Made to Move - The Royal NZ Ballet

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

27/02/2013 - 02/03/2013

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

08/03/2013 - 10/03/2013

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

20/03/2013 - 20/03/2013

Auckland Arts Festival 2013

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Three brand new works that celebrate the joy of dance.

Royal New Zealand Ballet Artistic Director Ethan Stiefel creates his first original work for the RNZB, a spirited comedy set in a Bavarian inspired beer hall. Expect laughter, lederhosen and virtuoso technique, as the whole company take up their steins and whirl away to the waltzes and polkas of Johann Strauss II and Josef Strauss.

Former RNZB dancer Andrew Simmons, Christchurch-born and now living and working in Dresden, creates the eagerly-awaited follow-up to 2010’s haunting A Song in the Dark, a hit with audiences around New Zealand and with dance lovers in the UK and France on the company’s 2011 tour. Drawing on New Zealand’s wide open landscapes and set to the gentle minimalism of music by Dustin O’Halloran, Ludovico Einaudi and Olafur Arnalds, this new work promises to be a very special experience for dancers and audience alike.

Venezuelan Javier De Frutos, choreographer of the RNZB’s award-winning Milagros (2003) The Celebrated Soubrette (2004) andBanderillero (2006) creates a new piece inspired by the Pacific – with musical influences encompassing everything from traditional chants to the vintage harmonies of the Yandall Sisters. De Frutos has made dance works to both critical and popular acclaim around the world. His choreography for the 2007 West End production of Cabaret received an Olivier Award, and his recent collaboration with Pet Shop Boys,The Most Incredible Thing, enjoyed two sell-out seasons at London’s Sadler’s Wells. He continues to challenge the boundaries between the worlds of ballet, contemporary dance and musicals.

Wellington – St James Theatre
27 February – 2 March 2013
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Napier – Napier Municipal Theatre
5 March 2013
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Auckland – ASB Theatre
8 – 10 March 2013
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Takapuna – Bruce Mason Centre
13 – 14 March 2013
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Palmerston North – Regent on Broadway
17 March 2013
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Dunedin – Regent Theatre
20 March 2013
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Ashburton – Ashburton Trust Event Centre
23 – 24 March 2013
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2 hours

Three choreographies, utterly different and utterly delightful

Review by Hannah Molloy 21st Mar 2013

Made to Move, the opener for the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 2013 season, was a spectacular series of three choreographies, utterly different and utterly delightful.

Male voices singing in Polynesian harmony are a sure way to tug on an audience’s heartstrings and Javier de Frutos’ The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud has a joyous freedom, redolent of balmy beach days lolling around an idyllic lagoon. The women’s loose hair and the simple but completely beautiful costumes drew ballet out of its usual formula and into something powerful and stimulating. There was an underlying story in the choreography – trouble in paradise perhaps – but the energy is simply magic. The old school music is magic too, as is watching the dancers move, in perfect time, both to a spoken passage and in an absence of music.

The women leap into nowhere to be caught effortlessly by the men. There are tiny movements of arms curving together that almost pass unnoticed but catch the eye and the breath with their perfection. The dancers’ apparently random patterns on the stage became intricate geometric patterns. The final set, when the house lights came up a little and Laura Jones and Dmitri Kleioris, the only ones left on stage, gaze into the audience in total silence, is disconcerting but the tension is delicious. Jones watches and then performs her final solo into the silence, until they both walk away, their parting glances leaving me feeling as though I have intruded on something. I could have watched this, from start to finish, again and again.

Of Days was beautiful. It really doesn’t need any more words than that. The lighting was understated and immaculate. The costumes were simple and elegant and didn’t distract at all from the choreography. The music was wistful. The dancers were exquisite.

Andrew Simmons has made a truly beautiful thing.

And then, to bring the audience back to earth, Ethan Stiefel’s Bier Halle was hilarious. It was such a dramatic shift in mood and the audience lapped it up. The set was outrageously extravagant, eminently suited to the outrageous antics, from the poor Nerd who fell desperately in love with the Cuckoo, to the bold studly young men showing off in front of the shameless floosies flicking their skirts. The drunken revelry was disturbingly reminiscent of a night at the Captain Cook (one of Dunedin’s finest student watering holes for those out of town), with quite a lot of smooching, the bar manager trying to keep undesirables out (unsuccessfully), those who’ve had one (or six) too many retiring sharply to a corner for a private moment… It all came rushing back…

And the dancing was outrageous too. At times, the dancers look like they were moving in slow motion, suspended in the air.  This choreography brought back all the joy of dancing that is one of the reasons I love ‘going to the ballet’. When you can see the dancers giving little puffs of delight with their own and each others’ movements, you can’t help but be delighted yourself and the audience responded with tumultuous applause after each piece.

The dancers look as though they love what they are doing in each work and Made to Move bodes well for a good season.



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Triple bill goes from delicacy to rousing polka

Review by Bernadette Rae 15th Mar 2013

Qi Huan performs in the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Of Days, choreographed by Andrew Simmons. Javier Frutos’ Anatomy of a Passing Cloud opens the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s triple bill programme Made to Move with costumes of traditional tivaevae pattern and brilliant colour, and a soundtrack complete with static, to recreate a community radio station playing the Yandall Sisters, Cook Island drums, Maori readings from Genesis and other prayers.

There the obvious references to traditional Pacifika and its dance forms ends, replaced by an assault of charged, percussive, angular and athletic movement which is both firmly rooted and upwardly explosive with lifts and propulsions, particularly of the women by the men. And brilliantly, breathtakingly performed.

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Three different statements

Review by Rosemary Martin 09th Mar 2013

The past few seasons presented by the Royal New Zealand Ballet have illuminated their versatility, demonstrating just how strong they are as a company and reiterating how much we should appreciate having such a group of dancers in New Zealand. With this in mind, I had high hopes for the triple bill, Made to Move, which encompasses three new works to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the company.

The evening opens with The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud, choreographed by Javier De Frutos. The programme notes reiterate that this work is Javier’s take on the Pacific, with the intention of being “extravagant, unapologetic and joyful”. The physicality of the dancers is superb; they are beautiful and strong, elegant and real. Dimitri Kleioris and Lucy Balfour embody the movement vocabulary entirely in the De Frutos style, yet simultaneously make it their own, and there is a fantastic flurry of movement during a trio that has the divine Tonia Looker at the center. Abigail Boyle commands the stage in stillness through a long silence towards the end of the work, creating an unexpected tension. It seemed that the audience held their breath and when the movement and music began again, a collective sigh emerged.

Creating relationships and ritual through movement is a real strength of Javier’s choreography. This piece hints at these potential relationships and rituals, yet never allows us to settle on a particular narrative: just as something is established, it vanishes. The slightly aggressive male dominance in the work is not a new element to Javier’s choreography, however given that this was International Women’s Day, it provided us with another aspect of the work to reflect on. However, The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud immediately raises questions around the protocols and development of the work. Cultural appropriation in ballet (or indeed many dance practices) is certainly not new, nevertheless, it is time that we move past this, avoiding tokenistic representations of people and places that only reiterate stereotypes rather than drawing on the diversity that make up communities and cultures. Knowing Javier’s choreographic process from a dancer’s perspective, I understand that his work is often deeply connected to the particular group of dancers that he works with, and that he likes to provoke – both in the creative process and the final product that is produced. Nonetheless, details matter, and the etiquette and tradition of the culture(s) which one is drawing from need to be honoured and respected on a very fundamental level, even if questioning, challenging or critiquing. 180 degree arabesques with crotches presented to the audience, and women dancing in micro-mini dresses conflict with the etiquette and expectations of the cultures Javier refers to.

The hybridity of the music and spoken text that cuts between languages and rhythms suggests the diversity that could have emerged more throughout, yet it serves little to the overall development of the work.

The second piece of the night, Of Days, is choreographed by former RNZB dancer Andrew Simmons. Of Days evokes feelings of quiet melancholy, and has sparks of sublime potential. This work is a montage of fleeting moments, through movement, music and projected text. Some of these moments resonate more than others, and some have such poignancy through the simplest of gestures or a subtle look that speaks of so much more. The eight dancers are entirely committed to the work, offering a sinewy and honest interpretation of the movement language developed. While the use of projection may be a ‘trend’ that has permeated performative dance for some time now, it possibly only distracts in this instance: the movement is enough to satisfy, all on its own.

The playful use of shadows at one point is clever and could have been explored further. Of Days hints at very real human emotions and responses, I hope it is a work that Andrew will develop further in the future.

The final work of the evening is Bier Halle, choreographed by company director Ethan Stiefel, set to the vibrant polkas, waltzes and marches of Josef and Johann II Strauss. This work adheres to all the conventions, and is full of tricks, humour and excessive characterisations. While these elements may appeal to a certain audience, they do not particularly challenge nor do they assist in moving ballet choreography into the 21st century. Numerous ballets exist from the 19th and 20th century that encompass all that Bier Halle was trying to achieve. While the dancers perform admirably, it is a light-hearted work that does not seem to overly extend them physically or dramatically. 

The Made to Move triple bill raises the question of what statement a choreographer might want to make in the 30 minutes they have been allocated? While each statement made does not need to be profound, it needs to be meaningful in some way. Very rarely do choreographers get such a large attentive audience here in New Zealand, and so it could be viewed as imperative to make it matter, and to ‘speak’ to the audience in someway whilst continually pushing balletic choreography and practice forward. Nothing exists in a bubble, not even ballet.


Paul Casey March 9th, 2013

With reference to the review statement - "180 degree arabesques with crotches presented to the audience, and women dancing in micro-mini dresses conflict with the etiquette and expectations of the cultures Javier refers to". That is a  surprisingly paternalistic attitude.  The etiquette and expectations of the cultures that the reviewer was referring to are not cast in stone or fixed in time. Nor are they the responsibility of the artist to "protect".

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Triple treat for 60th anniversary

Review by Ann Hunt 28th Feb 2013

Three world premieres in one night is a splendid marker for the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 60th anniversary.

The company, in outstanding form, deliver a night of spirited dancing in entertaining, thought provoking and beautiful works.

Choreographer/set designer Javier de Frutos’ Anatomy of a Passing Cloud is a stunningly clever, multi-layered work that on the surface is an evocation of the Pacific in all its vigour and beauty, yet beneath, perhaps all is not well in paradise.

Using a hybrid style of dance – a fusion of classical ballet, contemporary and Polynesian movements – he also mixes a reading from Genesis in Maori, traditional Cook Island drums, chants and songs and the harmonies of the Yandall Sisters with aplomb. We smile, but we also think.

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An abstract work between culturally referenced bookends

Review by Jan Bolwell 28th Feb 2013

To curate a triple bill can be a tricky business especially if it consists of newly commissioned dances.  Will they hang together in a single programme? There must be a certain element of serendipity at work. In the case of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Made to Move programme that opened in Wellington last night, the mix was a strange one with vastly different choreographic visions on display.  One purely abstract work was book ended by two culturally referenced ballets requiring a large mind shift by the audience.

Javier De Frutos is no stranger to New Zealand having worked with the RNZB over the past decade creating such strong and inspirational works as Milagros in 2003. Influenced by the writings and philosophy of the late Jonathan Dennis, founder of the New Zealand Film Archive, De Frutos felt ready to turn his attention to the culture of the Pacific. ‘I can now create my own response to the Pacific, albeit with a great deal of care.’  And therein lies the problem with The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud. De Frutos has taken so much care; his references to the Pacific in the movement vocabulary are so oblique that he has removed the essence of the Pacific – its energy, motion, sensuality and earthiness. 

The smell and taste of the Pacific are largely absent in what is otherwise an interesting and accomplished piece of choreography. His skills are everywhere in evidence in the spatial patterning and grouping of the dancers, partnering and varying dynamics, and innovative gestural movement. Relationships are hinted at and moments of potential menace briefly alluded to. The dancers give their all, with Abigail Boyle and Dimitri Kleioris in particular anchoring the work in strong portrayals. However the dancers are not helped in their evocation of the Pacific by costumes, which though in attractively bright tivaevae patterns, give no sense of flow and movement.

Whereas De Frutos largely steers clear of Pacific movements in his choreography, he shows no such constraints in his use of music. He has put together a pastiche of sound from Cook Island drumming, ancestral song, excerpts from the Bible (Genesis) spoken in Maori with a deliberately scratched recording, to The Yandell Sisters. The most successful partnership between music and dance are the sections in which he uses Cook Island drumming and where we begin to get a sense of where the dance comes from. But overall, this reviewer found the music a distraction, because the relationship to the choreography are so tenuous.  In the end I wanted to look at the dance in silence.

Of Days by ex-RNZB dancer Andrew Simmons displays none of the risk taking evident in De Frutos’s work. Of Days is a quiet, introspective, abstract work beautifully designed by Simmons himself with understated costuming by Kate Venables. The dancers move serenely from foreground to background to the music of three different composers all stylistically similar.  Wordplay occurs as projected images, but the relationship of words to movement is not obvious, and in the end these become an unwanted distraction. Lighting, stage design and costuming are the strongest elements in Of Days, none of which is sufficient compensation for pedestrian and predictable choreography that leaves a soporific residue in the air.

The evening ended with RNZB director Ethan Stiefel trying his hand at some original choreography. Paying homage to his German roots, Stiefel takes the audience on an exuberant romp through a Bavarian beer hall. On a monumental set which threatens at times to dwarf the dancing, Bier Halle spills out a series of eccentric characters – nerd, flirts, studs, baker, butcher, bird, among others – who communicate appropriate joie de vivre and clearly relish the opportunity to deliver such full throated dancing.

Kohei Iwamoto is delicious as Bird, ably matched by the natural comic talents of Paul Mathews, the Nerd. As Beer Distributor, Sir Jon Trimmer gives everyone a lesson in how to command the stage, and Studs Jacob Chown and Dimitri Kleioris sparkle with show-off athleticism and some sharp Schuhplattler. Gillian Murphy and Qi Huan are given room to demonstrate their consummate dance abilities as Beer Maiden and Hunter, and the whole enterprise is wrapped up in the inimitable music of the Strauss brothers, Josef and Johann II played beautifully by Orchestra Wellington under conductor Nigel Gaynor. By the end the audience are clapping along happily to the dance, and go out of the theatre into the warm summer night humming various polkas, waltzes and marches.    


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Superb level of choreographic crafting

Review by Lyne Pringle 28th Feb 2013

The Royal New Zealand Ballet continues to blaze a trail of successes with the Triple Bill evening Made to Move  to celebrate 60 years of existence; no small feat in a country of this size.  Many great people have contributed to make the company the lean flexible and classy machine it is today. We celebrate them all.

The commonality of the evening is the superb level of choreographic crafting in the works and the stellar international careers of the creators:  but there are 3 distinctive artistic voices presented.

Javier De Frutos, a Venezuelan by birth, has been coming to New Zealand for 10 years now to create 2 previous works for the company.

With his latest offering, Anatomy of a Cloud, he feels it is time to capture the diaspora that is NZ as the ‘largest Pacific nation’ and to, some would say, ‘plunder’, ‘appropriate’ or perhaps just borrow the sounds, aesthetics and ‘dances’ of the region to forge a unique take on life in the oceanic idyll. * (Please see endnote)

The work is dynamic, bright – a moving tivaevae design with the music sourced from the Cook Islands and Hawaii, mixed with sounds from Aotearoa. Sometimes tracks stop suddenly with static as the channel is switched and we move on.

Beginning with a circle ritual around a ‘chief’ the vocabulary is gentle soft and rippling, this morphs into deconstructed angular gestures propelled by drumming; taut intricate and compelling.  The women are tossed by the men, legs akimbo; love stories are played out to the soothing sounds of the Yandell Sisters. A fast solo by Madeleine Graham is exhilarating in its intensity as this interesting angular choreography is taken up by the entire company.

On one level celebratory, with uniformly stunning dancing from the cast, there is an undertone of disquiet played out by an overbearing ‘chief’, wonderfully danced by Dimiitri Kleioris, who at times takes a heavy hand to his woman, the ever gorgeous  Abigail Boyle. Later the same power dynamic is played out between men. One reading could be about the exploitation of Pacific Nations by wealthier neighbours – it is a seam of discontent that is subtle enough to leave room for the watcher’s interpretation, and meaty enough for the performers to shine dramatically. Like a slight tear in the corner of a postcard from a gorgeous atoll, in some ways it is disconcerting to watch balletic choreography that is so clearly situated in our part of the world, because it is so rare.

The work finishes in an unexpected way, with Boyle looking out to the audience in an enigmatic way then melting into a gorgeous solo – taking charge of a future – perhaps?

I was spellbound by Andrew Simmons Of Days; every fibre of every muscle of the dancers alert in the work to create the most exquisite poetry. The costumes  are masterful –  grey leotards with ruched chiffon tops for the woman and unitards for the men. The choreography is spacious and elegant, set to spare but beautiful music by Olafur Arnalds, Dustin o’Halloran and Ludovico Einaudi and the lighting by Jason Morphet is breathtaking in the way that it caresses the dancer’s bodies to make them shimmer.

Often the dancers move in silence, limbs like tendrils in the space or walking simply – there is an overlying theme of yearning and searching as words flicker above the stage.  We are given the chance to drink at the cup of classical form and come away nourished by the ‘lines of living’ that these wonderful dance artists create in partnership with their choreographer. It is deeply moving as we find then lose each other.

In the center of the work there is a shift of dynamic as Simmons executes splendid patterning with the group.  He makes poems; the wings of starting over; concords of willowy figures as delicate as gray warblers on a misty Canterbury day.

The work finishes with a sublime duet danced by Antonia Hewitt and Brendan Bradshaw  – a threnody of the body – perfect in its structure and marriage with the music. Then we all breathe out.

Bier Halle, the first original choreography by company director Ethan Stiefel, delivers the promise of a good time – beer and lederhosen. A little slow to begin, with boggy mime as the characters are introduced, by the end it is rollicking along to the great sounds of the Orchestra Wellington playing fantastic renditions of Johann Strauss II and Josef Strauss.

From the start there are gags aplenty to open up the laughter muscles. A kooky cuckoo clock (Kohei Iwamoto) and nerd (Paul Matthews) set the tone: later they are romantically paired, causing mayhem and ruffled feathers – great characters and dancing from these two.

Everybody in the cast is having a ball – butchers, beer distributors, bakers, flirts, barkeepers, and townsfolk come together for a good old session of binge drinking leading to evermore outrageous shenanigans.  Jacob Chown and Dimitiri Kleioris make fantastic studs with dynamic dancing.

Qi Huan as the Hunter and Gillian Murphy as the Beer Maiden do what they are supposed to do and fall in love. The choreography is great here, and at times quite unexpected – such as the slow beginning to their dance with tiny steps and the extended gesture by the beer maiden to her lover’s face before placing her cheek on his hands. There is a lovely ‘tongue in cheek’ aspect to this love which brings a smile.

Both lovers get to share their fabulous technique, stunning turns a la second from Qi Huan, and incredible control and lightness from Gillian Murphy in her solos.  A hush falls over the theatre when she is dancing. She is lovely, then just when we thought she has finished, she sets off in a whirl of turns in second en pointe around the stage.

Ethan Stiefel creates a masterful ‘story ballet’ with fantastic spirited dancing from the cast and happy smiles from the traditionalists in the audience. As the director of the company he continues to make ‘good calls’ and even shares a photo of himself as a child in lederhosen.


End note:  De Frutos states that he treats using this music with the “same level of seriousness” that he treats classical greats, also that “It’s complex”. This is true and I guess we have to trust that he has done his homework. Would a NZ Pakeha (as in non Maori) choreographer get away with juxtaposing abstract movement to a recitation of whakapapa without causing a furore? Good question.  In the choreographer’s words, “This work is very important to me and reverential. I didn’t get on a plane and fly 36 hours to piss people off,  that is not what I am about.”


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