Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

21/11/2019 - 23/11/2019

Opera House, Wellington

06/11/2019 - 09/11/2019

Municipal Theatre, Napier

16/11/2019 - 17/11/2019

Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre - Aotea Centre, Auckland

05/12/2019 - 07/12/2019

Online, Global

03/04/2020 - 05/04/2020

Regent On Broadway, Palmerston North

13/11/2019 - 13/11/2019

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

30/12/2019 - 30/12/2019

COVID-19 Lockdown Festival 2020

Production Details

Royal New Zealand Ballet launches live streaming of performances


1 April 2020 – immediate release

Starting this Friday, 3 April, the Royal New Zealand Ballet will offer free broadcasts of recent performances via Facebook Premiere.

First up will be Christmas 2019’s acclaimed production of Hansel & Gretel, choreographed by Loughlan Prior, with an original score by Claire Cowan, designs by Kate Hawley, lighting by Jon Buswell and visual effects by POW Studios, filmed live onstage at the Opera House in Wellington in November last year.

The cast includes Kirby Selchow and Shaun James Kelly in the title roles, Katharine Precourt as The Ice Cream Witch and Paul Mathews as her monstrous alter ego, The Witch Transformed. Nadia Yanowsky and Joseph Skelton play Hansel and Gretel’s loving but impoverished parents, Nathan Mennis portrays the otherworldly Sand Man and Allister Madin and Mayu Tanigaito dazzle as the King and Queen of the Dew Fairies. Orchestra Wellington are in the pit, under the baton of conductor Hamish McKeich.

The production will be broadcast three times over the weekend to enable audiences of all ages to enjoy performances: Friday 3 April at 7.30pm; Saturday 4 April at 1.30pm and Sunday 5 April at 10.30am. The performance lasts one hour and 45 minutes, plus a brief interval between the two acts to make a cup of coffee and grab a slice of gingerbread.

‘Last year, audiences around New Zealand fell in love with our zany production of Hansel & Gretel’ says RNZB Artistic Director Patricia Barker. ‘Being faced with so much uncertainty as we are glued to our televisions for any good news, we at the RNZB thought we could all use a little extra sweetness and pick-me-up. We are so pleased to be able to share this special ballet, 100% made in New Zealand, with audiences again. Stay tuned for further announcements!’

‘We have an amazingly loyal following on Facebook, and they are already used to tuning in to livestreamed events such as our annual participation in World Ballet Day’ says Executive Director Lester McGrath. ‘However, you don’t need to have a Facebook account in order to enjoy these broadcasts. We encourage anyone and everyone with internet access to make the most of this great opportunity to connect with their national ballet company.’

 Alongside full productions, RNZB Education is putting together a wealth of digital resources for people of all ages staying at home.  The company’s NCEA resources are available online, while the Ballet Masters and Dance Educators are developing online classes for the young and young at heart, online workshops for primary and secondary schools and balletic exercises for seniors, including dance moves and exercises which can be done sitting down.  Keep an eye on rnzb.org.nz and social media for news and links.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet would like to thank Ryman Healthcare for their original sponsorship of the national tour of Hansel & Gretel in November – December 2019, together with Telecommunications Partner Vodafone.


Full details, including broadcast times and links, can be found at rnzb.org.nz/live .

Facebook Event page

Faint starlight peeps through the dark forest canopy. It is midnight: the witching hour. Alone and lost, two hungry children stumble towards a glowing vision of warmth and comfort, an enchanting house made of gingerbread. But all is not as it seems…

Follow the breadcrumbs this Christmas, and venture in to the dark, fantastical realm of Hansel & Gretel for an unforgettable evening at the ballet. Inspired by the old-fashioned magic of silent movies and music hall vaudeville, this ballet will transport you to a magical world with large-scale cinematic effects, world premiere choreography by Loughlan Prior and a specially commissioned score by Claire Cowan. This major premiere brings together many of New Zealand’s creative talents to tell a timeless tale for audiences young and old.

RNZB Choreographer in Residence Loughlan Prior has built up a significant body of work as a choreographer and filmmaker, creating works for members of the RNZB as well as for diverse New Zealand companies and creative partners, and for performances and film festivals in Australia, Germany, France, Canada and the USA. Loughlan was the winner of the RNZB’s inaugural Harry Haythorne Choreographic Award in 2015, and in 2016 received Creative New Zealand’s Tup Lang Choreographic Award. His The Long and The Short of It, inspired by Sir Jon Trimmer, enchanted New Zealand audiences during 2018’s Tutus on Tour.

Claire Cowan is at the forefront of compositional talent in New Zealand. She has received significant commissions and awards from orchestras such as the Auckland Philharmonia and the NZSO National Youth Orchestra, recently winning a prestigious Silver Scroll for her Television series soundtrack “Hillary”. Her classical concert work is unique in that it seamlessly merges art music and popular idioms, offering a strong connection to audiences. Since 2010, Claire has directed the popular Blackbird Ensemble, a theatrical orchestra dedicated to performing rarely heard music of all genres. Hansel and Gretel will be the first full length ballet score ever commissioned from a female composer in RNZB’s history, performed live by Orchestra Wellington, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra; a specially-made recording will accompany performances in other centres.


Hansel & Gretel is suitable for children 5 years and above.

ONLINE SEASON – view at www.rnzb.org.nz/live

View our Babes in Arms and Children at the Ballet Policy here.

Tickets on sale now – subscribe here.








FRIDAY8TH NOVEMBER7:30PMWith Free Pre-Performance Talk






SATURDAY9TH NOVEMBER7:30PMWith Warm Up, Curtain Up!




WEDNESDAY13TH NOVEMBER7:30PMWith Warm Up, Curtain Up And Pre-Performance Talk




SATURDAY16TH NOVEMBER7:30PMWith Warm Up, Curtain Up!










FRIDAY22ND NOVEMBER7:30PMWith Free Pre-Performance Talk






SATURDAY23RD NOVEMBER7:30PMWith Warm Up, Curtain Up!




WEDNESDAY27TH NOVEMBER7:30PMWith Warm Up, Curtain Up!




SATURDAY30TH NOVEMBER7:30PMWith Warm Up, Curtain Up!







FRIDAY6TH DECEMBER7:30PMWith Free Pre-Performance Talk






SATURDAY7TH DECEMBER7:30PMWith Warm Up, Curtain Up!



FRIDAY13TH DECEMBER7:30PMWith Free Pre-Performance Talk






SATURDAY14TH DECEMBER7:30PMWith Warm Up, Curtain Up!



Loughlan Prior


Claire Cowan


Orchestra Wellington, Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra


Hamish McKeich, David Kay

Set and Costume Design

Kate Hawley

Lighting Design

Jon Buswell

Music , Family , Dance-theatre , Dance , ,

2 hours

Living room outreach

Review by Greer Robertson 05th Apr 2020

Always willing to show respect for artists on Opening Night, I dress for the occasion. Wearing a chic suit, lofty high heels, demurely dashing earrings and stylish coat sweeping nonchalantly over one shoulder, I make way to my seat.

No need to jostle the crowds. No need for opera glasses. No need to write scribbled notes in the dark.

Excitedly I await, semi confident for my fast fingering on the remote for success on the television screen. Lovingly I languish in my living room along with over 6000 people live-streaming in theirs! In as much as the Wellington Opera House seats 1,361 where the dress rehearsal was filmed in 2019, the RNZB should be proud of the outreach.

And so, I’m ready for the ballet in 2 Acts revisiting my own childhood memory of the famous Grimm Brothers as folklorists from the 1700’s.

It’s there, it’s worked, curtain up!

As the production unfolds my thoughts and eyes at times jostle with my vivid imagination. Occasionally I query the characters and in the absence of a purchased programme, I am left wondering until I catch the fast rolling credits at the end. But upon reflection I get it and see the added nuances!

Obviously choreographed with knowledge in both a classical and contemporary genre, Prior pulls out all the stops in his first full length stage production. He gives the dancers content to really dance.

Set with a 1920’s Charleston theme of silent movies in Germany, Prior intellectually and skilfully exposes community issues such as poverty and wealth while injecting a refreshingly bizarre comedic flavour. Synchronised with often saucy tango-esque strings, Cowan’s composition hits the right note. I also enjoy seeing the occasional flourish of Conductor Hamish McKeich’s arms as he brings it all together. It makes it feel live.

For me, along with the tight knit group of visionaries to bring such sumptuous choreography, lighting, music, orchestra, sets, props and costumes together, the stars of the show were undeniably Hansel danced by Shaun James Kelly and Gretel Kirby Selchow.

Superbly cast bringing technical expertise with believable childlike animation and mannerisms, their roles unfold the story.  While inside the poverty–stricken cottage scene Mother, danced by Nadia Yanowsky and Father, Joseph Skelton, equally display a technically demanding, beautiful pas de deux filled with compassionate tenderness. In The Enchanted Forest, also worthy of mention, is the long limbed fluidity of Nathan Mennis as The Sandman, creepily watched by an ice-cream wearing Moon high in the sky. And Mayu Tanigaito as Queen of the Dew fairies is seen in what she does best; fiery, strong, flexible and forever pirouetting, coupled nicely with Allister Madin as King of the Dew Fairies. Another sympathetically delivered, enjoyable pas de deux.  

Finally inside the Gingerbread house and in direct contrast to their normal starvation diet, Hansel and Gretel succumb to the Witches demand. With gorging gluttony they devour larger than life, brightly coloured towers of delectable treats and Hansel astonishingly grows bigger.

Birds, Boogie Men, Ghosts, Fairies and Cavaliers, Gingerbread Men, Food People and a high kicking chorus line of Witches explode riotously a la vaudeville. Katherine Precourt as the Ice-cream Witch and Paul Mathews as her monstrous alter ego command the fable with comedy dramatics.

Curtain down. It’s over. I applaud.

This ballet is an enjoyable view in a new dimension, perhaps a little long and maybe a bit dark and scary for younger children.

Can you picture Wilhem and Jacob Grimm sitting in their living room watching it? Smiling, I wonder what they would have thought if they had tuned in?


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A feast for the eyes

Review by Nicole Wilkie 05th Apr 2020

As much of the world is confined to their homes due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, many performers are taking advantage of the power of the internet to share their work with audiences. The RNZB is live-streaming via Facebook Premiere three performances of Hansel and Gretel, filmed at Wellington Opera House on 5th November 2019. This work by choreographer Loughlan Prior is charming and humorous, utilising clever choreography and visual effects to produce an engaging story for audiences of all ages.

As I sit in my bedroom watching the broadcast, ironically I feel more connected to the dancers and the other audience members, despite our current physical distancing rules. During the broadcast, several cast members from the work are available to chat and answer audience questions. I notice a lot of parents tuning in with their young children, curious about such topics as how long the dancers rehearsed before performing, what happens if a dancer becomes injured during a performance, and many young dancers expressing their admiration for the professionals. This is such a unique experience and brings the magic of ballet to audiences who may not have had the opportunity to experience it before.

I particularly enjoy the expert combination of traditional ballet forms and more contemporary-style movement in this work. Pirouettes and bold ballet lines contrast bent arms, standing on the heels and off-balance movements. This work certainly showcases the versatility of the dancers, as many of them seamlessly switch between the idyllic embodiment of ballet and the smooth flow of their less conventional parts.  Mayu Tanigaito is a stand-out performer as the Queen of the Dew Fairies, her footwork and lines are gorgeous, her turns expertly executed. Nathan Mennis as The Sandman delights with wonderful expression and the adept mastery of his long limbs. Hansel and Gretel, played by Shaun James Kelly and Kirby Selchow respectively, perform fantastically together.

The set design, visual effects, and costume design are spectacular. There is glitter and glamour, there are giant piles of sweets and ice cream (some of which I learn is real and edible according to the Facebook chat!), and the visual effects are the stuff of magic and optical illusion. Prior’s astute arrangement of the space throughout, combined with these effects and beautifully composed music played by Orchestra Wellington, is a delicious feast for the eyes and the soul.

This broadcast of a beautiful ballet is, I am sure, a ray of sunshine for many who are struggling in this time of uncertainty and adversity. I applaud the RNZB for sharing their work, bringing joy into people’s homes and delivering dance to brand new audiences.


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Hansel & Gretel reaches into homes and hearts

Review by Caitlin Halmarick 04th Apr 2020

The Royal New Zealand Ballet, like many theatre and dance companies around the world, have taken advantage of the world being at home in quarantine by making available online footage of its productions. In this case, our beloved RNZB is presenting three Facebook Premiere streamings of its Hansel & Gretel. Filmed live on stage at the dress rehearsal on 5th of November 2019, at the Opera House, Wellington, this is a great opportunity for not only fans of RNZB to relive this glorious production, but also for ballet fans and those new to ballet all around the world to watch a high-quality ballet production.

Sitting down in the comfort of my living room on a Friday night I was able to pour myself a glass of wine, something I don’t normally indulge in at the Opera House for fear of the price tag. Maybe this new online method of presenting ballet is how ballet companies will learn to capture the ever elusive ‘younger generation’. The generation that will help keep these companies alive and afloat, especially during these tumultuous times and into the future. With shorter attention spans due to the vast amounts of information and content that is constantly at our fingertips, and lower tolerance to spending a reasonably significant sum of money on a night out to the theatre, the younger generation has been a difficult audience to capture with the magic of theatre. However, with 6.8 thousand households watching worldwide, RNZB is reaching into homes and hearts that it wouldn’t normally have access to. This is very exciting for all arts associations, but particularly for RNZB, who naturally has a lower number of people in their target audience with the relatively smaller population of Aotearoa, yet still manages to produce world-class productions.

Amongst those 6.8k+ at-home viewers, RNZB has surely reached members of the public that wouldn’t normally attend a night of theatre. For example, I sat down to watch Hansel & Gretel with my rugby-crazed Dad who would never think of going to the theatre himself to watch the production live. Yet when given the opportunity to watch the ballet in his own home, he found himself enjoying the performance immensely. This gives me enormous hope for the future of ballet and its ability to reach people that wouldn’t normally attend the theatre. I just hope ballet companies recognise this and can develop new business models to adapt to these evolving times.

As for the production itself, Hansel & Gretel is an amazing first full production for RNZB’s Resident Choreographer Loughlan Prior. With whimsical, utterly transporting music by Claire Cowan, enchanting designs by Kate Hawley, and visuals by Loughlan Prior himself, Hansel & Gretel has a romantically old-fashioned feel that enchants you into a mystical land. Brilliantly choreographed, the choreography for each character is well suited to the dancer. This perfect fit only happens when the choreographer knows the dancers well. Since Prior was a dancer with RNZB for many years it is fitting that he knows exactly how these dancers can be pushed and where their jaw-dropping strengths lie. Dancers Nathan Mennis, who dances The Sand Man, and Mayu Tanigaito, who dances the Queen of the Dew Fairies, come to mind. With Mennis’ glorious height and long limbs, and Tanigaito’s sharp extensions and exhilarating turns, Prior has managed to capture these two dancers’ unique assets perfectly.

Full of fun and just the right amount of drag, Hansel & Gretel is a credit to everyone involved. A beacon of light as to an option of how ballet and theatre can be presented now and, in the future, RNZB has stepped up to the plate and not only delivered a world-class production but has the foresight to share it online during this crazy time.


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Masterful, mystical, and highly entertaining

Review by Chloe Klein 06th Dec 2019

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Hansel & Gretel ‘s national tour is in its closing stages now. This version of the famous Grimm Brothers bread-crumb-dropping, gingerbread-eating, witch-cooking fairy tale by choreographer Loughlan Prior with composer Claire Cowan and designer Kate Hawley is a masterful, mystical, and highly entertaining full-length ballet.

From the moment the curtain lifts, we are drawn into a 1920s celluloid world. Setting the scene is a flickering monochrome projection boasting ‘once upon a time’, also layered with slow ticking mechanical gears. Bleak, industrial, and characterised by class divide (think Charlie Chaplin meets Peaky Blinders), this grey world is reflected throughout the costume, set, and AV design elements. The opening scene features sequinned flappers, cropped bobs, dapper suits, hats and gloves, and Hansel (aloof and impulsive) & Gretel (confident and resourceful). All conform to the silent-film look, though without the upper-class swank. Starkly contrasting this grim(m) palette throughout the show are the enticing, vibrant pastels of sweet treats and danger, a too- good-to-be-true break from the everyday grey reality.

Hansel & Gretel threads a theme of contrasts- monochrome and pastels, rich and poor, lost and found, danger and safety, good and evil. When colour, and ‘colourful characters’ are introduced to the world, it is indulgent, attractive, and debaucherous, an intoxicating and comical but ominous carnival- another heavy juxtaposition to Hansel & Gretel’s poverty. These scenes are the most unabashed fun of the evening, even if I did end up mistrusting my intermission ice cream. Even the helpful, gentle, and adeptly performed roles of Sand Man and the Dew Fairies, though brighter, are made safe by their absence of colour.

Modifications to the familiar story are welcome and refreshing. Gone is the evil stepmother trope, the role of antagonist instead brilliantly played by the evil witch, and in subtext, by class inequality. Though for Hansel & Gretel, defeating the witch is rewarded with material wealth and an end to their family’s troubles, I can’t help but feel cynical that in reality, this happily ever after isn’t so forthcoming for disenfranchised families in poverty.

Prior’s choreography is spirited, cheeky, and opportunistic, and the cast bring it to life with zest and character. Performances from each of the named characters are convincing, virtuosic and engaging.

Claire Cowan’s score complements the expressionistic setting of the story and is marvellously performed by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. The score and choreography work together intimately to characterise the dancers effectively, grounding what is actually a very sad story and disparaging social commentary in a sense of playfulness, bombast, and hope.

Kate Hawley and the design team’s work throughout the show is excellent, going beyond the luxurious sets you might expect from the RNZB and into the creatively enchanting. The show undergoes several dramatic and decadent set changes, and at several points clever tricks of the theatre imbue magic into this flyaway fairy tale world. The use of expressionistic projections as a setting and storytelling device over three layered screen adds physical depth to the stage, and further contributes to the cinematic quality of the show. The design choices of the projection are rich in imagery and aesthetic- including the hunger of our protagonists’ family being embodied in the mapping of a dark forest vintage forks.

Hansel & Gretel is a thoroughly enjoyable evening, with a wit and charm that is accessible beyond balletomanes. Loughlan Prior, Claire Cowan, and Kate Hawley have proved a winning recipe for fairy tale ballet that is innovative and dream-like, leaning into the magic that makes the theatre a space where we go to imagine, to be excited, and to be taken in by illusions that mask the sad realities of a social order that preys upon the marginalised with the false promise of fulfilment.


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Engaging, spectacular, and socially relevant

Review by Hannah Molloy 05th Dec 2019

It’s pleasing to see that Loughlan Prior’s Hansel and Gretel, performed by the Royal New Zealand Ballet, delves into some of the deeper societal issues that are relevant to our community, as well as providing an engaging display of beautifully blended classical and contemporary dance vocabulary.

The set, lighting, costumes, music, and choreography are clever and interesting – they’re not like any I’ve seen from the RNZB before. The dancers perform with gusto, as though they too relish this different style of show. They are sprightly and delicate, hallucinogenic and terrifying, by turns, and occasionally all at once.

The story of Hansel and Gretel is a grim one (obviously given the original authors!) and this interpretation is no less grim although the themes of child abandonment are softened into simple child poverty and the associated familial distress. There are jump scares and suspended apprehension aplenty, both for the children in the audience and the adults. The stuttering projection, evoking the 1920s black and white cinema experience, adds to this as well as layering undertones of gothic horror for the older audiences to pick up without terrifying the younger audience.

Throughout the ballet, there is a skewiff sense of proportion, from the opening scene, with wealthy dilettantes parading through the streets, man tall and spidery and women elegant and sparkly, to the structures. There was almost a surreal change in the scale of the family home when it moved downstage, from appearing large enough to fit a family of four if they squeezed to seeming almost no larger than a doll’s house. Conversely, the gingerbread house, when first stitched together, was tiny but inside, like the Tardis, appeared infinite, unbounded by walls. There is cleverness in the overlay of dancers’ shadows against the fork forest, again, distorting my perception of size and scale, and what’s part of the performance and what’s part of the backdrop.

The show deconstructed my memory of the story and put it back together with a different framework. The witch of my nightmares had always been dumpy and roly poly, not the svelte creature of the Moulin Rouge or the vampiric demon she becomes. Her slaves, in gimp masks, twist my brain and the dew fairies refresh it. I think though my favourite characters are the birds, which remind me of the Dozers in Fraggle Rock with their dedication to their work and subversive sass. The rabbits are a close second.

I was pleased Prior discussed references to the child and food poverty issues that are so prevalent in New Zealand, as I had been dwelling on the concepts as I watched but before I read the programme. I believe that our nationally funded professional entities have a responsibility to speak to matters that concern our community as well as to entertain and present beauty for its own sake. With funding sources so heavily contested and criteria increasingly exhaustive and exclusionary, many of New Zealand’s smaller companies are stepping in to provide this work to their communities – I can think of several in Dunedin alone.

Presenting beauty for beauty’s sake is essential; entertainment for entertainment’s sake is essential; escapism, imagination, release, pleasure – these are all essential for their own sake. Speaking about challenging matters to an audience largely made up of people who have the financial resources to experience such beauty and escapism at will is also essential. I applaud Prior for making this an active part of his creation.


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Delicious fusion of dance and music

Review by Kerri Fitzgerald 22nd Nov 2019

Letter by letter, the title Hansel and Gretel trickles across the black and white screen and, within those few seconds, the audience knows that it is in for a quirky treat. This new ballet is a major premiere and brings a different zing to the age-old story; it has lashings of variety to keep the palate primed and a musical score that bursts with vigour and delight. From the darkly dangerous to the sublimely sweet, this goodie bag delivers on every count.

The tale is softened; the evil stepmother and the prospect of abandonment are both removed. Instead we have a loving family struggling to put food on the table in a monochromatic world. The rich live well but the poverty gap is starkly depicted; Hansel and Gretel are the ‘have nots.’ With little to feed their children, the mother and father (Nadia Yanowsky and Joseph Stanton) dance expressively in a sombre pas de deux … but their hungry offspring stealthily grab the last piece of bread and dash away into the forest.

The enchanted forest of gigantic forks is populated by groups of mystical beings including the determined (but very cute) sweeping birds, boogie men (resembling were rabbits) and svelte, elegant dew fairies. Each group dances with aplomb, secure in technique and all clearly enjoying their roles. The gingerbread house comes together in sugar coated brilliance and so the stage is set for some darker action as the ditzy Hansel and the feisty Gretel (winsomely performed by Kirby Selchow and Shaun James Kelly) figure out how to navigate their way through a field of troubles.

When the witch, who first appears as a glamorous stranger, metamorphoses into a cannibalistic character, it is a moment of pure theatre. The icing on the cake for this reviewer were the pink gingerbread men who add a fabulous quirky element as they work like automatons for the witch. Further opportunities for the corps to shine roll out like clockwork creating a stream of simply visually stunning effects with the lighting (Jon Buswell), set and costumes (Kate Hawley) entwining harmoniously.

Billed as an ‘epic fantasy journey into the unknown’ by choreographer Loughlan Prior, this edgy creative team has collaborated to realise a sumptuous artistic vision. The choreography has delightful surprises as movements from traditional ballet and contemporary dance are fused. There are many beautiful pas de deux including those of the King and Queen of the Dew Fairies (Mayu Tanigaito and Allister Madin) whose effortless technical virtuosity is truly on show.

The most delicious treat is the fusion of dance and music. The partnership of Loughlan Prior and composer Claire Cowan fairly sizzles; this is music for ballet and who knows whether the music or the dance sprung first. There are elements of jazz, sounds of early Broadway, vaudeville, tango and … and even the sound of an organ grinder. A range of eclectic instruments complements the standard orchestral fare and the score romps along played heartily by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra under concertmaster Martin Reisley and conductor David Kay.  Snap – pure magic!

Sometimes the flickering of the scratchy black and white film proved distracting but the impact of the use of film extends far beyond this limitation. Likewise the beauty of the scene when the parents are reunified with their children seemed at odds with the darkness of the witch’s house, but the final moment made it all worthwhile.

With Artistic Director Patricia Barker at the helm, the company is on a roll; Hansel and Gretel is sumptuous smorgasbord for the senses. Notably the RNZB has partnered with food banks in time for Christmas. Dealing with the poverty and hunger we have in New Zealand is becoming a bigger job. This show is poignant and inspirational as it invites us to consider the hardships that become very apparent especially over this season and it may well inspire many to take action.


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Hansel and Gretel is ballet brilliance!

Review by Tania Kopytko 14th Nov 2019

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Hansel and Gretel is a tour de force as a full length ballet with a contemporary twist. A near full house in Palmerston North responded to the production enthusiastically throughout the two hour ten minute programme. Hansel and Gretel has everything a brilliant ballet needs – beautiful choreography and dancing, wonderful music, fantastic costumes and set design and a great story. It is the perfect ballet and production for the pre-Christmas audience of all ages.

The work is a tour de force for many reasons. Firstly it has a great creative team  – Loughlan Prior, choreographer;  Claire Cowan, composer; Kate Hawley, set and costume design; Jon Buswell, lighting; and POW studio with lighting effects.  They have worked closely together and so created a work which is well integrated.

The choreography is clever; at times lyrical and other times fiery, or witty, or vaudeville; it covers a variety of dance genres which intensifies the different characters and scenes. The music also does this, moving from 1920’s to lyrical sweeping sections, to irresistible tango and Latin rhythms. RNZB commissioned the score from New Zealander Claire Cowan and she may be the first woman ever to compose music for a full-length ballet.

For the story they turned to the original 1812 Grimm version of Hansel and Gretel, with a kind but very poor mother and father (no step mother), a close family and a wicked witch who wants to eat children. All is saved through the resourcefulness of the main character and heroine Gretel. Consequently, this ballet has very strong female roles which is a change from traditional ballets where the prince is the key character.

Costume and set design is another tour de force. The contrast from black and white beginnings to colour is dazzling. There are amazing props such as giant colourful ice creams, towering platters of cakes, a quirky steampunk-ish witches ice cream seller bicycle. This is complimented by filmic 1920’s black and white graphics, including the man in the moon, with his roving, winking eyes. Another clever motif was the use of the knives and forks motif, from when there was no food for the children, to the forks filmically becoming the forest.

There are three casts for the principal dancers and Palmerston North enjoyed the third cast, with the sparkling Katherine Skelton as Gretel and energetic Laurynas Vėjalis as her younger brother Hansel. Both provide wonderful, engaging and technically beautiful performances. The parents, Sara Garbowski and Paul Mathews show their sadness in not being able to provide for their children, but they still have love for each other despite their struggles and this is tenderly expressed in their interpretation of the choreography. Cowan has provided them with a beautiful melodious love theme and they executed the slow adagio movements and beautiful lifts exquisitely.

By contrast, the Fairy Queen (Mayu Tanigaito) and Fairy King (Allister Madin) are firecrackers, as are the Fairy Cavaliers and Dew Fairies. They give beautifully strong, athletic interpretations, to a tango style music theme. That is a tour de force musically and choreographically, and such a contrast to the usual floating, ethereal fairies and nymphs in ballet. The children’s guardian is the Sandman, magically danced by Wan Bin Yuan.

The piece de resistance is the witches lair in the forest. Here we have a vamped up crazy Broadway theme.  Rhiannon Fairless, the Ice Cream Witch, performs with such character and craziness as well as dancing so spectacularly and securely. Accompanied by her razzle dazzle pink-iced gingerbread men and the chorus girl witches, this scene is superb and the audience were chortling and gasping. When it all starts to go dreadfully wrong and the witch shows her true evil self, Luke Cooper becomes a wonderful black and green-toned, witchy monster.

There are also other characters in the ballet, such as the 1920s wealthy people who contrast the parents’ poverty, and the zany Boogiemen – dark hare-like creatures. All these roles are performed beautifully by the company.

As is usual with a Christmas production, there is opportunity for local dance children to perform. Here they play the birds who eat up the bread crumbs. This section again is well integrated into the ballet. The children have very creative bird costumes. It is great to see them doing something more meaty rather than dancing around looking pretty.

The ballet has a wonderful creative finale where the audience cannot help but join in with rhythmic clapping.  Cheers abound. Palmerston North had a wonderful evening and the Royal New Zealand Ballet did themselves proud in so many ways. Have a wonderful and successful season with Hansel and Gretel!  


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Dazzles in all facets

Review by Lyne Pringle 08th Nov 2019

With great excitement and anticipation, the Royal New Zealand Ballet kicks off a national season of Hansel and Gretel.

Loughlan Prior has been commissioned to create this brand new version of the well-loved fairy tale. It is his first full length ballet and he has risen to the challenge with invention and style.

Adding to the anticipation Claire Cowan becomes the first woman to compose a score for the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Her music is the star of the night, brilliantly conducted by luminary Hamish McKeich and played with impeccable style by Orchestra Wellington. [More]


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A great night out

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 07th Nov 2019

A production that definitely delivers on the theatrical wow factor with extreme cakes, a clever gingerbread house, a retake on the story and pretty much over the top everything! Design and costumes by Kate Hawley provide the chic of historical Europe, referencing the clock mechanism of the Musee D’Orsay and setting the children’s father as a struggling broom street seller. The children are outsiders as Madeleine-esque school girls eat outsized ice creams delivered by a fantastical hurdy-gurdy.   Back home in a grey monotone cottage their mother struggles to feed her family and the children bicker and run away. I took my granddaughter to see this production and she was very clear that these parents did not send the children out into the forest. “They really missed them.“

A fanged forest of forks cleverly amalgamates  hunger, desolation, and fear with ghostly figures and menacing boogie men. When the Sandman comes to protect the children, he animates a giant moon and creates a magical starlit glittering ballet of dewdrops. The Ice Cream  Witch finds them and entices them into her Gingerbread house.

This is a banquet of 1920’s Charleston, vaudeville, high kicking sensory overload. Lolly pink but still scary with faceless, repetitive, gingerbread slaves, an extravaganza of cake and more cake and more cake that the children gorge themselves on. Every child’s dream. But the dark side arrives in the Transformed Witch’s kitchen and the well remembered horror of fattening a caged child plays out to its inevitable conclusion! Gretel prevails,the witch is pushed into the oven, there is a fiscal reward from her long suffering workers, the Sandman and Dewdrop Queen and King arrive with mother and father and all is wonderful for this family in this fairy story. The Grimm brothers would have approved – a cautionary tale of magic laced with hidden horrors and much murkiness!

Joyously a narrative ballet, choreographer Loughlan Prior has had fun and used a range of styles to keep us engaged. There were fluid pas de deux with the use of lovely lifts and sustained control by Joseph Skelton and Nadia Yanowsky as father and mother and by Maya Tanigaito and Alister Madin as the DewDrop Queen and King. The unexpected standout character for me was The Sand Man – lean and lissom and reminiscent of the era of silent movies – Nathan Mennis drew the eye and had the charisma to hold us breathless for his next machination. Hansel is mischieveous and danced impeccably, whether starving or ridiculously fattened, by Shaun James Kelly.  Sister Gretel is encapulsulated by Kirby Selchow as a thoroughly modern miss. She is strong, sassy (not sure about the romper suits?) and the heroine of the day. 

This all said, the absolute triumph for me in a great collaboration is the music – a first as the first commission by the RNZB by a female composer ! Claire Cowan has written a score to lift spirits and to admire . Orchestra Wellington under the literally dancing baton of Hamish McKeich plays with clarity and relish.

Musical motifs and themes are energetically picked up in Prior’s choreography. Stand outs for me in an otherwise non-adventurous balletic vocabulary were the kickline and the pique/ bourres en tournant phrase that recurred for Gretel, Hansel, the Sand Man the Dew King and Queen – for all the goodies of the story? I will go again to really search the dance but the overall impact of this production celebrates detail and delivery and a great night out!

Be warned, it is long and sleepy eyes are struggling just when the hard part happens. A shame to miss the actual happy ending ! Have an afternoon nap, go to this show and be transported! Grand daughter’s favourite? The Ice Cream Witch! Would that Mr Whippy drove around our suburbs like this!


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