27/07/2023 - 29/07/2023
05/08/2023 - 06/08/2023
10/08/2023 - 12/08/2023
Moss Te Ururangi Patterson
Annabelle Lopez Ochoace
Royal New Zealand Ballet
The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) celebrates its 70th Anniversary across the entire 2023 season, one special programme, Lightscapes, opening 27 July, to mark the ballet’s big birthday.
RNZB Interim Artistic Director David McAllister says, “For 70 years, the Royal New Zealand Ballet has reflected our place in the world, presenting unique works that tell our stories while also staging the most exciting works from around the world to delight our New Zealand audiences.
“Lightscapes celebrates this rich heritage of innovation. From Moss Patterson’s powerful new work drawn from his Māori cultural heritage, through to George Balanchine’s modern classic Serenade first staged by former RNZB artistic Director Una Kai. This programme also celebrates the work of creative women: Alice Topp, an RNZB alumna, with her moving Logos, and internationally recognised choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s romantic Requiem for a Rose. This programme honours the company’s seven decades of dance excellence and also points boldly to the boundless future that lies ahead for the RNZB,” McAllister says.
World premiere of a new work, Whenua, by Moss Te Ururangi Patterson. Inspired by haka and powered by the strength of the men of the RNZB, this powerful new New Zealand ballet masterpiece will be a striking and lasting addition to the RNZB’s repertoire.
Serenade (1934) by Balanchine was first staged for the then-New Zealand Ballet by former Artistic Director, the late Una Kai, in 1975. It holds a special place in the hearts of generations of dancers and audiences, both in Aotearoa and around the world. Plotless, yet laden with meaning, Serenade fills the stage with exquisite movement and deep emotion. It is a celebration of the joy, and the endless possibilities, of ballet, and the alchemy that is created with music, movement, light and space.
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa will stage her Requiem for a Rose, created for Pennsylvania Ballet in 2009 as an exploration of love, romantic and idealised, versus lasting and real.
Lastly Logos by company alumna Alice Topp (Aurum, Absence of Light), created for The Australian Ballet in 2020. Logos will transport viewers to a world of pure physicality, borne aloft by mesmerising music and audacious design. Inspired by the storms we all weather – fears, fights, darkness and demons – Logos completes the 70th Anniversary programme with clarity, purpose and hope for the future.
Artists of the Royal NZ Ballet
including Mayu Tanigaito, Kihiro Kusukami, Sara Garbowski, Kate Kadow, Kirby Selchow, Ana Gallardo Lobaina and Matthew Slattery.
Lighting design: Jon Buswell
Serenade - Staging: Rebecca Metzger; Costumes: Karinska
Te Ao Mārama - Live music: Shayne Carter (sonic guitar) and Ariana Tikao (taonga pūoro); Design:: Moss Te Ururangi Patterson; Production design: Rowan Pierce
Requiem for a Rose - Design and costumes: Tatiana van Walsum
Logos - Set design: Jon Buswell; Costumes: Alice Topp
Projection: Rowan Pierce
Dance , Contemporary dance ,
Dancers dancers dancers you are symbolic and meaningful.
With visible sponsorship from Ryman Healthcare, the Royal New Zealand Ballet delivers an outstanding dance programme. The company’s direction, in excellent hands of recently arrived Australian, David McAllister as Acting Artistic Director, is reassuring. The dancers are magnificent, confident and glorious.
A meticulously curated exhibition of photographs, information and costumes about the ballet company deserves as much celebration. The breadth and depth of dance in these four ballets from exquisite neo-classical lines of Balanchine’s Serenade to the avant-garde classico-contemporaneity of the other three works devolves from the company’s unflinching gaze on artistry. These are all dance works for the dancers.
There is time to mull during overly-extended intervals between each work. I am not sure if we need them, but the dancers might as this is an extravaganza of lifts and fast action, or maybe lights up for the audience makes time for the set builders? As with its historical impetus, 70 years in the making, what is visible as the Lightscapesprogramme progresses is how the works unfold an artistic sequence of deeply experimental concepts of dance. What is just as visible, particularly in the first two works, is that genius is not far from home.
Serenade was first performed in 1934 by the School of American Ballet students in New York. The 33-minute dance with its simplicity of line and costume, and complexity of steps and direction, is considered a breakthrough of classicism’s narrative structure, and it was Balanchine’s first choreographic work in America.
Drawing on the indivisibility of a prime number, Serenade crafts space with 17 women in the corps. They are the core of the ballet’s direction. Playful and earnest with couples entwining the Royal New Zealand Ballet company, with the formidable stage direction of Rebecca Metzger exquisitely demonstrate Balanchine’s relish for rehearsal materialisation. Kihiro Kusukami and Mayu Tanigaito set the bar for partnership élan.
The music, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48 can be savoured as dated but actually it is timeless. From the original design by inimitable costumer for the New York City Ballet, Karinska, soft blue tulle skirts are cut to a length for flicking and swirling just as it was then. Nearly 90 years later the ballet picks out dancer’s camaraderie, devotion to the artform, and the subtlety of displaying emotion. It is not smiles on dancers’ faces but the delicate holding of hands in arabesque extensions that confirm expressive complexity. Nor is it the precision of foot and leg work, or the rapid passes of dancers across the stage that give us a rendition of Balanchine’s genius. It is the deference to classical ballet narratives that mark the evening, the way the body moves as experience.
The second work of the evening is respectfully presented in the programme as taonga. Continuing within the vulnerable longevity of dance practitioners, Te Ao Mārama is a new work by Moss Te Ururangi Patterson. Smoky silence as the curtain rises is broken open by Kāi Tahu woman, Ariana Tikao. Voice and music played through her taonga pūoro harness the ephemerality of te ao.
On the other side of the stage is the inimitable Shayne Carter (of Strait Jacket Fits and Dimmer renown). His voice strikes melodious sounds of canny perception. Solo dancers, Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Branden Reiners and Luke Cooper pour forth mesmerising different approaches to moving. The corps of male dancers resonate with the gorgeous light scapes – pou and striping, then one light curving symbolically behind them shifts the movement and haka as embodied transition from night to a more enlightened world, emerging out of darkness. Lights dim on dancers’ golden faces. I am struck by how much I am enjoying the show, and how these two initial choreographers can be compared, both shining lights through dancing on a world that may seem murky and darkened.
Light and dark shades draw attention to the narratives of density and light as we progress the evening. Annabelle Lopez Ochoa created Requiem for a Rose for Pennsylvania Ballet in 2009. 15 years later an idealisation of Venus’ love and romanticism is recognisably layered. Dancers in the artform are often mistakenly described as interpretive only. That a choreographer’s voice is the most distinctive. The dancers from all corners of the earth in this company’s offering bring with them an intoxicating focus. The music was Franz Schubert ‘s final chamber work, the String Quintet in C major ( D. 956, Op. posth. 163), and Movement Adagio. The music is wildly romantic, a platform for the dancers to express their take on life’s infatuation with love, and passion.
Lighting designer Jon Buswell develops versatile – actually wonderful responses to the brief of the programme’s title. In the spotlight at the beginning a powder white woman, Kirby Selchow, screams silently through three-dimensional movement with a red rose in her mouth. A deep red top light is like a gash, blood coursing to match the arhythmic sounds of a heartbeat spilling over. Red skirts with a darkened lining by Tatyana Van Walsum swirl like Cossack’s clothing splitting dancers legs from their torsos in whirling. There are gorgeous moments of stillness and collapsing tableaus through one dancer releasing into the arms of a taker. Notable dancing in this work is captured in the precision of a tiny ballerina still in the corps. Catarina Estevez Collins dances as though her life is dependent on love’s visceral moments of connection and extension.
The four works on show this evening leave nothing to the imagination. They are the imagination. The glory of dance is that without words, dancers heave into our imagination, possibility, and hope. And the fourth work named in the programme as “a final embodiment of the spirit of dance”, is choreographed by an RNZB alumna, Alice Topp. Logos with more evocative music by Ludovico Einaudi does not rest on its place in the programme. The music with choreographic thoughtfulness provides timing and spaciousness for ever increasing variations of dances’ use of partnership brilliance. Smoke builds, and a screen in front of the stage as an arena reflects the bodies of the dancers in more golden shadows. Physicality accrues a sense of anticipation. What we find out, as the stage set comes crashing down behind two dancers remaining, is that smoke, the smoke screen of life is a cloud, hope in the making. Beyond hierarchy of theatrical intention, choreographers, designers and artistic direction, at the heart of these four ballets are the dancers. Dancers dancers dancers you are symbolic and meaningful.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Entering its eighth decade the company is clearly in good heart
Review by Dr Ian Lochhead 06th Aug 2023
Seventy years on from the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s first performance in June 1953, one wonders what the company’s founding director, Poul Gnatt, would make of Lightscapes, a programme of one act works choreographed by a Russian/American, a New Zealander of Māori descent, a Belgian/Columbian and an Australian, performed by dancers who are equally diverse in terms of their countries of origin. Although he travelled from his native Denmark to establish ballet as an integral part of this country’s cultural landscape, Gnatt would have no doubt been astounded by the global nature of ballet in the 21st century. He would, no doubt, have had decided views on the works performed, but he would certainly have been thrilled by the vitality and confidence of the company he so presciently founded on a shoestring in the early 1950s.
In marking its 70th anniversary the RNZB has resisted the temptation to mount the kind of celebratory gala of showpieces that such occasions can often elicit and has instead opted for a programme of four varied and substantial works that showcase the company’s dancers and the skills of its technical crew in bringing these diverse works to the stage. The programme opens with Balanchine’s Serenade, the Russian choreographer’s first work made in the United States and one that makes the most of the challenges he faced at the time, with limited financial resources and uncertainty about how many dancers he would have to work with from one rehearsal to the next. Serenade has become a classic of 20th century ballet and was introduced to the then New Zealand Ballet’s repertoire by its director, Una Kai, a former Balanchine dancer, in 1975. In a sign that Balanchine still remembered the struggles of his founding years in America, he waved his fees for those performances. As a ballet about beginnings, this is an appropriate choice for a programme celebrating an auspicious anniversary. It is worth remembering too, that Balanchine’s New York City Ballet is only five years older than the RNZB, having been founded in 1948.
This revival, set on the company by Rebecca Metzger, unfolds Balanchine’s intricate choreography with seamless grace and assurance. Serenade, for all its uncertain beginnings, is a mysterious and deeply felt work and the RNZB’s dancers plumb its depths rather than simply executing the steps. What is the meaning of the gesture of shading the eyes that the dancers hold as the opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings steal over them and why does it keep recurring throughout the work? And who is the sinister male figure who crosses the stage, his eyes covered by a closely following woman? And what are we actually witnessing in the final moments, as the principal woman, here danced with great assurance by Mayu Tanigaito, is lifted and carried upright towards the wings? Karinska’s diaphanous costumes and the atmospheric, blue-lit backdrop suggest that we are not watching events in the real world but in some other, ethereal realm, perhaps the past of Imperial Russia where Balanchine was nurtured and had by then disappeared for ever.
If Serenade provides the opportunity for the women of the company to shine, it is the men’s turn in Moss Te Ururangi Patterson’s Te Ao Mārama. This is also, in its own way, a work about beginnings as Patterson explores the separation of light from darkness in a work that celebrates the Maori perception of the world through dance. The atmosphere of the work is enhanced by the live music performed on stage by Ariana Tikau and Shayne Carter on taonga pūoro and electric guitar respectively. A single figure emerges from the darkness as if exploring the possibilities of movement in the space he inhabits. He is then followed by the rest of the cast who have been lying prone and barely discernable, across the back of the stage. Momentum gradually builds with tentative movements hinting at what is to come, until it culminates in the climactic haka, lead by Callahan Laird. The RNZB’s men clearly relish the opportunity to unleash their full power, uninhibited by the constraints of classical dance and in full voice. It is a stirring moment that was greeted by a roar of approval from the audience.
The programme’s second half is given over to works by two women choreographers, one well established on the world’s stages and the other an emerging talent. Annabelle Lopez Ochoa created Requiem for a Rose for Pennsylvania Ballet in 2009 and it has since been taken into the repertoire of a number of companies. This is the first time the RNZB has performed her work and it adds a new dimension to their already wide-ranging repertoire. It explores themes of transience, the rose of the title being both a symbol of love but also an emblem of fragility and the passing of all things. It opens with the sound of a heartbeat and a single dancer, dressed in a flesh-coloured leotard and holding a single red rose in her teeth, hair flying as she moves with uninhibited abandon. With the strains of the haunting slow movement from Schubert’s C major String Quintet, the twelve dancers who form the surrounding bouquet of flowers emerge, men and women dressed alike in layered red skirts that suggest the rose petals. The work unfolds in a series of engrossing duets that merge into a final quartet until, as Schubert’s strings fade into silence, the heartbeat returns along with the solo performer. She is progressively enveloped by surrounding figures as she too gradually fades. Gretchen Steimle embodies the natural energy of the rose in the opening and closing sections with the entire cast contributing to the elegiac atmosphere of the piece.
The final work is Alice Topp’s Logos, a timely exploration of contemporary anxieties. Originally staged for the Australian Ballet in 2020, it received a single performance before Melbourne entered its Covid 19 lockdown. The work is performed in front of a backdrop that reflects shadowy images of the dancers performing on the front of the stage. It consists of a series of duets and ensembles that reveal the tensions between the couples and groups as they wrestle with their anxieties. The mood becomes progressively darker as the images on the backdrop become ever more threatening, while smoke and steam appears to simmer out of the ground. In a true coup-de-théatre the backdrop suddenly flops forward, forming a pool in which the final duet takes place as rain steadily falls. It is a moment of post-apocalyptic drama in which the sound of the falling rain evokes a bleak winter of discontent. Perhaps a more optimistic work would have been more fitting as the conclusion for a celebratory programme but Logos certainly demonstrated the power of ballet to engage with contemporary issues. The audience certainly thought so, greeting the performance with a storm of applause.
Mention should be made of the exhibition featuring the history of the RNZB, shown in the entrance and balcony foyers of the Theatre Royal. Consisting of a series of illustrated panels centred around the contributions of the company’s artistic directors, it was augmented by a selection of costumes, among them the spectacular frock coat worn by Jon Trimmer as Captain Hook in Russell Kerr’s Peter Pan, designed by the inimitable Kristian Fredrikson. What memories this display evoked of wonderful past productions and brilliant performers. It is a pity that so few audience members seemed to be taking advantage of what was on display, the appeal of the bar seemingly stronger than the stimulus of history. Perhaps other opportunities and venues can be found to display this worthwhile account of one of our national treasures.
As the RNZB enters its eighth decade the company is clearly in good heart, with a strong line-up of talented dancers and a long and proud performance tradition to build upon. With a new artistic director to be appointed in the near future the company can look back with pride on what has been achieved and look forward with optimism towards a bright future.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Reminders of Māori dance influence into the repertoire over seven decades
Review by Jennifer Shennan 31st Jul 2023
Reviewed for Michelle Potter . . . On Dancing
The opening work, Serenade, to Tchaikovsky, is an abstraction of femininity, a favoured topic of Balanchine’s. It was created, in 1934, for students at the School of American Ballet that fed his company, so the memory of several productions at New Zealand School of Dance here across the decades, with the aura of fresh innocence of students at the threshold of their careers, has been special. The work has also been performed a number of times by RNZBallet since the 1970s.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Slick, sharp and sassy, the dancers deliver an eclectic and electric programme
Review by Deirdre Tarrant 29th Jul 2023
A 70th Jubilee is a reason to celebrate and acting Artistic Director David McAllister gives us a company to celebrate indeed. Slick, sharp and sassy, the dancers deliver an eclectic and electric programme. Four works makes for a long evening, requiring energy from the audience as well as the artists. Curating this programme must have been a challenge! Production values and lighting design (Jon Buswell) are outstanding, although at times they almost dominate the dancing. The sound quality is challenged also by the musical mix. I missed the excitement of a live orchestra especially for Balanchine’s Serenade.
The curtain rises on the tranquillity and beauty of a synchronised corps de ballet of blue. Responding to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade, waltzes, soars and sweeps through its intricate choreography of solos, duets and glorious formations culminating in an arc as a solo dancer is lifted towards the sky. Serenade takes my mind back to the first time I saw this touchstone work by George Balanchine in New York and then again here in Wellington during the time that Una Kai was Director of the New Zealand Ballet (1973-5). For this programme the work is elegantly and meticulously staged by Rebecca Metzger (USA). Serenade is a real dancer’s ballet. The outstanding dancers onstage, in a cast of 26 excellent dancers, are Mayu Tanigaito, Kihiro Kusukami, Sara Garbowski, Kate Kadow and Matthew Slattery.
The second work, Te Ao Mārama, live music by Shayne Carter and Ariana Tikao, emerges on an atmospheric and dark stage. A world of light emerges for us to share – lines, connection, presence and a cultural place are the inspiration of choreographer and designer Moss Te Ururangi Patterson. Hauntingly embodied in a solo male figure is a world of personal tensions and experiences. This lone figure gradually metamorphoses into many male figures and ultimately a spirited haka. Projected script (subtitles please) overlines the work. The rhythmic pulse of feet into the floor and of audible breath underlines the movement vocabulary. With strong sculptural shapes and space defined by beams of light (projection Rowan Pierce), Te Ao Mārama is an intriguing and visceral exploration.
Requiem for a Rose is the stand out work of the evening for me – choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa (Colombian/ Belgian) with music by Franz Schubert. This work weaves a quirky thought provoking dancing twist on any mental expectation that a Rose might conjure. Delicious red skirts give depth, as colour fills the stage. This costume design, by Tatiana van Walsum, brings a bouquet of red roses to life.
Beautifully crafted dance vocabulary and sophisticated counter- positioning of the abstract ideas of love and romance make this a real dance conversation that leaves a lingering vestige of romance for us to ponder on . .
Stripped of colour with a rose held in her teeth, Kirby Selchow is strong and dominates as a symbolic female figure. She is embraced by the corps de ballet, who represent a bouquet, and by the romance of these roses. Images are explored and dismissed, the flowers bloom and the petals fall. Mesmerising.
Logos – choreography Alice Topp with music by Ludovico Einaudi – completes the night. Couples embrace, indulge, dismiss, struggle and manipulate each other – both each other’s bodies and their minds. This is a hi octane but tortured work that physically wrings every inch from its cast as confrontations are responded to or simply dismissed. The set is dramatic and a reminder that the world is bigger than us all. Inspired by an Harumi Murakami quote “And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical and symbolic storm . . . people will bleed there and you will bleed too . . . Logos is a work to revisit, a multi layered statement.
We make it through and go out into the blustery night certainly wrung out by this journey of relationships. The pressure is off and we can breathe again.
Thank you for 70 years and for the history of dance and ballet that the RNZB represents. 70 years is a long time and the RNZB have always been ‘there’ in my life and in the cultural life of our country.
Is it me or is it a feeling I need to assuage? But I long for our ballet company to somehow reflect and embody the point of difference that is our world. 2023 is a long way from 1953. As we dance forward how does what makes us unique get reflected in this most beautiful and rigorous world of ballet? I will ponder. For now the dancers give of their hearts and their talents and it is Thank You and Happy Birthday to all who have made this company what it is.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
A neoclassical journey through dance
Review by Lyne Pringle 28th Jul 2023
Reviewed for The Post
The Royal New Zealand Ballet marks its 70th year with a stylish evening of four neoclassical works. Lightscapes showcases the immense talent and range of the company’s current cohort of artists. An informative exhibition maps the history of the company in the theatre foyer.
Lightscapes is anchored by George Balanchine’s iconic Serenade, one of the pioneers of the neoclassical idiom, and Requiem for a Rose by current global phenomenon Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Both works are impeccably structured. These are not ‘story ballets’ but rather poetic interpretations of a theme that are responsive to the prompts of their musical scores: Tchaikovsky and Schubert.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer