Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

23/06/2010 - 26/06/2010

Civic Theatre, 88 Tay Street, Invercargill, Invercargill

17/06/2010 - 19/06/2010

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

05/06/2010 - 12/06/2010

Aotea Centre at THE EDGE®, Auckland

07/07/2010 - 10/07/2010

Regent On Broadway, Palmerston North

29/06/2010 - 30/06/2010

Municipal Theatre, Napier

03/07/2010 - 04/07/2010

Production Details

Learning the art of seduction 
LEADING a double life is something Pieter Symonds is getting used to. By day she’s practicing to be the world’s most famous man-eater but by night she leaves her manipulating ways at the door as she returns home to her fiancé.
The international guest star of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Meridian Season of Carmen, Symonds says tackling the role of the infamous seductress is fun.
“She is completely different to me, but that is the joy of getting to be someone else on stage. I get to live out my wildest dreams and do things that would normally scare me to the bone!”
Born and raised in Christchurch, Symonds danced with the RNZB for eight years before following her career overseas. Currently a lead dancer with the UK’s acclaimed Rambert Dance Company, she says she was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to perform in her homeland again.
After leaving Christchurch Girls High School, Pieter moved to Wellington where she was accepted into the New Zealand School of Dance. While still a student she had an opportunity to perform as an extra in the RNZB’s production of Swan Lake. Her talent and dedication was noted and, after graduating, Pieter was offered a permanent job with the company.
She danced several lead roles with the RNZB including Esmeralda in Hunchback of Notre Dame, Lucy in Dracula and Lady Capulet in Romeo & Juliet.
“I adored being with the company,” she says. “The work was amazing and I had some fantastic characters to play. We used to have so much fun touring the country as well…fitting in time to go to wineries on days off, my golf clubs used to come on tour with me as well.”
Symonds moved to London in 2004 to work for Rambert – a move that took her into the world of contemporary dance. She quickly became one of their star dancers.
“It was bizarre moving to a contemporary company, having to start completely from scratch; learning a new technique that is just as specific as classical ballet.”
Now engaged to Rambert’s rehearsal director, Symonds says work commitments in the UK have meant she is rehearsing for Carmen in a somewhat unconventional matter.
“I was sent the DVD many months ago and have been busy studying it in my spare time. It is quite hysterical. I spend my lunch time in the studio playing with imaginary friends!”
A Northern Ballet Theatre (UK) production, Carmen is set against a backdrop of modern-day Rio de Janeiro. Choreographed by Dutch-born Didy Veldman and set to George Bizet’s famous score, it is dramatic dance theatre at its best.
The Meridian Season of Carmen
Venue, Date and Pricing Information


Wellington – St James Theatre
Saturday 5 June 7.30pm
Sunday 6 June 6.30pm
Wednesday 9 June 7.30pm
Thursday 10 June 7.30pm
Friday 11 June 7.30pm
Saturday 12 June 2.30pm & 7.30pm
Pricing $88 – $36*
Featuring the Vector Wellington Orchestra
0800 842 538 |
Invercargill – Civic Theatre
Thursday 17 June 7.30pm
Friday 18 June 7.30pm
Saturday 19 June 7.30pm
Pricing $58 – $37
(03) 2111692 |
Christchurch – Isaac Theatre Royal
Wednesday 23 June 7.30pm
Thursday 24 June 7.30pm
Friday 25 June 7.30pm
Saturday 26 June 2.30pm & 7.30pm
Pricing $80 – $49
Featuring the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra
0800 842 538 |
Palmerston North – Regent on Broadway
Tuesday 29 June 7.30pm
Wednesday 30 June 6.30pm
Pricing $68 – $37
(06) 3579740 |
Napier – Municipal Theatre
Saturday 3 July 7.30pm
Sunday 4 July 2.30pm
Pricing $68 – $47
(06) 835 2702
Auckland – Aotea Centre at THE EDGE®
Wednesday 7 July 7.30pm
Thursday 8 July 7.30pm
Friday 9 July 7.30pm
Saturday 10 July 2.30pm & 7.30pm
Pricing $88 – $36*
Featuring the Auckland Philharmonia
(09) 357 3354 / 0800 BUY TICKETS |
Child prices for all venues: $35 (Premium) & $25 (A/B/C/D reserve)
Student tickets for all venues: $25 (B reserve – valid ID required)
*Limited amount of inner circle seats available at $120.00

For daily casting information click here.

Barefoot in Rio with absolutely no bull

Review by Bernadette Rae 09th Jul 2010

Abigail Boyle, in a surprise appearance on Auckland’s opening night, which is usually played by the “A” cast with its leading stars, is absolutely, lusciously, dangerously Carmen. She just so looks the part – long of limb and statuesquely sexy – and makes the absolute most of her physical attributes with a perfect theatrical sensibility.

Choreographer Didy Veldman’s Carmen is set in the backstreets of contemporary Rio de Janiero, with a cast of low-life smugglers, muggers, gunmen and their molls. So the leading lady is for the most part barefoot and clad in skimpy jeans.

Boyle garnishes this very ordinary costuming with the ultimate in insouciant swagger, defiant epaulement, an arrogant joie de vivre. She fights and flirts and flees like an alley cat. She stares down her fate with the boldest and most believable of eyes. [More]
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Feral grace amid dated choreography

Review by Ann Hunt 12th Jun 2010

[The Pieter Symonds / Michael Braun pairing.]

Carmen was first performed by the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2002. This time around the company have got it right by casting Pieter Symonds and Michael Braun in the leading roles as Carmen and José. Their partnership works surprisingly well, seeing that Braun might not be one’s first choice as Symonds’ partner given his height and age. In fact the age difference works to their advantage and Braun develops the role in intensity, so that their ‘duel’ at the end is both passionate and despairing.

Symonds is a perfect choice for Carmen. As I was unable to attend any other performance this week, I am unable to comment on other interpretations. But I doubt that any would come near her in terms of charisma, technique, and total immersion in the role.

She dances it superbly, far, far better than the choreography deserves. In fact it is a little like putting a thoroughbred racehorse on a pony trek. From her first entrance she compels our attention. Symonds possesses a feral grace with a dangerous edge and resembles a cat – loving one minute, claws out the next. Her Carmen is a woman who knows the power of her own sexuality and is not afraid to use it to get what she wants. She is reckless, fiercely independent and totally uncompromising, and yet we side with her. Is it her ‘go for broke and damn the consequences’ attitude that we respond to (those of us who have never dared that much?).

For me Symonds and Braun’s performances were what anchored the production and kept it afloat. Fundamentally the ballet is weak. Choreographically it is dated and repetitive. There are also major flaws in the conception of the work which diminish its power as a narrative vehicle.

What choreographer Didy Veldman has created is an unsatisfying amalgam of contemporary dance overlaid with classical ballet movements, so that it is neither fish nor fowl. The style used needs to be earthy, raw and passionate, just like the love story it depicts. The men in the ballet come off particularly poorly. (I am not talking about performances here. I am referring purely to the choreography.) They are meant to be thugs and small time gangsters. Too often what we are given is ‘dress up time.’ The choreography makes the dancers look like ballet boys dressing up and pretending to be these kinds of people. 

They give it their best shot and the company is definitely more suited to the work than the 2002 cast were. But I kept thinking of the kind of rawness of the works of Raphael Bonachela and Michael Jackson’s back-up dancers in This Is It. An injection of street dance is needed to punctuate the flimsyness of the contemporary /ballet style employed by Veldman and to give the work realism. We simply do not suspend our disbelief and consequently are relatively unaffected by the tragedy unfolding before us.

As it is, there is little or no realism. The one scene where there could have been and should have been vicious realism, was the mugging of the two male tourists. What we get is a comic turn! The gang mugs the tourists, strips them to their underpants and steals everything they have. What is funny in that?

This is preceded by the silliest scene imaginable – that of the plotting by the gang. This is turned into a sort of meercats get-together round a table, with everybody popping up every now and again. Keystone cops humour may have been what Veldman was after, but why? It doesn’t work and diminishes the impact of the story.

Veldman simply does not risk enough in her choreography. Nobody touches a breast or grabs a crotch in the entire ballet! This is a work about sexual obsession. Its anti-heroine is a manipulating, self-serving, sluttish man-eater. We should be under the impression they are dancing like their lives depended on it and will do anything to get what they want. Not happening.

The sets by production designer Lez Brotherston (UK) are superb. The colour palette used reminds one of the paintings by the American artist Edward Hopper. It is set in Rio de Janeiro and the use of extractor and ceiling fans brilliantly denotes the heat of that city, as well as adding to the film noir style of the design. The opening scene outside the cigarette factory where Carmen works is particularly apt. The bar scene with the large television screen also works well, though it could have been a little larger.

The costumes on the whole are appropriate if a bit predictable. The appalling exception is Carmen’s dress for the final Bar Pastia scene. The frock, which is too long, is totally ruined by the use of opaque tights underneath it. If it’s going to be long, Carmen needs to have either bare tanned legs, or sheer black or fishnet tights and stilettos. As it is, the whole effect, given the tights and the boring shoes was one of dowdiness. And to make Pieter Symonds look dowdy is no mean feat! And why was her hair up in a bun? At a rock concert? She looked like Cloris Leachman.

Cast-wise, Katie Hurst-Saxon is a most affecting Michaela. She is a lovely dancer, with a warm and appealing personality. Her ‘what-might-have-been’ duet with Braun when she forgave him was a highlight.

As Escamillo, Brendan Bradshaw looks great (keep the hair Brendan) and has the requisite rock star bravura. It doesn’t totally work, but it’s not his fault.

However, whoever directed Kyle Wood to act the part of the Chief of Police as a cross between Peter Sellers Inspector Clouseau and one of the Monty Python characters ought to be shot. There was not a trace of menace in his performance.

So, a mixed bag then. Great in parts, less so in others. On the night I went, the audience adored it. It is definitely worth seeing Pieter Symonds prowl the stage like a cat on a hot tin roof. 
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International Flavour

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 10th Jun 2010

Truly a ballet of many influences this production of Carmen (Northern Ballet Theatre production) is essentially a story told in dance –with French music by Bizet, Spanish inspiration, a Dutch born  choreographer in Didi Veldman, set design by Lez Brotherston (UK), lighting by Mark Henderson (UK) and Brazilian choreologist Tatiana Novaes Coelho to set the moves on the company here.  

This Carmen has a Brazilian setting danced by a virtual united nations of performers. This is a story that has instant recognition yet still pulls at a personal moral response as the attraction of living dangerously, vicariously and totally selfishly holds a dark appeal.

Abigail Boyle looks stunning and has the moves and the manner as Carmen. Her Jose, danced by newly arrived British dancer Christopher Hinton-Lewis is excellent.

He displays the weakness that will ultimately lead to Carmen’s death right from the start. The bedroom scene is perfectly judged and searingly beautiful.

They are a stunning couple and they make the most of every hip thrust and pelvic swing in an almost prescriptive choreography that seems dated now and certainly lacks adventurousness in its vocabulary. Repetition rules and the cast dance well but there are just too many retires and releve high kicks and not enough substance to really set the stage on fire.

Katie-Hurst-Saxon as jilted girlfriend Michaela nearly steals the show and her dancing and acting almost made this Carmen her story! This was particularly true in both her sequences with Hinton- Lewis where we were willing him to make the choice and change the path of fate!

Tight unison work by the Factory packers was strongly led by Lucy Balfour as ‘friend’ Mercedes but the role of Escamillo as a rather camp rock star did not connect in any way with Carmen and there seemed no love or even lust possible in this relationship. Somehow a toreador has considerably more sex appeal than a leather-legged pack idol!

The Vector orchestra conducted by Tom Woods revelled in the bravado of Bizet and all in all the evening certainly succeeds as an entertainment.

Costuming seemed to be all denim,(a new fashion as The Marriage of Figaro recently gave us this look also?) but a few swirling skirts and bright hits of colour might have lifted the visual energy and the reality of these characters in today’s world and maybe helped us find a stronger and more desperate and convincing passion.

As the tour settles I may just have to go again to see if these dancers can get beyond the steps and really ignite emotionally.

I felt that I watched a great story but the tragedy that ultimately is Carmen failed to engage for me.
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Street life spills on to ballet stage in sizzling Carmen

Review by Jennifer Shennan 07th Jun 2010

The orchestra launches headlong into Bizet’s familiar themes of doomed passion. Teasingly slowly, a stage curtain opens sideways revealing a blood-red cloth. 

It’s pure theatrical foreplay, the first of many times that contrasting tempi are used to compelling effect. The dancers swift or slow, slick or sexy, seedy or smart, step their way into and out of trouble. Factory girls and policemen make expressive use of every move, and females isolate the pelvis in a way that needs no surtitles. 

This sophisticated ballet is set in the heat of Rio de Janeiro. Choreographer Didy Veldman’s distinctive movement vocabulary gives performers limbs that speak. Film clips, ingenious set and lighting design build a searing atmosphere and the dancers devour it all.

Abigail Boyle, stunning as Carmen, alternates between cool disinterest and headstrong passion. Her every beautiful move is timed in controlled contrasts as she takes then refuses, says yes and then no, maybe, maybe not, then bang she’s dead. Don Jose (Christopher Hinton-Lewis) didn’t really stand a chance, Michaela (Katie Hurst-Saxon), his sweet girlfriend, even less. Escamillo (Jaered Glavin) is a rock star with sizzling long legs but no brain.

Into a scene of mafia men and their girls stumble two lost tourists, perfect targets for a mugging. A touch of comedy in a dark tale, it highlights Brazilian machismo and sophistication against the frumpy gringo.

Courtenay Place afterwards, nightlife warming up. Bouncers in doorways, high-kicking poster girls, coyotes and mermaids, a sign invites “Dancers Wanted – No Experience Necessary.” Someone taps you for a “cigarette and a bus fare”. You choose the lit rather than the back streets to reach the car park, and laugh at Veldman’s skill in bringing street life onto the stage.

Brilliant theatre.
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Enjoyable, entertaining and safe

Review by Lyne Pringle 07th Jun 2010

The story of Carmen has been fodder for numerous interpretations. Most people know the story of Carmen from Bizet’s opera, commonly reputed as the most popular opera ever written. However, Carmen originated in a different form with French author Prosper Mérimée who heard an anecdote, when travelling in 1830 through Andalusia, Spain.

The story was of a Gypsy girl who had been killed by her jealous lover. Over the next fifteen years the story grew in his mind enlarged by impressions from his other travels in Spain, his own emotional experiences and his reading on the Gypsies and Spain. His novella Carmen was published in 1845.

Choreographer and Didy Veldman and director Patricia Boyle first staged this balletic interpretation of Carmen for the Royal New Zealand Ballet a few years back after the initial premier for the Northern Ballet Theatre (England) in 1999. Seeing it now in 2010, the choreography and theatrical devices seem dated. Set in a timeless West Side Storyesque zone in Rio de Janeiro, there is a lack of the grandiose Spanish passion that Bizet’s score can inspire.

Bizet’s Carmen saw the birth of ‘opera comique’ defined as light-hearted and bourgeois but at the same time there was a move towards naturalism.  Constantly throughout this performance I am jolted out of any engagement with the story or the characters by tongue in cheek and almost cute choreography. 

That said there are sublime moments. Abigail Boyle as Carmen in her first solo drips with alluring sexuality as the choreography sits deliciously in her highly articulate body. The movements of her arms are exquisite. She carries the character of Carmen with a wily and sinuous strength intention throughout the performance; her trajectory is tragic yet ultimately satisfying. 

Christopher Hinton-Lewis is convincing as Jose. He has strong technique and brings a great depth of feeling to his stylishly gymnastic bedroom duet with Boyle. His duet of yearning with Katie Hurst Saxon as Michaela is a stand out moment in the production. Hurst Saxon almost steels the show away from Carmen with her totally convincing dancing and characterisation. She is one of the cast members who dances with ease a more contemporary/modern movement vocabulary.

There are bold design statements with the set (Lez Brotherston) and lighting (Mark Henderson): Veldman uses the set well for some striking changes of level. The use of a video – I want it bigger – to portray Carmen’s escape and capture is clever as is the incorporation of the screen into the set for the bar scenes. However the dancers appear cramped, which is a pity because this is one of the scenes where they get to let rip as a chorus.

The overall dramaturgical structure of the work is strong, creating potent images, a readable story and a sense of characters inhabiting a gritty world, where the stakes are high and moral frameworks can be torn apart by desire. Carmen pulsates in the middle of this universe.

The company relish this opportunity to be ‘dramatic’ and dance well together but the choreography lacks imagination with too much repetition. Yes there is precision in Veldman’s story telling but altogether the choreography fails to ignite. There are one too many coquettish hip rolls, predictable momentum pathways and undeveloped structures. There is not one iota of risk. I don’t feel moved; I sit back in my seat, comfortable and bourgeois.

Lucy Balfour as Mercedes has a gutsy commitment to her role, as does Clytie Campbell as Frasquita. Whilst Jared Glavin brings a leggy bravado to Escamillo, his choreography errs towards the spectacular leaving little room for character development so that this role, so full of passion when it is in the domain of a bull fighter, becomes camp.

I enjoy the use of recorded music in the final scenes, which allows for the tension and drama to build.

The final image of Carmen striding forward, chest open to meet the imminent bullet is brave, strong and inevitable.

Carmen is an enjoyable, entertaining and safe evening in the theatre.
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