New Zealand School of Dance GRADUATION SEASON 2011

Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

16/11/2011 - 26/11/2011

Production Details

Dancers on the brink of professional careers perform captivating contemporary choreography and ballet classics

This vibrant season of dance showcases some of history’s greatest choreographers, featuring August Bournonville’s elegant Napoli Divertissements and a selection from George Balanchine’s Emeralds.

Particular highlights are three newly-created works of absorbing, gutsy and thought-provoking choreography by Maria Dabrowska, Lina Limosani and Ross McCormack.

Legendary US choreographer Paul Taylor’s Company B, danced to the music of the Andrews Sisters provides an exuberant finale.

A nicely balanced box of chocolates

Review by Jan Bolwell 20th Nov 2011

For the dance aficionado, attending a New Zealand School of Dance Graduation season is akin to being handed a large and sumptuous box of chocolates.  If the classical ballet items are not to your liking then you can dig down a layer and sample a range of contemporary dance offerings.  This year the School continues its fine tradition of presenting the world’s best in both dance genres.  Choreographic excellence is on display with works by Bournonville, Balanchine and Taylor. This trio anchor the programme that also includes works by young local and Australian choreographers. The balance is a good one.

We are accustomed to seeing the students perform Bournonville works, and the nineteenth century Scandanavian dance style presents plenty of challenges for today’s dancers. As the programme notes tell us, Bournonville’s style ‘is noted for its precision, neatness, lightness and gaiety’.  In Napoli Divertissements the dancers get the precision and neatness very well, and there is evidence of much solid training. However the lightness and gaiety, which are essential ingredients, are missing from this overly careful performance. As the season progresses the students will no doubt relax a bit and find this stylistic necessity.  

It is a huge mind shift to be hurled within seconds from the refinement of Bournonville to the macabre world of Australian choreographer Lina Limosani’s new work, Whispers From Pandora’s Box. We are warned in the programme notes “…Because once you’ve opened Pandora’s Box, you could have hell to pay. Sporting Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight) style makeup and absurd costumes the dancers scrabble out of Pandora’s Box and launch themselves into a world of surreal and action- packed pandemonium. Rapid-fire precision dancing paired gruesome action and reaction fight sequences with appropriate sound effects fill the stage. It is all good fun and superbly executed by the fourteen contemporary students who give a powerful display of ensemble dancing. However with its mish-mash of sound tracks the work loses its way, and what is initially an interesting idea simply ends up repeating itself, dynamically and choreographically, over and over again.

Recent Bedroom is also a new work by Maria Dabrowska in collaboration with three dancers, Alice Macann, Gareth Okan and James Pham. The programme notes explain that they “work with three chairs and physical manipulation as a means to explore the changing dynamics of personal relationships.” They do, but to what end? What is the point of view? In this case, moving chairs around a stage, falling and catching and running in a circle is insufficient material to progress an idea about human relationships. Alice Maccann has a strong presence and she does her best with the minimalist material, at least managing to create some sort of emotional tension on stage.

Selections from EMERALDS is part of a triptych, Jewels,  by George Balanchine that premiered in 1967. The students’ presentation of this Balanchine work hopefully is a foretaste of things to come. With the recent appointment of Ethan Stiefel as artistic of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, local audiences may at last have greater exposure to the twentieth century’s greatest ballet choreographer.

Supreme musicality is at the core of Balanchine’s dance aesthetic. Selections from EMERALDS is performed to Fauré’s evocative ‘Pelleus et Melisande’ Suite Op. 80 and incidental music to ‘Shylock’ Op. 57. Every gesture, every flick of the wrist, turn of the head, and placement of the leg has both physical and musical meaning, but none of it is predictable.

Balanchine said of this work: ‘I suppose if this part of the ballet can be said to represent anything at all, it is perhaps an evocation of France, the France of elegance, comfort, dress, perfume.’  Staged by Diana White, the five students – Jesse Scales, Yvette Sauvage, Tarrah Burns, Laura Jones and Edward Dobinson- rise to the challenge and give an intelligent and lyrical performance of the work.

As with the other two contemporary works on the programme, Ross McCormack’s SUM is a collaboration between him and the dancers. McCormack gives us an insight into his working process in the programme notes, and the work does exude a visceral and organic quality born of a high degree of interaction between dancers and choreographer. It works well because the students are clearly comfortable with and confident about McCormack’s signature movement qualities. The only discordant note for this reviewer is the use of a Lebanese pop song ‘Habbaytak Bissayf’. The language and sound resonate with strong cultural roots that seem bizarrely misplaced in this western contemporary dance work.

Company B by Paul Taylor completes the programme and what a treat it proves to be.  With songs by the Andrew Sisters, Taylor brilliantly evokes 1940s America with dances choreographed to such classics as ‘Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!’ and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B)’‘. There is a powerful counterpoint running throughout the work as Taylor’s treatment of popular dances of the day are set against the actuality of the Second World War – a poignancy is ever present. The strongest dances in Company B are those choreographed for male soloists – Taylor recalling his youth maybe?  Benjamin Obst and Gareth Okan in particular perform these dances skilfully, with great energy and joie de vivre. Richard Chen See has staged Company B meticulously with subtle costuming by Santo Loquasto and gorgeous lighting by the renowned Jennifer Tipton, recreated by Paul O’Brien. The students give themselves fully to this work and it is a fitting end to a great evening of dance.   


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Performers primed and focused

Review by Greer Robertson 17th Nov 2011

Putting their life and love of dancing on the line, the graduating students open their 10 day season with pride. After years of blood sweat and tears, these performances mark the end of a personal era with the performers primed and focused on a fruitful future career in the dance industry.

Six strong works are presented of mixed context and flavour for the graduates to sink their teeth into. This is an international collection of choreographers that exposes the dancers to a greater diversity on a world level for them to strive and successfully achieve.

Beautifully groomed with fresh faced effervescent shine and smiles, the dancers first present the famous yet challenging Napoli Divertissements.

An age old favourite requiring full positive concentration and often performed as part of graduation, this 19th Century work is seen as a benchmark for technical balletic achievement. In some places, first night nerves somewhat halt the true distinct flavour of August Bournonville’s speed and precision for the 8 young women and 3 young men on stage. With a lengthy season on their side and having already experienced opening night nerves, they will surely soar, making it a more even performance spectacle. Amidst the many quick solos, Yvette Sauvage particularly shines with a mature charming command seldom seen at this level.

Balanchine’s Emeralds is also seen as a clear example of classical ballet with more fluid and flourishing movement from the Romantic Era.

[I duly note the absence of a short tutu in the entire programme though.]

Recent Bedroom choreographed by Maria Dabrowska is a contemporary piece performed by 3 dancers. They start in silence before exploring a social and anti-social connection with the assistance of 3 sturdy chairs. With consummate trust in their fellow dancers, falling becomes a surmountable issue that is definitely mastered, specially from the dangerous added height of the chair.

Another contemporary piece Sum, choreographed by Ross McCormack, sees the dancers innovatively exploring movement of a difference. The use of interesting orchestral music raises it to another level with supreme commitment in every move. Even the strange and bizarre way that the dancers leap along the floor while still folded up in a half sitting and lying position has me amused and baffled about its feasibility.

But, the star piece of the show for me is Whispers from Pandora’s Box, by Lina Limosani.

Twisted, perverse, outrageously in your face, yet completely comedic at the same time, this work showcases the students in a way worthy of any well respected professional contemporary dance company. Scarlet balloon pantaloons and sheer white blouses doused in blood, melting harlequin masks… what does it all mean? It means that the evil that springs from the mythical Pandora’s Box has a humorous side it. The deep emotional challenge, explicit timing and fun delivery of displayed disemboweling, electric shock treatment and whipping, has one smiling, but not disgusted. One can see that the dancers also enjoy this piece immensely as they give their all with supreme technical and emotional aplomb.

A change of pace and style again, and we are catapulted back to the 1940’s with Company B with choreography by Paul Taylor.  Fun and carefree but still emphasizing the horrors of combat and war, this light hearted rendition is of a more relaxed nature performed in fashion for the time. Headscarves, shorts and khaki pants along with the famous Andrews Sisters songs put you immediately back to the Second World War.

Devoid of a generation or two and removed from living and breathing Americana, the students learn to understand the uniqueness of this piece. Du Yan Hao is particularly masterful in his technique, elevation and youthful charm in Oh Jonny, Oh Jonny Oh  – as a standout, he delights the eyes of the watchful and waiting women.

Congratulations to the Graduating Class! Good Luck for the Future!


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