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Print Version

Allegro: Five Short Ballets
Choreographers: George Balanchine, Johan Kobborg, Larry Keigwin , Daniel Belton.

at St James Theatre, Wellington
From 15 Aug 2014 to 17 Aug 2014
[2 hours]

Reviewed by Lyne Pringle, 16 Aug 2014

What a banquet – this evening of eclectic dance by the Royal New Zealand Ballet.  From an historic neo-classical interpretation of music, to a competitive romp full of gags, to a work with contemporary design and modernist choreography, to a chamber contemporary work with a tinge of narrative, to a full company rollick of gyrating moves to early minimalist music ruptured by current nightclub sounds. Great dancing, costumes, lighting and fun!

The party has already started when the curtain goes up. We find eight dancers swirling mid stage to Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 3 in E-flat Major. Music born out of depression and despair, the last work by this composer, is re-interpreted as joyous and life-filled.  Allegro Brillante is Balanchine at his best:  fast-moving ensemble passages, rapid-fire steps, 6 o'clock extensions and contrasting sections of peaceful lyricism that match the drama, tension and excitement of the score.

Gillian Murphy renders the work with tender precision and is ably partnered by Kohei Iwamoto. This dance is full of choreographic invention, with the principals inhabiting a virtuosic centre around which the entire piece revolves. The dance encapsulates the choreographer's passion and knowledge of Tchaikovsky's music and allows the audience to hear and experience him afresh.

The chorus: Clytie Campbell, Madison Geoghegan, Alayna Ng, Mayu Tanigaito with partners Peng Fei Jiang, Nathanael Skelton, Shane Urton and Shaun James Kelly; bring fresh and clear attack to this challenging work. Their meticulous timing and technique is breath-taking.

Balanchine endures: of the more than 400 ballets he created, roughly 75 are still actively performed. The Royal New Zealand Ballet has had a history of mounting them since the 1970s, when director Una Kai started the trend.

Lucy Green, Rory Fairweather-Neylan and Arata Miyagawa share the stage with musicians Benjamin Baker (violin) and Michael Pansters (piano) in Johan Kobborg's Les Lutins. They are all superb in this work described as an Agon which translates as contest or struggle. In a predictable – boys try to win the girl with their one up-man-ship and gags – plot the violinist eventually wins, much to the delight of the audience. Bringing  the musicians on stage allows us to enjoy the clear connection between music and movement and brings them into the dramatic action of the piece.

One aspect that impresses throughout the evening is the level of choreographic skill. This is true of Daniel Belton's work Satellites. It is heartening to see a resident New Zealand choreographer given the opportunity to work with the company; the start of new trend hopefully.

The design element of the work is striking, as is the overall choreographic structure. The dancers inhabit the languid movements with surety as they drift through the space, interacting simply at first then building into complex layers of solos interspersed with duets and trios. A refreshingly calm and tender world is created, where dancers support and gently tug each other into statuesque forms.

Everything in the visual field is constantly changing. Daniel Belton has established a strong and distinctive aesthetic in his work over many years and it is wonderful to see him completely fill the proscenium with movement, light, and sound. His creative team are superb: Donnine Harrison (costumes), Jim Murphy (kinetic sculpture) Jac Grenfell (motion graphics) Jan-Bas Bollen (music) and Nigel Percy (lighting). Together these artists create an elegant world that provokes our imaginations into spacious realms. Whilst alluding to a future of new technologies, the work feels in some ways ‘old fashioned' as if harking back to a modernist era – perhaps a nod to the Bauhaus masters, or rather a need for a more rigorous investigation of a less ‘known' movement vocabulary.

Larry Keigwin sure knows how to please a crowd and with two of his works on the programme we are given ample opportunity to appreciate his work.

Mattress Suite is performed beautifully by the dancers. Alayna Ng and Shane Urton are convincing as lovers navigating the ups and downs of romance and gymnastics of the boudoir. Ng has a feisty energy and fabulous extension that is extremely compelling and Urton a coiled and sultry intensity that draws the eye. Things get complicated when William Fitzgerald and Paul Matthews enter the scene. The work teeters on the edge of taste in a way that keeps the audience on side yet allows the sexuality of these men to be expressed – good to see these themes ‘out of the closet' in a clever little yarn that is wrapped up nicely.

Everyone gets their groove on for the second Keigwin number Megalopolis. You can't go wrong with the driving energy of Steve Reich's Six Marimbas,as a basis for a work. It is great to hear this iconic minimalist classic, which has been a score for so many dance works, getting another interpretation. In a new take though, Keigwin cleverly ruptures the music to insert more current sounds from MIA. The company obviously relishes performing Megalopolis, consequently their personalities shine through.  Choreographically taut, this work has distinctive movement motifs that are repeated enough to draw us in, to the point of, almost, making us feel as if we could join in as well.

It is an infectious and satisfying way to end this evening of fine choreography and dance.

Allegro Brillante is a last, impressive, hurrah from out-going Artistic Director Ethan Stiefel.

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See also reviews by:
 Ann Hunt (The Dominion Post);
 Jenny Stevenson
 Bernadette Rae (NZ Herald);
 Debbie Bright
 Kim Buckley
 Kasey Dewar
 Jonathan W. Marshall