NZ School of Dance Performance Season 2023

Southwards Theatre, Otaihanga, Paraparaumu

16/11/2023 - 18/11/2023

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

28/11/2023 - 02/12/2023

Production Details

Ballet programme American choreographers: Val Caniparoli, Helgi Tomasson, Lew Christensen
Staged by former Ballet Master for San Francisco Ballet, Betsy Erickson.
Contemporary programme: choreographers Garry Stewart, Amber Haines, Ross McCormack, NZSD graduates, Felix Sampson and Kit Riley.

New Zealand School of Dance

The New Zealand School of Dance (NZSD) is proud to announce its highly anticipated Performance Season, showcasing the extraordinary talent of its students. With two alternating programmes of ballet and contemporary dance, this season promises to captivate audiences with outstanding choreography and breath-taking performances.

In these specially curated programmes, students from across the School’s three year groups will showcase their artistry in an impressive repertoire of legacy pieces, collaborations with inventive choreographers, premieres and commissions.

New Zealand School of Dance Students

Ballet , Dance , Contemporary dance ,

90 mins

Young and optimistic mood

Review by Jennifer Shennan 12th Dec 2023

NZSD offered alternating programs, one of Classical and one of Contemporary dance, across a five-day season. There was a consistently high standard of dancing from all the students across both programs, though a number of audience members admitted they would have liked to see pieces from each stream combined onto one program, since they were only able to attend a single performance. That too would have demonstrated the range of technical and aesthetic strengths that the School offers, and varied the choreographic experiences for us all.

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Classical season: a joy to see their talent

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 04th Dec 2023

The end of year showing by students is always a dance highlight. And this year the programme spans two nights, one for Classical and one Contemporary. The contemporary dancers were strong and compelling in their programme and my sense of anticipation the following night as I return for the Classical Performance is high. 
First up, Meistens Mozart takes the stage with a strong and polished delivery and a sense of, rather an old fashioned whimsical style? Musically sensitive and with the traditional ‘effort- less – ness’ of classical ballet this is a charming opener.  This work was choreographed by Helgi Tomasson for San Francisco Ballet in 1991 and is restaged here by Betsy Erickson. Her coaching and attention to detail is also evident in an excellent performance of Vivaldi Concerto Grosso, choreographed by Lew Christansen, also for San Francisco Ballet  and even earlier, in 1981. 
Aria, choreography by Val Caniparoli, I recall seeing before as a real touchstone opportunity for a soloist. Joshua Douglas rises well to the challenge showing both sophistication and sensitivity. 
Street Songs, also by Val Caniparoli, also staged by Betsy Erickson and again originating with a North American Company (Pacific North West Ballet 1980) closes the evening.  Less austere and brightly coloured the dated days of swimsuit leotards are back!  I feel this work might relate to these dancers and their individual personalities with a rethink in design and dressed in more flattering and current clothes?  But this is how it was originally staged and I quickly enjoy the dancing.  Street Songs is a fast paced series of social comments reflecting a kaleidoscope of traits and with an opportunity for the dancers to relate to each other and to us. Snippets of concepts and catches of a storyline tempt and the light and bubbly energy of the cast sends us home happy. There is a strong sense of camaraderie between the dancers that is fun to share. 
Classical Ballet has a history and I applaud the learning and understanding of past works as part of student training but this whole Performance Programme reflects a looking back and in no way responds to the world of today nor to our NZSD being about New Zealand? Is this just me having a moment? Maybe. I am a lover of  ballet –  vitality –  line – form – technique and spatial  intricacy and it is an art form with much magic to admire. These young dancers can dance!  They will learn to look at each other and give us more than choreographic vocabulary.  
There is international concern that classical ballet is struggling to move into  the 21st century and I do find myself reflecting on this as I watch. 
These are  dancers of 2023, graduates of 2023 moving out to careers and the reality of a tough arts world in 2024. They all give their best and it is a joy to see their talent being nurtured and guided so securely in the highly challenging technique required. 
 Best wishes and thanks to the staff, tutors, creators, dancers and all at Te Whaea. The NZSD is a great place to learn.  Here’s to the future and to keeping ballet in the now of 2024.


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Celebration of young dancers and choreographers

Review by Helen Balfour 30th Nov 2023

This evening we are welcomed by Tanemahuta Gray with an animated mihi whakatu including descriptions of Te Whaea, our venue,  known as ‘the mother’ and the graduating students, the ‘blossoming of a new dawn’.  He acknowledged Jon Trimmer’s recent passing and his amazing contributions to dance. 

Thank You, choreographed by Felix Sampson, the first work of the evening, begins with the students entering the space in front of us saying thank you, gesturing thank you, acknowledging the audience when we clap them, a cheery, yet oddly uncertain beginning to this work. 

Once underway, dancers wearing shades of blue appear, their cheeky, cheesy smiling faces a little macabre. Rhythmic, linear movements reminded me of a school of fish traversing the sea followed by liberating jumps and seamless, smooth rolls to the floor repeatedly en diagonal. Dancers planted to the floor struggling to get up, metaphors for the endurance needed at times in their dance studies.  A common action repeated in a number of the works this evening, the undulating ripple of torso and arms as the dancers flocked together. The work is a joyous united piece, clearly demonstrating the bond between the dancers and their appreciation of the three year experiences together. 

Outlier, choreographed by Kit Reilly was next, and what a work it was. Creamy-coloured clothed dancers demonstrate subtle, sensitive fluidity throughout the work with a beautiful sense of synchronicity of the sound and movement. This piece was by far the highlight of the evening’s programme as the link between the dancers movement and music was coherent, complemented by unison dance that bound the work effectively. Pulsing resonating moments and some mesmerizing repeated actions that fit seamlessly into quick, stationary action and fluid, yet slick partnering. Some really fresh choreography here and Riley should feel proud of this excellent piece of dance that binds the concept, the movement and the sound with intrinsic timing and purpose. 

The Australian choreographer, Gary Stewart created this work in Adelaide, premiering in 2016. The Beginning of Nature, (Excerpts) began with two solo dancers entering on opposite sides of the space, their hunched bodies walking with intent and purpose.  They hold stones as taonga which cleverly transfer from dancer to dancer during the work. I gathered that a sense of torment, perhaps the taonga, was controlling them. Stewart’s work was often front-focused in its positioning in the space, which caught the audience’s attention. Movement such as the connected wave of linked arms, creating the illusion of an evolving creature. The dancers demonstrate some strong technical work, especially the floor-to standing movements which are quickly and heartily executed. The music by Brendan Woithe, especially the Kaurna voices, was a resounding feature that brought together the intentions and energies of this work. Some dynamic solos highlighted the strength of the dancer’s abilities and control of the choreography. Notable mentions in this piece was the entry of the ‘stick monster’, classily side lit, presenting the appearance of a proud peacock and the forehead to forehead duo for their focus and persistence in maintaining the contact. Disappointingly, the ending of this piece was a little uncertain, the audience was unsure if it had concluded. 

Re:action choreographed by Ross McCormack provided us with some curious discussions afterward as to what McCormack wanted to say. Again, the soundtrack of vocals was dominant in this work, with clicks and ticks which at times led the movement qualities, juxtaposed with the dancers rhythmic bounces and lurching. The costumes by Max Deroy were high necked, black Aline dresses. They are eye-catching and cleverly capture and enhance the quality of some of the movements. 

The link between the force, or the large rock-like structure up stage didn’t quite manage to provide the audience with enough connections to the purpose of the piece.  Some of the dancers movements had a stuck, bound quality, others were more vibratory. Through the programme notes, I learn that these qualities grew in response to the choreographic process; perhaps more refinement was needed to link these connections with the concept of ‘the force’ and its power over the movement. A dynamic change in music occurred, with some rhythmic techno music emerging, but nothing happened. The choreography lost its way at this stage and didn’t highlight the skill and quality of the dancers involved.

The final piece for the evening was Incant, choreographed by Amber Haines, focusing on summoning, ‘The Lost Magic of Intuition’.  I loved the blue, crushed velvet clothing by Donna Jefferis that provided a sense of calm and connectivity within the dancers. The dominant focus towards the audience and the commanding presence of hair gave the feeling of a blend of Woodstock and a hippie sit-in. This piece should be acknowledged for its large group shapes, one that captured the audience was a tiered line, alluding to a dinosaur skeleton shape using clever manipulations of arms and hands. The sextet of dancers showed some powerful movements with carefully executed timing and energy qualities.  The floaty, undulating, en- mass movement was dominant, linking the themes and context. 

A couple of thoughts to conclude. Firstly, on how breath and movement featured in this evening’s programme. Each choreographic work except one, had audible breath exchanges as the dancers moved. I understand why breath should be used as an instigator of movement and that it’s an integral part of the quality of the movement that is produced. However, after the third piece used this dynamic, I had to ask why so much and so often. Secondly, and following on from the point above, further consideration as to the variety of works in this graduating programme may be helpful, as the pieces appeared to be of a similar style and quality and did not necessarily show off the full range of the dancers’ talents to their advantage. 

However, all said, the programme was a wonderful celebration of young dancers and choreographers and I wish them well, applauding them for their talent, energy and creativity.


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