Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

16/03/2016 - 16/03/2016

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

26/02/2016 - 28/02/2016

SKY CITY Theatre, Auckland

02/03/2016 - 06/02/2016

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

10/03/2016 - 12/02/2016

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2016

Auckland Arts Festival 2016

Production Details

Three contemporary dance classics showcase the energy, precision and charisma of the Royal New Zealand Ballet under the artistic leadership of Francesco Ventriglia.

Andonis Foniadakis’s Selon désir, inspired by the monumental opening choruses of the St Matthew and St John Passions, was created for Geneva Ballet in 2004 and is a gorgeous synthesis of colour, light, music and movement.

Commissioned by Rudolf Nureyev for the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1987, William Forsythe’s revolutionary In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated is “the work that changed ballet for ever” (The Guardian).

Alexander Ekman’s Cacti, premiered in The Hague in 2010, combines daredevil virtuosity and split-second timing with a playful wit. Here the RNZB is joined onstage by the New Zealand String Quartet in a celebration of physicality and the sheer joy of dance.

“six women and three men prowling around the stage, like fierce creatures exploring an alien space” – The Guardian on In the Middle

“[Cacti] has pulled off one of the most difficult challenges in dance, which is to be genuinely funny” – The Australian

With support from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and Creative New Zealand

Wellington season





Wellington Free events

Sat 27 Feb- Post-matinee
Q & A with artistic staff and dancers

Sat 27 Feb 6.20pm – 6.50pm
Warm Up, Curtain Up- watch the company prepare for its evening performance

Sun 28 Feb 3pm–3.30pm
Pre-performance choreographic and music talks.







Christchurch  Season





Free events

Fri 11 March 6.20pm – 6.50pm
Pre-performance music or choreographic talks

Sat 12 March 6.20pm – 6.50pm
Warm Up, Curtain Up- watch the company prepare for its evening performance



Read more at http://premier.ticketek.co.nz/shows/show.aspx?sh=SPEED16&v=WSJ#WYixr566k3XfWfBf.99

Contemporary dance , ,

2 hours

Wow - such discipline and attention to detail

Review by Hannah Molloy 17th Mar 2016

Wow – it was a word I heard a lot at the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Dunedin performance of Speed of Light. I had arrived with very high expectations formed from the reviews from other centres and I wasn’t disappointed.

The dancers were amazing. They looked to be in incredible physical form with muscle definition well beyond even their usual and as I watched the three choreographies, I could see exactly why. Their timing was exquisite, their expressions bold and funny, their jumps and lifts were high and steady and the tiny movements were crisp and sharp.

A ballet company does contemporary dance very differently to a contemporary dance company – it’s almost a different art form again. My guest commented that ballet dancers don’t have the same visceral energy but they have more precision. The core of the dancers’ bodies moves very differently, with ballet-trained dancers maintaining the perfect posture and contemporary dancers often having a more pliable midsection.

That said, the RNZB looks fantastic doing contemporary dance. Their discipline and attention to detail gives it a sharpness and a novelty somehow that kept the “wows” coming. The choreographies took the audience through a range of moods and emotions, from the frenzied, wild Selon Desir (my favourite piece), to the discordant and powerful In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated and the hilarious but also breath-taking Cacti. There was an undercurrent of aggression and almost violence in the first two pieces which was smoothed out in the third and final, leaving the audience with a sense of complete satisfaction – a happy ending if you like.

The RNZB’s mixed bill is always good but I think Speed of Light might be the best one yet. Did I mention “WOW”?


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Delivering powerhouse performances

Review by Sheree Bright 11th Mar 2016

We are all made of stardust. On the large scale, we can learn about the history of the universe by studying the light that has left stars many years ago. From a smaller perspective, it has been proven in experiments of relativistic energy and momentum that individual photons cannot travel faster than the speed of light. The artistic leadership of the Royal New Zealand Ballet by Francesco Ventriglia builds on the technical skills and artistic accomplishments achieved by this company in the past. Francesco says “Speed of light, with all the precision and power that it implies is the essence of these wonderful works.” The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s program Speed of Light uses energy and momentum to perform an accelerated leap into an even higher atmosphere of physical proficiency and artistry. It is a gorgeous meld of contemporary and ballet.

In Selon Desir (according to desire), Andonis Foniadakis choreographs and designs with the intention of juxtaposing lightness and fluidity with earthly energy. The composition and sound design by Julien Tarride expertly uses the recordings of St Matthew and St John Passions by Bach intermingled with electronic sounds. Sixteen speakers of varying sizes move up and down in random sequence, filling the stage and theatre with sound. The lighting design is by Jason Morphett, and the rehearsal assistant is Harris Gkekas.

Costumes are bi-gender with everyone wearing a flowing knee-length skirt and the dancers are barefoot. The girls use their flinging hair as an additional appendage extending the movement. It often covers their faces, but never for long, as this fast paced piece envelopes the stage with creative lifts and exciting ensemble work. A few pauses mid-lift add to the dramatic effect before the dancers carry on flinging themselves through space with wonderful control and clarity. Watching Selon Desir is like watching popcorn that knows exactly where it’s going.

In the Middle Somewhat Elevated, choreography, stage, light and costume design by William Forsythe is in the middle of the show and the expertise of its performance is somewhat elevated. There are blasts and loud punctuations of sound by Thom Willems in collaboration with Les Stuck to confirm the intensity. Adeptly staged by Theirry Guiderdoni from Forsythe Productions, the movements are explosive and fierce. They crackle, sizzle and bang like hot molten lava meeting dry ice.

Choreographed 30 years ago, Forsythe’s In the Middle Somewhat Elevated stands the test of time much like Balanchine’s contemporary ballets. Series of movements explode in varying directions. A pose is struck, then it tweaks and swizzles. The RNZB dancers perform en pointe fiery movements with pure power and intensity, incorporating the cool yet intense confidence of James Bond. I get the imagery of the ferocity and beauty of a shooting star careening through space. All of the dancers are brilliant in this work with Mayu Tanigaito its epitome. The extraordinary duets give me goose-bumps.

Cacti, with choreography, set and costume design by Alexander Ekman is intellectually humorous providing a comic exhale for the audience. Recorded music and dialogue incorporate with the live, on stage performance of the New Zealand String Quartet playing Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert, while they occasionally weave through the dancers. Large white, wooden squares of different heights are multi-purpose and serve as mini-stages, screens and a final elaborately stacked sculpture draped by dancers. The production is very polished with lighting, co-set design and technical supervision by Tom Visser, and staging by Ana Maria Lucaciu.

Sixteen dancers dance barefoot, again with certainty and clarity throughout the piece with a variety of props including cacti. Music is laced with dialogue such as, “one is invited to a new decade’s utopia. A world where we are not dancers, not musicians, but all members of the human orchestra. It is post-modern, pro-cacti, interdisciplinary collaboration of . . .” and “but the trained eye sees the truth, and the review is revealed.” Veronika Maritati and Shane Urton perform a perfectly-timed, quirky duet where their ‘inner dialogue’ is for everyone to hear and delight in. It’s funny and playful and it’s all in the subtext of Cacti.

There are some bizarre rules in the playground of quantum physics. For example: a single thing can exist in two states at once – white/black, dead/alive, ballet/contemporary. And in this light, may we also consider, two particles at opposite ends of the universe can be entangled in a way so that anything you do to one instantly affects the other. Many professional ballet and contemporary dancers’ cross-train. I would love to see New Zealand’s top dancers in both ballet and contemporary dance join in a performance where they take turns tackling the same contemporary ballet choreography. Even though the steps would be the same, and both, I suspect, would be equally good and inspiring, the end result would not look or feel the same. The way energy moves through the body, the way bodies move through space, how one works with or against the laws of gravity or the way breath is held and released, has some fascinating differences.

Although my heart may not be ‘soaring on a cloud’ when I exit the theatre, my imagination is. I am extremely impressed. This program is immense and with absolute certainty, delivers powerhouse performances. Physics declares it takes an infinite amount of energy to accelerate an object with mass to the speed of light. There is also a notion that great love seeks to find perfection. I realise the amount of love, passion and energy required by these talented dancers to learn, embody and perform three 25 minute, high octane pieces by three international choreographers, is immeasurable.

RNZB’s Speed of Light is a superb example of world class dancers performing with physical prowess to perfection, works by world class choreographers. Congratulations to a company full of stars and their new guiding light, Francesco Ventriglia.


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Dancers exult in challenging triple bill

Review by Raewyn Whyte 03rd Mar 2016

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 2016 triple bill, Speed of Light, provides three strongly contrasting post-classical works which present the Company’s dancers in the finest fettle, drawing on their ability to immerse themselves in fast movement for 30 minutes, exult in sustained precision and utter clarity, and have a good time interacting with musicians and scenographic elements.

Opening with the frenzied, almost always moving at warp speed Selon Désir (According to Desire, 2004) by Greek choreographer Andonis Fondiakis, the dancers almost immediately become a flowing mass of moving bodies. Differentiated almost solely by the colours of their clothing, all the dancers wear slightly flaring knee-length skirts and variations of loose, softly falling cowl-necked tops. Sharing a largely non-gendered movement vocabulary, their action is almost frenzied, with fleeing bodies, flying hair, flailing limbs, rapid rolls, soaring jumps, fluid intertwining and offset clumps of twos and fours, sixes and eights, with almost constant, restless criss-crossings of the stage punctuated by a series of circular formations under bright white light. To a large degree, given that their faces are often hidden, and the dancing makes much of being en masse, they come to resemble one another very closely, despite individual variations in size and shape.

The mood is set by the music, intercut and overlaid opening choruses of Bach’s St. Matthew and St. John Passions, distinctly ecclesiastic pomp but with a Dionysian inflection. There’s no doubting the passionate commitment of the dancers and their immersion in the moment, and you get a sense that they have been swept up into the movement, taken thither and yon by it, rather than themselves controlling its spatiality. Moving very rapidly, and with similar phrasing and contours throughout, all you can do is sit back and let it flow over you.

There are all too occasional solo passages which let you focus on the complexities and polished delivery of the intricate movement and offer some relief to the endless group passages, most notably  the delicious opening and closing codas featuring  Alayna Ng as the woman in blue, and some lovely duet passages between her and the man in silvery-grey, Shane Urton, but otherwise, there is very little dynamic variation to bring some light and shade to one’s viewing.

The centerpiece of the programme is the marvelous post-Balanchinian master work, In The Middle Somewhat Elevated (1987) by William Forsythe, set to a pulsing, dramatic and at times electrifying industrial electronica score by Thom Willems. In the late 80s to early 90s performances, this was exhilarating and shocking work because Forysthe was pushing the formal positioning and placement of the ballet lexicon beyond what had long been considered proper, and the Willems score was so loud as to vibrate through your body and shake the theatre walls, and it was quite common to have people walk out.  Now, almost 30 years later, the volume of the score has been turned down and it is merely thrilling, though still adding a good deal of drama and intensity to the way you experience the dancing. And of course, as Forsythe’s lead has been so thoroughly taken up by a succession of choreographers, and we have become so used to asymmetry, off-centre balances, jutting hips, curving backs, finger flicks and gravity-defying lifts that they have lost their piquancy. Instead, we exult in their virtuosity.

This modern classic is now a benchmark work, and it is truly satisfying to see the clarity and precision and finely nuanced delivery these sleekly lycra-clad dancers bring to it. It seems almost churlish to give more credit to some dancers than others, as all nine are excellent, but one of the pleasures of following your national company for many years is watching the dancers develop, and this work lets you see each individual very clearly. So I want to acknowledge Abigail Boyle, so strong and sure and so majestic in her duets with the oh-so-secure William Fitzgerald; Mayu Tanigaito, especially notable in her dance-off with Boyle; Yang Liu in some wonderful light-on-her-feet, superfast, crisp and clean partner work with Shaun James Kelly, and spitfire with a topknot, Alayna Ng, whose quicksilver passages punctuate proceedings at regular intervals.

And finally Alexander Ekman’s scenographically adventurous and somewhat absurd Cacti (2010), a light-hearted, quirky work for 16 identically-dressed dancers and 4 musicians — in this case the ever-adventurous New Zealand String Quartet – plus 16 white-faced blocks, 16 large plastic cacti,  and two racks of digital lighting which at one point spell out the words CACTI.

Voiceovers feature in the work, breaking it into sections and deconstructing what the audience members could be thinking about what has been going on.  Three texts of these voiceovers are printed in the programme, but reading them provides no more “sense” than what you catch on the fly in the performance. The opening voiceover posits philosophical questions about collaboration and the relationships between dance and music, and invites us to consider the dancers as “members of a human orchestra”. Subsequently, the voiceover mocks those who would interpret everything in a symbolic manner, or take a guess at what the plastic cacti “mean”. There’s also a playful duet section between Veronika Maritati and Shane Urton which is accompanied by a recorded conversation which ranges from risks to the body in partnering, the taken for granted ways friends move together and apart, and the ending of a relationship.

The dancing is technically challenging at the level of complex coordination, with the dancers taken way beyond their normal comfort zone to perform significant passages of chanting, body percussion, yoga-like moves, exploration of the limits of movement atop their individual blocks, moving the blocks around the stage by lifting, sliding, tipping them, even hiding behind them, and toting large often prickly cacti . Overall it is entertaining, inviting the audience to relax and enjoy whatever takes their fancy.


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Dancers command cavernous stage

Review by Jan Bolwell 02nd Mar 2016

During the early decades of the twentieth century George Balanchine began revolutionising classical ballet and in the last decades of the century William Forsythe continued where Balanchine had left off. Rudolph Nureyev commissioned Forsythe in 1987 to create a work for some exceptional young dancers at the Paris Opera Ballet, including the remarkable Sylvie Guillem. The result was In the Middle Somewhat Elevated a 28-minute work that makes supreme demands of the dancers. This is ballet – with attitude. It speaks danger as the dancers push conventional ballet poses to the extreme in a taut and highly percussive display of virtuosic dancing imbued with a mesmerising mix of solo, duet and ensemble choreography. 

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Speed, clarity, precision in striking new works

Review by Jennifer Shennan 27th Feb 2016

Wild northerly gusts scudding dark clouds past a bright white full moon, chopping up waves on a sparkling Wellington harbour. We have known February nights like this before, as the New Zealand Festival gets under way. In 30 years since 1986, so many standout performances from visiting and local companies across all those fabulous seasons have earned the city its title of cultural capital. Let’s send heartfelt thanks to the myriad teams of managers and administrators, currently headed by Shelagh Magadza and Sue Paterson, who have worked as hard as the artists across the decades, to deliver all those programmes, many of which we remember as yesterday. These festivals have improved the quality of life in Wellington.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s triple bill opens this festival season, and brings striking works new to the company’s repertoire. It is the dancers’ triumph that they power their way through the demands of each piece, and pleasing that there are many cameo opportunities for individual dancers to shine.  The choreographies are contrasting in style and mood, but they echo and share structural features in that each uses a large and mostly ungendered cast of unisex–clad performers. Extremes of abstract movement vocabulary are delivered at speed, and with preference for linear architecture, models of clarity and precision, rather than following dramatic, narrative or lyrical reference, psychological or emotional development of character. Music drives the night. 

Selon désir, by Andonis Foniadakis, takes inspiration from the opening choruses of Bach’s St.Matthew and St.John Passions ( recordings are by Masaaki Suzuki’s Bach Collegium) which are electronically treated and interluded with sequences by composer / sound designer Julien Tarride. Male and female dancers alike wear knee-length skirts and cowl-neck tops that look modern yet by their range of colours suggest a Renaissance artist’s palette. The tossing and whirling of the women’s long hair adds energy to the overdrive movement but at times creates an odd masking of otherwise expressive faces. Numerous speakers of different sizes suspended, raised and lowered above the stage throughout the work remained a curious visual feature. At one point a tableau of dancers appears and evokes a scene from Hieronymous Bosch – was that Heaven or was it Hell, or the view of both from here? A vision, an ecstasy, it was gone, mirage-like, as swiftly as it had appeared.

In the middle somewhat elevated is the most celebrated of the prolific William Forsythe’s choreographies (his company, Frankfurt Ballet, visited here in 1994’s festival). It invites the anatomical exploration of what’s possible, plus some of what’s nigh impossible, for a dancer’s body. All the performers do the work, and themselves, proud, but Abigail Boyle, Mayu Tanigaito and William Fitzgerald deserve particular acclaim for their outstanding performances. The explosively powerful music by Thom Willems is the axle on which the wheel turns. Tanigaito balances unsupported en pointe in arabesque in profile for long enough to defy gravity and harness time so you could change something bad in your life into something good. A miracle. Heart-stopping.

Cacti, by Alexander Ekman, is a spoof on art that takes itself too seriously. (Ekman’s work has not been seen here before, though his A Swan Lake has screened a number of times on the Arts Channel. You’ll remember it from the stage awash with water, and 1000 rubber ducks).  The New Zealand String Quartet is live on stage and intermingles impressively with the large group of dancers, as they play beautiful excerpts and fragments of Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert. The visual and musical effects of the work are stunning, the humour is delivered with spirit by the dancers who relish the opportunity to send up all pretension before it even thinks of appearing, at the same time as they deliver perfectly cadenced movement and hold photographically striking poses in and around the moveable set.   A duet performed to a spoken text – Mix it mix it turn it – is as funny as it is memorable, true to much of what goes on in a dancer’s work and thought.  

For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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