NYC Three Short Ballets from The Big Apple

Civic Theatre, cnr of Queen Street & Wellesley Street West, Auckland

29/02/2012 - 04/03/2012

Founders Theatre, Hamilton

10/03/2012 - 11/03/2012

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

18/03/2012 - 18/03/2012

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

22/03/2012 - 25/03/2012

Production Details

Three Short Ballets from the Big Apple

An opportunity to enjoy contrasting ballets conceived and created in New York City. From works by the city’s hottest young choreographers, Larry Keigwin and Benjamin Millepied, to a Balanchine classic inspired by Gershwin’s legendary songs, this exceptional programme will excite audiences throughout New Zealand.

Who Cares?*

Balanchine’s Who Cares? is a tribute to his friend George Gershwin. The title song is just one of many classic favourites – Embraceable You, That Certain Feeling, I’ve Got Rhythm – making this exuberant Manhattan ballet unmissable.

CHOREOGRAPHY George Balanchine
MUSIC George Gershwin
LIGHTING Nigel Percy

28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini

A chance to see the intricate and dynamic work of Black Swan film choreographer, Benjamin Millepied, live. Five men and five women perform this classically inspired ballet to Brahms’ exquisite piano music.

CHOREOGRAPHY Benjamin Millepied
STAGING John Gardner and Amanda McKerrow
MUSIC Johannes Brahms
LIGHTING Nigel Percy

Final Dress (new commission)

To complete the trio, the company performs the world première of a newly commissioned work and score by one of New York’s most dynamic young choreographers. Larry Keigwin brings creativity and star quality to his choreography from off-Broadway shows to the opening event of New York’s Fashion Week produced by Vogue. Larry’s own company, KEIGWAN + COMPANY, performs at the Joyce Theatre, NYC and in festivals and venues throughout the USA.

MUSIC Adam Crystal
LIGHTING Nigel Percy


*The performances of Who Cares, a Balanchine® Ballet, is presented by arrangement with The George Balanchine Trust and has been produced in accordance with the Balanchine® Style and Balanchine® Technique Service standards established and provided by the Trust.
The worldwide copyrights for the music of George and Ira Gershwin for this presentation are licensed by The Gershwin® family.

Varies by centre - see for cast lists

2 hrs 15 mins

Director delivers flawless triple bill

Review by Jennifer Shennan 23rd Mar 2012

My guess is there would have been more than 100 applications last year for the job of Artistic Director of the RNZB. The panel chose Ethan Stiefel and this programme is precisely what management must have hoped his directorship would deliver.  The performance sizzles with style overlaying admirably secure technique, and you couldn’t fault one of the dancers throughout the entire evening.  That said, several of them shone with a radiance and nonchalance that lifted the company into orbit. We wished they could have danced all night.

It’s a beautifully modulated triple bill – with 28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini  (choreography Millepied / music Brahms ) as a gorgeous opener. We meet Gilliam Murphy, guest artist, and see (here and in Who Cares?) why her lovely, contemplative, poetic dancing has earned such a stellar reputation. Lucy Green steps up to share the light.

Final Dress, (Keigwin / Crystal) is a breathtaking premiere that should become a signature piece, with dazzling performers in daring group and duo numbers. Compelling music drives unpredictable movement, andCuba St. op shop dresses never looked so good.  It offers a backstage and sideways view of dancers at work, with fleeting glimpses of emotional interactions. The dancers have a ball with every second of it.

Who Cares? (Balanchine / Gershwin) has a staging admirably true to its origins, and these dancers, most of them too young to have themselves ever seenManhattan by night, nonetheless danced that city right here into our town. That’s what Ballet at its best, plus Gershwin, can do. Save the airfare, and scalp for the few remaining tickets.

Stiefel and Murphy between them have had a liberating effect on a number of dancers who reveal new dimensions of musicality and commitment. Lucy Green is in orbit; Paul Matthews had the night of his life; Abigail Boyle as gorgeous as ever; Jacob Chown a weather bomb, Lucy Balfour, Dimitri Kleioris, Qi Huan, Tonia Looker  …  I would go on if the sub-editor would let me.

In the entire evening the only thing missing was from the illuminated backdrop of the New York skyline, my all-time-favourite Chrysler Building.  O well. 


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Exquisite artistry on display

Review by Lyne Pringle 23rd Mar 2012

The stars have come to town! Reality TV show, Hollywood heart throbs, bestselling movies, American primo ballet dancers – what a mix! The Royal New Zealand Ballet has entered a new era and the company glistens and sparkles under the new director Ethan Stiefel who has curated and eclectic and spirited mix of works for his inaugural season for the company.
He has also invited Gillian Murphy, principal guest artist with the American Ballet Theatre –  and now the Royal New Zealand Ballet –  which adds another dimension to this dynamic evening of dance. New York comes to the antipodes.

28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini is a gem of choreographic crafting, impeccable technique and joyous dancing – there are many beautiful dancers in the company showcased in this virtuosic piece performed with a romantic ease.  There is a beautiful interplay between the music and the movement with many surprising entrances and exits, contemporary partnering and steps amidst the classical forms. and a charming semi-narrative that allows for the dancers to express emotions and explore onstage relationships that appear then evaporate.

Exquisite artistry is on display in the dancing of Gillian Murphy, Lucy Green, Antonia Hewitt, Tonia Looker and Bronte Kelly. The men perform with consummate power.

Larry Keigwin has created Final Dress for the company; this work has been a popular and energising crowd pleaser throughout the country. Seeing the dancers out of their classical garb is pleasing, as is the opportunity to ogle at their fit strong bodies – plenty of this is available in this work that deconstructs the world of ballet and throws in lashings of conventional contemporary movements.

It has an exhilarating daredevil quality that is propelled by by Adam Crystal’s excellent score. The performers are gutsy and staunch with standout moments by the entire cast. Their obvious enjoyment of this work is palpable. Having the wings exposed allows for shadowy interactions at the side of stage, which appeals to the voyeuristic tendencies we all have – yes we are all drawn to the ‘secret lives’ of these dancers.  

Lucy Balfour is a luminous presence in this work,  Mayu Tanigaito a maelstrom, and  the men inhabit the aerial realm with god-like intensity. Sexy, dramatic, compelling, exuberant dance – it would be interesting to see what some of our NZ choreographers could come up with to match this, given the chance.

1970 was a long time ago and Who Cares? by George Balanchine sits in dated fashion beside the previous works. Against a very flat backdrop the women in garish pink evoke the heyday of Broadway to some of George Gerswhin’s greatest hits.  This is a sweet work with playful duets and intricate solos. Again as with the previous works, the choreography intertwines with the music in a satisfying way.

Paul Matthews is a standout in this work,  partnering the female soloists, Gillian Murphy, Lucy Green and Abigail Boyle in a quiet and charming way; his solo is precise elegant and stylish. Gillian Murphy has a strong connection to the Balanchine in a beautiful and quirky solo. Abigail Boyle exudes musicality, willowy strength and a dynamic stage presence whilst Lucy Green is swift precise and insouciantly charming.

It is rousing to sense how much the dancers in the company are relishing the new repertoire, expectations and directions that have come with Ethan Stiefel.  It is stirring to sense the excitement and engagement of audiences throughout the country. 


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Ballet that makes you marvel

Review by Hannah Molloy 19th Mar 2012

As the woman in the row behind said (several times), “oh my god, that was amazing.” NYC, performed by the Royal New Zealand Ballet in Dunedin’s beautiful Regent Theatre, really is amazing. The audience has clearly been primed by the reviews the ballet has already received and the anticipatory hum hushes rather more promptly than usual at a Regent Theatre show.

In three pieces, NYC is all about the city it is named for – fast, gritty, doesn’t stop, is always changing and new and different, vibrant… the descriptors are endless and entirely appropriate. If this is RNZB Artistic Director Ethan Stiefel’s first year of programming, New Zealand is in for some very good ballet times ahead.

The three pieces are entirely different from each other, (new, young and classic), and the audience embraced them all wholeheartedly, most unlike Dunedin’s usually sedate ballet audience.

The first, 28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini, is set in a ballroom bathed in a warm glow by a chandelier. The dancers, male in grey and female in pastels, dance with slightly wacky humour from time to time in both movement and expression. The men’s dance is full of spirit and bravado, hints of possible mischief, but as soon as they are rejoined by the women, they return to good behaviour. This ballet was created by Benjamin Millepied in 2005 and has a glorious Regency feel to it, with its adherence to nicety and manners – in the presence of the ladies at least. The muted colours belie the vibrant faces of the dancers and the simple stage allows them to be luminous.

Final Dress holds the audience from the first thrum of the music, a sound as though people are hurrying back to their seats before the curtain rises. the stage is displayed in all its pre-show functionality, some dancers leaning laconically on ladders and boxes and some racing about, rehearsing madly. The dancers’ semi-nudity, clothed mostly just in minimalist practice gear, is a beautiful reminder of the physicality of this art form, with every muscle visible through the skin, in backs, arms, legs and torsos.

Final Dress isn’t all about the glamour and hard work of dancing though. There is a strong undercurrent of sultriness, of predatory intent, with a small sense of voyeurism thrown in as the audience watches relationships form and wither. Adam Crystal’s music plucks at the mind, while surreptitious glimpses of dancers behaving badly creates an air of … humidity?

Larry Keigwin’s choreography is brilliant and the audience loves it, from the tiny girl roused from near sleep on her mother’s shoulder to the ballet devotees. The applause was long and hearty and the dancers basked as though they loved it too.

Who Cares, choreographed by George Ballanchine to 16 of George Gershwin’s songs, began as a pink tutu’d ballet class against a New York skyline silhouetted in the evening sky. The frisky pink tutus are joined by sharp white satin suits and matched by frisky smiles and a fun, non-stop series of dances. Final Dress is a very tough act to follow but Who Cares brings the audience back to earth with a little quirky fun.

When performed as well as this, to choreography as good as this, ballet appears effortless. It isn’t effortless to watch though. It makes you breathe and imagine and marvel.

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An exhilarating ensemble to watch

Review by Brenda Rae Kidd 13th Mar 2012

Pinch me.

Final Dress is a gritty urban ballet by choreographer Larry Keigwin with score by Adam Crystal.  This, the New York duos’ second collaboration, has been created especially for the Royal New Zealand Ballet and the dancers respond accordingly. Sublime performance. 

For twenty minutes I am not sitting in Founders Theatre, Hamilton – awestruck – rather a rehearsal studio, somewhere, New York.

Final Dress is a game-changer. The stage is stripped right back to the skeletal, giving the audience a peep into territory usually reserved for cast and crew.  Boundaries are challenged, reversing the spectator-spectated construct.  Very brave stuff as traditionalists may consider this distracting.

Keigwin is deservedly considered to be at the forefront of the contemporary ballet movement and is making this art accessible to younger audiences, ensuring its survival.

Benjamin Millepied of Black Swan fame choreographs the opening ballet.

28 variations on a Theme by Paganini, with piano score by Johannes Brahms, seems an incongruous start to the evening.  Apart from the choreographer, the subject is not instantly identified as being of New York.  Love, after all, is a universal theme. 

Technically brilliant, the dancers execute moves with accomplished practice although there is little connection between them and the work. Across an unadorned stage – apart from a chandelier – they flirt without passion.

Who Cares is the final work of the NYC triple billChoreographed by the godfather of American ballet, George Balanchine, this pays homage to his good friend and prolific composer, George Gershwin. It’s fun, sweet and dapper. First performed in 1970 by New York City Ballet, Who Cares is reminiscent of a different era.

NYC is a promising start to Ethan Stiefel’s tenure as Artistic Director of the company and shows he is ready to take some risks. This is to be applauded.  As principal dancer, Gillian Murphy shines with her grace of movement and experience. Her inspiration to the other dancers makes for an exhilarating ensemble to watch.



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Final Dress the highlight in NYC season

Review by Roxanne de Bruyn 01st Mar 2012

Minutes before the start of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s opening night of NYC, there is a strong sense of anticipation in the theatre. People are interested, with high expectations of the evening, looking forward to seeing what the new artistic director has to offer.

What they get is a fun, quirky programme which is full of energy. There are three short ballets, each technically demanding and well performed by the company. As well as referencing the city, NYC stands for new, young, classic and these themes are reflected in the works.

28 Variations on a theme is an elegant, romantic piece. Soft and pretty, it is as much about the music as the dancing, and the two mirror each other in a lovely way. Couples move together and drift apart in a stark, almost industrial setting with a touch of vintage glamour. Hints of emotions and tensions swirl throughout the dancing, but they are never quite explained or properly addressed, adding to the transient nature of the work.

Final Dress is a stark contrast and definitely the highlight of the night. Showing dancers behind the scenes before the performance, Larry Keigwin has created this piece on the RNZB and this clearly comes across. The personalities of the dancers are reflected in the dancing and they look the most comfortable in this work. The music is intriguing and compelling, the overall effect is immersing and the audience gets lost in it.

Set in a studio, it is strong, sexy and very dramatic, filled with sharp movements and surprising twists. The costumes are modern, and quick changes, dressing and undressing performers, explore the boundaries of studio and stage, private and public and the passage of time. A distinctly contemporary ballet, it adds some depth to the programme with layered themes. Fluid and physically demanding, it creates spatial boundaries as well as emotional ones and is quite voyeuristic, allowing us furtive peeks of private moments. It is dynamic, interesting and intricate and fits the company well. It is also the clear favourite of the audience.

The programme ends with Balanchine’s Who Cares? an entertaining and jazzy ballet, which reflects the energy, hype and complexity of New York in almost every gesture. Seemingly effortless, and reminiscent of Gershwin’s many Broadway musicals, Who Cares? is technically difficult, which grounds the ballet and keeps it from being superficial.

Gillian Murphy’s talent and experience truly comes through in this piece. She is all that’s expected; a beautiful dancer who fulfills the choreography and gives meaning to the movement. Lucy Green is the other stand out performer, with obvious potential and both technical ability and personality on stage. She has a wonderful energy which seems to radiate her love of dancing and makes her a joy to watch.

NYC is a fun, energetic programme, enjoyable and well danced. With a bit more depth and a greater emotional connection between the dancers and the choreography it would be exceptional. Overall, it was fresh, interesting and full of contrasts, giving the dancers new challenges which they have met admirably.


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