Lake, it interweaves multiple  forms of dance including gymnastics, yoga, contemporary and breakdance with clipped, concise high octane classical ballet. A relaxed costume of Tshirts, dance pants and bare feet enables the dancers to excel and totally get into it and it is evident that the dancers thoroughly enjoy it as much as I do watching them.

Street clothes, long tutus, underwear and brightly coloured halter neck leotards adorn the well-toned dancers' bodies throughout the eclectic programme. But, I note however, an absence of that very much admired traditional short tutu and all that goes with it. At all times though, great seamless partnering skills are delivered by the abundant in numbers and technically very strong male students.

The highlight for me is Verse, the physical calligraphy of a script embodied in flesh. As a celebration of the school's anniversary, graduate Loughlan Prior, who dances with and recently choreographed for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, has created this spellbinding solo work. Ably and majestically performed by Luis Piva, I was entranced with the union of body, movement, music and true empathy, and look forward to seeing this very talented dancer's career flourish.

The high energy evening ends the same way as it started. Set to Prokofiev's Symphony No.1, Opus 25 with choreography by Edmund Stripe, the dancers hold back nothing. They gave their all.

Congratulations New Zealand School of Dance on delivering 45 years of excellence.

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