Allegro: Five Short Ballets
30/07/2014 - 02/08/2014
23/08/2014 - 23/08/2014
05/08/2014 - 05/07/2014
15/08/2014 - 17/08/2014
20/08/2014 - 20/08/2014
08/08/2014 - 08/08/2014
Presented by The Royal New Zealand Ballet
The Royal New Zealand Ballet presents Allegro – a powerhouse of five dynamic ballets from leading international choreographers.
Precision, musicality, virtuoso technique – Russian classicism meets New York flair in a breathless display of classical ballet at its finest.
Choreography George Balanchine
Music Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 75
LES LUTINS (‘THE GOBLINS’)
Flirty and fun, two male dancers compete for the attention of a single female with increasingly daredevil moves – things are not what they seem following the addition of a violinist and pianist to the stage.
Choreography Johan Kobborg
Music La Ronde des Lutins, A. Bazzini; Caprice in A minor, H Wieniawski-Kreisler
This new piece, specially created for the RNZB, will include electronic music, animation and kinetic sculpture integrated with the dance.
Choreography, Concept, Design & Film Editing: Daniel Belton
Music: Jan-Bas Bollen
Kinetic sculpture: Jim Murphy
Costume design: Donnine Harrison
Choreographic assistant, Movement coach: Verity Jacobsen
Larry Keigwin’s Final Dress, created for the RNZB in 2012, caused a sensation. We are proud to introduce two more works by Larry Keigwin to New Zealand audiences as part of Allegro.
Created in 2003, Mattress Suite is made up of six scenes about love affairs, either on or near a mattress.
Choreography Larry Keigwin
Music Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Giuseppe Verdi and Etta James
Contains mature themes
‘Mr Keigwin made dynamite choices in Megalopolis, a divinely well-structured encounter between formalism and club culture.’ – The New York Times, 2009
Larry Keigwin’s style fuses Broadway, club culture and the worlds of fashion and burlesque.
Music Steve Reich and MIA
Lighting Designer for Allegro | Nigel Percy
Dancers/cast lists are shown on the web site of the Royal NZ Ballet - http://www.nzballet.org.nz
The pleasures of dancing
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall 25th Aug 2014
The Royal New Zealand Ballet has of late been opting for a historicist approach for the national Tutus on Tour programs, which is then interspersed with some good old fashioned populism.
2013 for example included Antony Tudor’s restructuring of emotional expressionism within classical technique of the 1950s—very British and very restrained, despite the use of Schuman’s stormy music—another from virtually the founder of classical ballet, 19th century choreographer Marius Petipa (one of superfluous wedding dances from Don Quixote), and a wince-inducingly dated 1858 romantic duet from Bournonville, all of which was slammed against a new work by Mark Baldwin accompanied by Split Enz’s music (you guessed it: this was the “populist” bit). 2011 wasn’t much better, with a dance homage to the king of 19th century Italian opera Verdi, and a dance mime evoking Pinocchio. No wonder people claim ballet seems like a dead form.
Possibly throwing caution to the wind in his last year as artistic director, Ethan Stiefel has put together a considerably more exciting program for 2014. Two pieces originally premiered by poppy New York contemporary dance-maker Larry Keigwin + Company are re-enacted by the RNZB dancers, whilst a new multimedia projection and dance piece from local dance-film legend Daniel Belton has been commissioned.
The nods to history persist in the form of a 1956 work by the typically austere, formalist New York Ballet choreographer Georges Balanchine. Interestingly Balanchine’s own version of modernist art—to focus on body and shape almost for its own sake—resonates well with Belton’s refashioning of many of the themes of modernist art, notably the utopian aesthetics of the 1950s space program and European Futurist art of the 1920s. Somewhat more surprisingly, Keigwin’s own approach to bodies moving simply for their own investments is so richly energetic and musically of our time, that it makes Belton’s attempt at a similar elegant formalism seem rather dated, and very close to Balanchine indeed.
Allegro Brillante; choreography Georges Balanchine, music Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky
Reviews of this piece have almost ritualistically cited Balanchine’s statement that Allegro Brillante “contains everything I know about the classical ballet in 13 minutes” (http://balanchine.com/allegro-brillante/), but when one compares this to more recent high octane displays of the entire palette of balletic moves such as William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude (1997), it hardly seems the rapid run through of all of the poses that it once appeared.
Indeed, one of the charming things about Balanchine’s 1956 version of this concept is that not only is he keen to ensure a smooth flow from each group of rapid pirouettes and piles to the next, but that also our two principals—in Dunedin, the beautifully light Kohei Iwamoto supporting the superlative Gillian Murphy, who if her continued “guest artist” status at the RNZB is anything to go by, may be returning to the US soon—act as central architectural pivots around which simple balanced structures, tableaux and human-archways are constructed, as four outlying dancers at each wing pose before moving inwards or away.
Tchaikovsky’s neoclassical detailing and falling into Romantic passion hardly makes for a lightweight score to perform to, but by and large the dancers retain a remarkably upbeat approach, even though at one moment just prior to the end where the music crescendos in orchestral fury whilst our lead pair, momentarily all but alone, calmly relay movements to each other across the divide, before coming back together.
The dissonance between sound and action emphasises how this dance, for all of its rehearsal of technical detail, is ultimately about the supreme pleasure of dancing with another. As Murphy ecstatically slides sideways into a deep, crouching hold by Iwamoto, the affect of this otherwise affectively empty work comes flooding in.
Les Lutins; choreography Johan Kobborg, composer Antonio Bazzini, musicians Benjamin Baker (violin) & Michael Pansters (piano)
Les Lutins is one of two fairly slight, populist crowd pleasers in the program, along with Mattress Suite. This is not to say Les Lutins is without appeal. Having live musicians (Benjamin Baker on violin and Michael Pansters on piano) enables a degree of interactive play between the three dancers and the material they dance which is fresher and more overtly visible to the audience.
Antonio Bazzini’s score for violin was fiendishly difficult and out there by late nineteenth century standards, but again, compared to more recent late 20th century avant-gardists like Brian Fernyhorough or even Alfred Schnittke it comes across today as something closer to manic gypsy music.
In either case, violinist Benjamin Baker acquits himself well. Kohei Iwamoto is a charming first soloist, interjecting elements of flamenco and almost zapateado-like turn-outs of the feet into the choreography, ably partnered with Joseph Skelton as the second male.
Female dancer Lucy Green has many of the most fun moments, exhibiting a curious choreographic pose which brings her down in a partial crouch even while moving, her posterior extending away from her trunk, and her feet also turned out and set at an angle as she tilts and jumps from side to side.
The piece is fun enough, though the bickering of the men as potential suitors never really gets beyond Xmas panto-style, but then perhaps it is not meant to; a fun divertissement.
Mattress Suite; choreography Larry Keigwin, music Antonio Vivaldi, Stevie Wonder, Giuseppe Verdi, & Etta James.
Keigwin’s Mattress Suite (2001-04) is not much more developed, consisting of six interludes, performed on or against a horizontal or raised mattress, with the performers in their underwear. One might have hoped for some serious sensuality here, and while the second piece has Alayna Ng and Shane Urton intermittently dropping down onto each other in a way which begins to make the heart beat faster, the suite is in fact remarkably coy.
We do at least get a boy-on-boy ménage à trios, but given they only kiss briefly, camp it up a lot but not quite enough to unsettle things, and since for much of the work they seem to be poised horizontally looking out from one end of the mattress, their chin in their hands, it all comes across as very tame.
Ng gives a good fist at her two solos as a rejected (or possibly anxious) bride, but she insists on beaming intensely throughout both, making the whole thing seem positively weird rather than dramatic. Urton has more to work with in a solo which allows him to contort his shoulders and arms such that forces rises from the wrist, unlocking one shoulder our of its parallel position and up, and then twisting around. This extremely interesting physicality is however all too brief before we return to the jolly joking around of other sections. In short, there just is not all that much going on in this suite.
Satellites; choreography / conceptual design Daniel Belton, music Jan-Bas Bollen, stage design / sculpture Jim Murphy, costume Donnine Harrison, animated projection Jac Grenfell.
It is perhaps no surprise then that the absolute highlight of the program is a rare chance to see Belton again having the resources to choreograph a larger group of live dancers moving before a large and complex live projection of material onto a somewhat indeterminate, diaphanous scrim. Belton’s last major multimedia dance piece was nearly 14 years ago now, so one can only hope that his latest production might finally enter the international repertoire and be seen again.
I will be writing in detail on this piece shortly for RealTime Australia (http://www.realtimearts.net/), so I shall not go into great detail here, except to say that Belton’s work sits well upon the RNZB.
The piece is resolutely sculptural and scenographic. Like the ballet maestro I cited above, William Forsythe, Belton is of the opinion that it is perfectly possible to generate ballet in which the dancer is but one element within an array of other materials, including images of slowly cycling planetary bodies and saturnalian disks (Jac Grenfell’s projected animations), harsh, electro-glitch music irregularly thunking and funking away within a dense bed of radiophonic noise (a wonderful if deceptively simple score from Jan-Jas Bollen), further on-stage sculptural elements (reflective discs carried by the dancers whose scattered beams link the flat projections to the 3 dimensional on stage space within which they dart, together with two further massive metal discs which angle themselves imperiously above the dancers) and sculptural costume (striking, Bauhaus-style silver tutus from Donnine Harrison).
Choreographically, Belton seems to be aiming for something like the Golden Ratio on stage: the mathematical snail-like shell of subdivided segments spiralling out from each other which was used as a key organising principle for Synthetic Cubist artists and teachers like Juan Gris and Albert Gleizes. This sense of spinning accumulation, here seen mostly side on as dancers are pulled and curled in trajectories which by and large tend to take them from left to right (except for the final closing ballerinas in Bauhaus tutus).
Belton’s shapes and structures may be more open, more given to breaking the line for a supple sense of relaxed posture, than those of Balanchine, but the two choreographers are working within a remarkably similar idea of formalism and classical modernism. I suspect that Balanchine’s Allegro would only need minor tweaking and an increased tendency to drop off-side, to sit happily against the design of Satellites, whilst Belton’s choreography would only need its urgency upgraded to go against Tchaikovsky.
Megalopolis; choreography Larry Keigwin, music Steve Reich (Six Marimbas) & MIA (World Town & XR2).
Largely because of this, the closing work of Keigwin’s Megalopolis (2009) comes across as the most contemporary within the mixed bill.
Keigwin alternates the company performing to the hypnotic, hippie-tinged ostinatos and phasing rhythms of Steve Reich’s Six Marimbas (1986) with the harsh, unstoppable electroclash beat and hand-in-the-air distorted horns of MIA’s “World Town” and “XR2” (both from Kala, 2007).
The dancers are dressed in a mixed array of skin-tight black leotards and short-shorts splashed with lines and blocks of silvered glitter. They shimmy on to wave their hands at the level of their shoulders, bounce forward led by a pelvic thrust, or swing hips in wide arcs, producing an overall nightclub ambience.
This is counter-posed with more typically balletic poses, with dancers crossing between each other in rapid jetes, or lines of performers whose long limbs establish lines across and within the space.
Overall, there is a tendency towards the self-presentation typical of clubs: hands and limbs emphasise ripples that move up through the torso, as well as vaguely comic, quasi-robotic moments, as dancers drop their chests to run parallel with the floor, before crooking a leg to further shake the body like a gigantic metronome or dippy-bird.
Keigwin has not plumbed the rhythmic complexity of Reich’s wonderful score. The dancing does not phase in and out of time signatures as it does in Reich’s music. Nevertheless the seductive polyrhythmic quality of the sound provides ample opportunities to off-set more four-on-the-floor accents of the movement with doubles, triples and other combinations (usually entered into after dancers come to a halt on stage).
Perhaps because of this, the opening of Megalopolis is just beginning to feel like it might have exhausted the innovative element of its structure when Reich drops out and MIA’s call out to the dance-floor “Where were you in ’92?” comes bursting out of the speakers.
MIA’s music has a harsh digital smash to both its sound and rhythm which at first seems at odds with Reich, but it is not of course. Reich began as an electroacoustic composer before shifting to his famous instrumental phase music, whilst Reich’s gorgeous pulses have long exerted a major influence on dance music, especially within house and techno (though not so much the lascivious lyrics and blunt distorted forms of electroclash itself), as in The Orb’s classic “Little Fluffy Clouds” (1991) or the Nonesuch issue of Reich (Remixed) (1999).
When the Reich returns, the transition thus comes across more smoothly this time, and flipping back into MIA is all but inevitable.
The whole thing is performed with a po-faced seriousness, only the smallest of smirks, allowing the technical nature of the movement to shine. Initially off-set by a bank of six upright fluorescent tubes at the back of the stage, the stage goes black as a lone dancer equipped with hand lights comes spinning in like a space-ship from hell, low riding diagonals, spins and rolls flashing across the space.
A particularly charming blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment comes when a previously unseen male dancer of, I’m guessing, about my age (40s!) joins the company, crossing the stage in the opposite direction, elegantly framing himself with arm gestures and proudly displaying in profile his mildly bulging paunch.
The piece therefore both flows and clashes, it is a violently energetic concatenation of materials which work together but whose organic unity is far from assured. In short, this is mash-up as performance, and whilst the rifts in the choreography between relatively pedestrian dance-floor movement and balletic exactitude is not as pronounced as the mash-up is within the music, it is undoubtedly present.
Thus whilst pride of place within the program goes to Belton’s previously never before seen, complex work, I am tempted to conclude that the remount of Keigwin’s Megalopolis might represent the future of dance and ballet better—or at the very least, its retro feel comes from a time far closer to ours that the European culture of the 1920s which Belton plumbs. Keigwin, like I suspect many in the audience such as myself, is a child of the 1990s.
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Audience whooping well deserved
Review by Kasey Dewar 21st Aug 2014
I always enjoy attending the mixed bill shows that the RNZB presents, they are always a nice mix of classical and modern dance and there is usually something to suit everyone. The introduction in the program is headed with the definition of Allegro – “…lively, gay; (movement) in brisk time” so I was expecting a highly entertaining show as I took my seat.
The performance opens with a neo-classical piece Allegro Brillante choreographed by George Balanchine. This was first performed by theNew York City ballet in 1956 and features ten dancers including a principal couple which this evening is danced beautifully by Lucy Green and Kohei Iwamoto. This piece features lovely snapshot moments – often the dance pauses very briefly while the performers pose before shifting into the next stage of the dance. The pastel costumes and light music from Tchaikovsky hold hints of spring which definitely suits this time of year.
The second piece is Les Lutins, choreographed by Johan Kobborg and first premiered in 2009. It features three dancers accompanied by a pianist and a violinist which is a nice touch as we often don’t get live music with ballet performances in Invercargill. The dancers this evening are Bronte Kelly, Shaun James Kelly and Arata Miyagawa who do a great job – Shaun Kelly and Miyagawa challenge each other to a dance off before vying for the affections of Bronte Kelly’s character who barely notices them once she sees/hears the violinist. Benjamin Baker on the violin and Michael Pansters on the piano are so good – they really make this piece, and it’s fun to watch Baker’s interaction with the dancers. The applause at the end of this piece is thunderous – this southern audience certainly enjoys the live music for a change!
Satellites choreographed by Daniel Belton with music by Jan-Bas Bollen is the middle performance for the evening. The inspiration for this dance comes from Bauhaus artists who strongly feature emblems of abstraction and mechanisation in their work. Simple white costumes designed by Donnine Harrison are accompanied by shiny mirror disks carried by the dancers as they move around the stage. This piece is really interesting to watch – the dancers split off into duets and trios and there’s some really nice choreography of the interplay between the dancers in each group. With the trios one dancer seems to be controlling the other two by gently shepherding them where they should go. The motion graphics from Jac Grenfell aid in creating a futuristic atmosphere and provide a perfect background to the mechanical but constantly flowing movements from the dancers.
There is a mature themes warning with the next piece, Mattress Suite, aptly titled as the dance revolves around the centrepiece of a mattress. The choreography is from Larry Keigwin and Nicole Wolcott and the RNZB is the first company outside Keigwin’s own company to perform this piece. The dance opens with Alayna Ng in a wedding dress and veil and initially follows her on her side of a mattress wall. Her partner Shan Urton is next, on the other side of the wall. Then these two dance together in on and around the mattress. Next are three male dancers; Shane Urton, William Fitzgerald and Paul Mathews who do an amazing job, then Urton alone again, then Ng relishing having the mattress all to herself.. Throughout the piece there are moments of humour which help to keep the dance from feeling too uncomfortable – after all, this dance comprises dancers rolling around on a mattress in their underwear! The combination of classical music broken up by Sunshine by Stevie Wonder and At Last by Etta James keep you interested throughout the whole piece.
The final performance of the night is Megalopolis, also choreographed by Larry Keigwin. The costume designs are by Fritz Mason and are by far my favourite of the night – each dancer’s costume is different and features a combination of black, sparkles and an amazing looking wetsuit-like grey material. The scene is so well conveyed in this piece – fluoro bar lights on the back wall mimic a club atmosphere and the bright light works well to hide the dancers gathering at the back of the stage. The dancing pitches blocks of very formal group movement to Steve Reich’s Six Marimbas contrasted against blasting club songs by MIA with sassy finger waggling individuals. It’s easy to see the dancers are having fun with this piece – I couldn’t see one dancer who wasn’t into all the shimmying and flourishing which was awesome. This piece is the perfect way to end the evening’s performance on a high and the applause and whooping from the audience was well deserved at the end.
Allegro provides an amazing range of ballet within a couple of hours. It certainly lived up to its definition of lively, gay and movement in brisk time. Each piece provides its own contrasts making it a dynamic and interesting performance to watch as a whole – what more could you want.
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An eclectic evening
Review by Lyne Pringle 16th 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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Vibrant season of five short works
Review by Ann Hunt 16th Aug 2014
This vibrant season of five short works has something for everyone. If classical ballet is your preference, George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante (music, Tchaikovsky,) will not disappoint. Still as fresh today as it was in 1956, it is danced with vivacity and sure technique by all the cast.
Gillian Murphy and Kohei Iwamoto are an elegant principal couple. Her beautiful placing, epaulement and regal bearing suit Balanchine’s sweeping choreography and she invests the role with a gentle tenderness, while Iwamoto impressed with his crisp technique.
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A versatile and vibrant company
Review by Kim Buckley 10th Aug 2014
I feel rather indulged as I sit in my fabulously positioned seat inside the Napier Muni. I really do look forwards to this promised ballet sampler, a little bit of everything. And that is exactly what The RNZB gives us. Thank you Ethan Stiefel for creating such an exciting programme. With five pieces of extremely different choreography, I feelcompletely sated by the end of the evening.
We start with George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante set to Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto. This piece has been staged for RNZB by Eve Lawson, a repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust, and currently Ballet Mistress for The Australian Ballet. Balanchine choreographed this work for The New York City in 1956. A neo-classical piece, this choreography requires dancers to be strong, agile, fast, and grounded, and able to achieve short, sharp, or large movements very quickly, with precise counts. It is unfortunate, that on this occasion, the canons in this work were not precision timed.
It is said that “Allegro Brillante eats up space”. This is a characteristic of much of Balanchine’s work and the weaving and plaiting within this piece does exactly that. No floor space is left untouched. Contractual confines of Balanchine’s work do not let any of the costumes, set or lighting be changed. I wonder what this dance would look and feel like with brighter colours and deeper tones for the costumes instead of the muted greys, mints, and apricots worn by the dancers Lucy Green unfolds on stage like a long stemmed spring rosebud and is well-partnered by Kohei Iwamoto. Overall, the imagery and feeling I am left with is the idea of the quickening of new spring life.
When the curtains open for Les Lutins to a lone grand piano sitting stage left, my expectations rise. To where, I ans unsure, but I feel them and it is exciting. Out come the musicians, both New Zealanders. The virtuoso Benjamin Baker with his talking violin and the First Class Michael Pansters on piano. At times, I feel awash with echos of a 1920s tango as the violin beguiles me, calling to my inner passion.
Rory Fairweather-Neylan is quick to seduce his audience with his precise movements, accenting Antonio Bazzini’s clever musical whimsicality, with a comic timing that creates an atmosphere of fun and light-heartedness. Exactly, I imagine, how choreographer Johan Kobborg intended it to be. Arata Miyagawa answers the call of the male bravado, as another contender to champion the dance, answering the violin’s cheeky and challenging speed. For a while they play with each other in a Laurel & Hardy slapstick until Bronte Kelly enters as the third dancer, ultimately tweaking the male dancers’ interest. All three dancers become playful gypsyies. After Bronte dissuades them to leave her alone, her final gesture is to remind us that indeed, the leader of the pack is in fact the violinist. The movement language in this piece is so easily readable, listening to the laughs within the full house, I envisage ‘Les Lutins’ will become an audience favourite.
It is an absolute pleasure to witness the World premiere of Daniel Belton’s work, Satellites. The subsonic throbbing bass pulses hit me first, humming through my being. Jan-Bas Bollen’s sound scape has a beat that resonates within me on some energy level, and I have imagery of Native American drummers and dancers swirling around my mind. It is too much to take in all at once, and I don’t. I am so transfixed by this relentless deep sound, that my mind takes in different aspects of this work one at a time. It is after the dancers start circling and spinning that I notice Jim Murphy’s stunning kinetic sculptures hanging above the stage , slowly and inevitably spinning and circling around their own axes, then the visual backdrop by Jac Grenfell beautifully echoing the kinetic sculptures, and tracing ley lines of movement in space. Everything within the performance connects for me in that moment. The mirrored reflective circles the dancers deliberately carried and placed, began to glint into the audience, tiny fine reflections making up a silver thread umbilicus connecting each and every one of us in the audience into the entirety of the work itself. Precisely in that moment, I feel complete. Then within the soundscape, the bass is turned down, and all is well again within my world.
Belton’s choreography is in groups, lines, trios, duets, and solos. It slowly pours into the floor and out of the floor as dancers are lifted and assisted by each other. The dancers move with a sensuality, a physicality that is languid, sexy and strong. Stepping out in well-formed canons , creating fascinating shapes that seem to never stop moving. Space is everywhere, like an ancient universal mathematic language. The soundscape changeds only a little throughout this work, adding in and taking out different accents, and timeless sounds, but always returns to the deep sonics. Donnine Harrison’s costumes are perfect in their white simplicity, the dancers as modern space travelers. Nigel Perry’s sublime lighting adds exactly the right amount of atmospheric tone. My hats off to you Mr. Belton. This work owns itself utterly, completely and deliberately. I hope we are privileged to see more choreographed staged works by you in the future.
‘Mattress Suite’ by Larry Keigwin ais mature in its theme, youthful in its play and psychological in language. This is a dance about a man, a woman, two other men, and the ways in which they deal with their domestic realities. To begin, we see a bride and groom separated by a stand up mattress. She tells us she is excited and in love. He tells us he is not quite sure what is happening for him emotionally. He wants to be connected, but the connection keeps breaking. The wedding dress comes off, as does the suit, and the couple start to engage. Physically that is. Not so much dance, this is physical theatre. Throughout their duet, there is a dissonance between them that is easily readable. What starts as joyous play, boinging on the mattress and rolling around each others bodies, becomes destructive and wretched. The story goes on and needless to say, choreographically, all the loose ends come together with a clever construction that will leave all parties fairly satisfied. This is the first time Mr. Keigwin has allowed any another company to perform this work, which makes this work a New Zealand premiere. Alayna Ng sizzles to the blissful sounds of Etta James, while Shane Urton, William Fitzgerald, and Paul Mathews fully engage in the masculine beauty of playful Men on a mattress.
Commissioned by The Julliard School and created for 20 dancers by Larry Keigwin, ‘Megalopolis’ is the treat of the evening. As the curtains opene, two dancers stand front stage right in darkness, seemingly lit only by the five lines of fluorescent tubes at the back of the stage. Original lighting design by Nicole Pearce gives the atmosphere of chic, smart, cool, and sexy before we are introduced to movement. Immediately noticeable are the costumes, black lycra figure hugging bling-encrusted body suits of varying limb lengths, created by Fritz Mason, mean absolute business. The movement is relentless and persistent throughout, precise in its execution, and compelling to watch. Mr. Keigwin has used recognisable motifs which are cleverly anchored throughout the work in all the right places. Six Marimbas by Steve Reich and World Town/XR2 by M.I.A. are extraordinarily juxtaposed but perfect in the doing. On one hand, we are hypnotised by the marimbas and then shouted at by M.I.A. The idea of getting complacent before we wake up and sit up, and take notice, perhaps a reflection on life.
Overall, the dancers of the Royal New Zealand Ballet showcase their extraordinary ability well here and the polished program is testament to their hard work. A versatile and vibrant company capable of anything given to them.
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Review by Dr Debbie Bright 07th Aug 2014
Programmes of shorter works are often a good choice for New Zealand audiences – something for everyone. This performance is no exception. Five very different pieces give the audience delicious tastes of various styles: ballet at its most neo-classical, live music, humour, contemporary dance, interaction with light and sculptural form, narrative, upbeat city life and social dance. This sort of programme means that those who want only traditional classical ballet will not be satisfied, but everyone else will! Being an eclectic, I love it!
Does the orchestra direct the dance or does the dance direct the orchestra? Well, perhaps, since the orchestra is pre-recorded, the question is redundant, in this instance. This work shows choreographer George Balanchine at his most classical in terms of music, dance style and form. In the programme, Balanchine is quoted as saying, ‘It contains everything I know about the classical ballet in 13 minutes’. The set and costumes are muted: plain pastel cyclorama, the women in pastel fitted tops with flowing skirts, the men in grey flowing shirts and classical tights. On the other hand, the choreography is a dazzling display of ‘high’ (speed, leaps, legs, arms, bodies) and ‘circling’ (arms, bodies, interactions, formations). In keeping with Balanchine’s musicality, the weaving of the dance often makes visible the weaving of the orchestral instruments. I enjoy immensely the dancers’ speed and dexterity and the complexity of patterns and formations. AS the lead male dancer, Arata Miyagawa impresses with his leaps, turns and strength, and his partner Mayu Tanigaito displays a breath-taking lightness of movement while performing her feats of virtuosity. I think about Maria Tallchief, the original performer of this work, and I imagine she would have enjoyed Mayu Tanigaito’s performance. As a piece of sparkling liveliness (Allegro Brillante) this work definitely succeeds. Fantastic!
Les Lutins (mischievous imps)
As soon as I read the programme notes, I know that this work is going to be different. The curtain rises to show a grand piano (to the audience’s) downstage left, and the first performers appear: violinist, Benjamin Baker, and pianist, Michael Pansters. The musicians tune up and begin. A single dancer, Rory Fairweather-Neylan, saunters on to upstage centre, and then the fun begins. A fast, mischievous, virtuostic, teasingly competitive interaction takes place between violinist and dancer, each vying with the other. Kohei Iwamoto enters and the two dancers vie with each other and the violinist. Yang Liu enters as the female member of the competitive love triangle of dancers, and the final thread to the mischief-making possibilities. However, in this case, I think the violinist, the most mischievous imp of all, wins the competition… and the girl!
This is a stunning display of Daniel Belton’s talents as designer and choreographer. The work begins with a loud rumbling sub-bass reverberating and vibrating through the auditorium. The curtain rises on huge hanging light- attracting sculptural ‘satellites’, mirrored circles held by swirling, leaping, weaving dancers, and an intriguingly hypnotic display of fine, moving arcs of coloured light. Moving images are projected on to gauze and reflect off costumes and props. The dance moves seamlessly from lyrical leaping, stepping and turning to angular holds and lifts, and unexpected moments of stillness. The sound track progresses through deep bass, screaming high notes and an ongoing driving rhythm. Finally, I no longer see the dancers as three-dimensional and the light display as two dimensional; I see the reverse: two dancing ‘satellites’ spin slowly through space, among moving images of light between gauze and backdrop, as the other dancers step and pose in a single beam of side lighting along the front of the stage. For me, this is an incredibly satisfying and awe-inspiring sound and visual feast.
Funny, poignant… why can’t any of them really find their way to each other? He tries to join her, he tries to join the lads. Ah, perhaps she really wants the mattress all to herself! A series of six short pieces – her, him, them (duet), him, us (male trio), her – full-throttle action of leaps, throws and falls on and around a double mattress. I think of the possible fears and nerves in the studio, of learning to trust that the mattress will be there even when the moves are fast and the risks high: ‘Will I miss the mattress and hurt myself?’ But the joy, for me, of witnessing the fast-moving, witty, poignant and highly skillful result of that work. Great work, Lucy Green, Oscar Hoelscher and ‘the lads’, McLean Hopper and Loughlan Prior. Entertaining, thought-provoking, provocative, physically and emotionally courageous – congratulations for successfully performing this work; I trust that Larry Keigwin is happy with your efforts.
Ah, Mr Keigwin, what a genius! This is Broadway meets techno meets clubbing meets street dance, interspersed with the busy, rushing, briefly interacting, funny antics of city people together and individually. Soundtrack loud, driving, demanding, entertaining. Costumes black with reflecting silver strips and patches and quirky features, in front of black backdrop and tall reflecting silver columns. Twenty dancers in fast-moving formations and masses. Busy, stylised, amusing, showing off, being the clown, reminders of night life, socialising, clubs, group antics, street action, drifting, loitering, hurrying, working-day and after-work, business, leisure and skylarking. It’s all there and more, in highly skilled accuracy. And so much fun to witness. I’m drawn into the work and left on a high, as I’m sure I am intended to be.
This is Ethan Stiefel’s final season as artistic director with the Royal New Zealand Ballet. His particular touch of exceptional skill, polish and professionalism is evident. I imagine that he will be missed; he has certainly added to the legacy and passion of a long line of artistic directors.
I hear comments from a few audience members who would prefer a full programme of traditional classical ballet. But I hear many enthusiastic exclamations about how enjoyable and amazing the performance is, and which items are the favourites. The large and appreciative audience expresses its pleasure after each piece. The passion of some overflows into a standing ovations at the end of the show; an extended time of curtain calls is demanded by all. I am left saying over and over in my head: ‘SPEC-TAC-U-LAR’!
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High five to fantastic flights of fancy
Review by Bernadette Rae 01st Aug 2014
From Balanchine’s neo-classical Allegro Brillante, with swirls of retro mint and soft apricot tulle for the girls and pearly grey tights for the boys, to the stupendous, almost stupefying, finale of Larry Keigwin’s Megalopolis, all edgy black lycra and diamante dazzle, the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s programme of Five Short Ballets is stylish, sexy, sophisticated – and awe-inspiring.
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Dancers fizzing with enthusiasm and exuberance
Review by Jenny Stevenson 31st Jul 2014
At the conclusion of his all-too brief tenure as the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Artistic Director, Ethan Stiefel is showcasing the vigour and versatility of the company dancers in this programme of five short ballets, entitled Allegro. The works are all vital and fresh and the dancers fizzing with enthusiasm and exuberance. Perhaps this more than anything, will be Mr Stiefel’s legacy.
Choreographically, the works vary from the elegant classicism of Russian-American choreographer, George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante first performed in 1956, through to the world premiere of New Zealand’s own Daniel Belton’s technologically-inspired work Satellites. They are literally worlds apart.
Between these polarities are the sprightly ballet, Les Lutins by Danish choreographer, Johan Kobborg and the urban glamour of New York choreographer Larry Keigwin’s two works, Mattress Suite and Megalopolis. Keigwin’s work sits especially well on the company, following on from his earlier standout choreography in 2012, Final Dress, commissioned for Mr Stiefel’s first season as Artistic Director of the Company.
Megalapolis is an exhilarating commentary on big-city attitude: the dancers dressed predominantly in black fitted costumes, accentuated by bands of glittering silver and performing against the harsh glare of vertical neon lights. The compelling and driving rhythms of Steve Reich and MIA’s music sets the tone as the dancers sashay, jump, leap, run and dance across the stage, in large and small groupings punctuated by occasional supported lifts. Club dance styles are offset by lovely contemporary movement phrases, all the more startling for their incongruity.
Keigwin’s Mattress Suite delves further into the human psyche with a mattress being the catalyst for action of the bedroom variety and strong performances by Alayna Ng and newcomer Shane Urton creating tension, dissent, a digression and finally an implied resolution.
Daniel Belton’s extraordinary work Satellite uses the medium of light: in projections, piercing lasers and glittering refractions to create a world suspended in the ether, where white-clad dancers clasp gleaming orbs as they dance against a background of partially revealed, ever-rotating circular bodies – perhaps the satellites of the title. The work features the music of Dutch composer Jan-Bas Bollen, kinetic sculpture by Jim Murphy and motion graphics by Jac Grenfell. Nigel Percy’s lighting design is particularly impressive. In both this work and Megalapolis, dancer Loughlan Prior gives an exceptional performance.
Kobborg’s work Les Lutins is a sparkling and humorous dialogue between dancers and musicians, displaying the extraordinary talent of 24 year-old violinist, Benjamin Baker and pianist Michael Pansters. Dressed in white shirts and black pants the three dancers Rory Fairweather-Neylan, Arata Miyagawa and Lucy Green pit themselves against each other as they execute Bournonville-style jumps and toss-off multiple pirouettes, in a show-off contest of one-upmanship.
Of his ballet Allegro Brillante, George Balanchine is said to have commented “It contains everything I know about the classical ballet in 13 minutes.” Principal Guest Artist, Gillian Murphy performs the fast and challenging choreography with a lightness of being and exquisite port-de-bras, partnered by Kohei Iwamoto. The four couples, the women dressed in fresh spring-green dresses, dance the multiple, staggered canon phrases and directional changes with speed and strength to Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto.
The Company is now poised to move in a new direction with its incoming Artistic Director. It is certain however, that Mr Stiefel’s input will remain with the dancers for quite some time and the new repertoire will prove to be equally enduring.
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