Subtle Dances

Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna, Auckland

08/04/2021 - 09/04/2021

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

15/04/2021 - 15/03/2021

Auckland Arts Festival 2021

Winter Fest: Traranaki Arts Festival 2024

Production Details

Director Turid Revfeim Choreographers - Cameron McMillan, Loughlan Prior and Sarah Knox

Ballet Collective Aotearoa

Subtle Dances is a programme of new works created by three of New Zealand’s leading contemporary ballet choreographers – Cameron McMillan, Loughlan Prior and Sarah Knox.

The BalletCollective Aotearoa is a newly formed project-based dance company and is thrilled to showcase this new choreography by securing some of New Zealand’s leading dancers including Abigail Boyle, William Fitzgerald and Medhi Angot, alongside exciting young and emerging New Zealand trained talent. Harnessing the energy and vivacity of ballet dancers here in Aotearoa, the works show our unique creativity, shaped by the country’s isolation and rugged landscape. These three ballets aim to express our openness to new and immersive ideas through our many cultural influences and the
innate curiosity of all New Zealanders.

The BalletCollective Aotearoa is thrilled to be collaborating with the prodigious NZTrio – Amalia Hall (violin), Ashley Brown (cello) and Somi Kim (piano) – who will perform live John Psathas’ work Helix, Claire Cowan’s Subtle Dances (commissioned by the NZ Trio) and music by Rhian Sheehan, arranged for the NZTrio by Ryan Youens.

Witness new homegrown contemporary ballet, performed to live New Zealand music, finding new ways to explore our uniqueness and how we fit within our everchanging landscape.

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Director Turid Revfeim Choreographers - Cameron McMillan, Loughlan Prior and Sarah Knox. Dancers include: Abigail Boyle, William Fitzgerald and Medhi Angot, Tabitha Drombrowski and emerging dance artists

Dancers 2024
Abigail Boyle, Luke Cooper, Callum Phipps, Alina Kulikova, Lotte Polderman-Charles, Lyndon Foley, Kyoka Takahashi, James Burchell, Amelia Chandulal- Mackay, Intern/Cover: Madison Fotti- Knowles

NZTrio - Amalia Hall (violin), Ashley Brown (cello) and Somi Kim (piano) - who will perform these works live John Psathas' Helix; Claire Cowan's Subtle Dances (commissioned by the NZTrio) and music by Rhian Sheehan, arranged for the NZTrio by Ryan Youens.

Music , Dance , Contemporary dance ,

100 mins

The audience collectively captivated and spellbound

Review by Michelle Robinson 18th Jun 2024

Contemporary ballet is my happy place, so Subtle Dances was sure to not disappoint on this crisp Taranaki Winter Fest night.

To dance quite literally en pointe then roll effortlessly into a floaty looking somersault takes an effort and strength which is embodied on the stage. These are exactly the sort of moves I play in my head when listening to dramatic string music on a moody overcast day.

Three male and three female dancers with their hair flowing, partner each other in nude chiffon ensembles that drap over the shoulders and cut off at the thighs. Holding and carrying each other, draping across each other in the splits, in arabesque, tumbling, catching and falling. It’s gorgeous.

It takes all three scenes of Last Time We Spoke, choreographed by Sarah Knox, for my companion and I to realise the tall redhead Lyndon Foley, is male. Such is the graciousness of his dancing, there appears to be male and female in reverse, instead of two men as it were. He lifts his counterpart over his head, before they eventually end their scene in an embattled embrace. We imagine the struggles of intimate relationships as we take in this emotive piece. 

It is after this sequence we are introduced to the background stars of this production, NZ Trio. With Amalia Hall on violin, Ashley Brown on cello and guest pianist Sarah Watkins who takes it upon herself to set the pace of the evening with her lively energy and momentum.

The talented trio sort of disappear into the background in a flawless support role until this point, when they come to the fore and showcase their talents while the dancers retire for a costume age before the second act, Helix choreographed by Cameron McMillan.

The dancers for this sequence are decidedly stand-out in their posture and presence.  They are Abigail Boyle and Luke Cooper, ex-principal dancers for the Royal New Zealand Ballet. 

Boyle, looking statuesque in blue leotard and black sheer skirt with hair back and slick, starts this swirling pas de deux on a chair but with that presence, you can’t wait for her to get off it and show us some real dancing. She graciously does, partnered with the athletic and shirtless Luke Cooper. 

Your only wish is that Boyle could be onstage longer. I can’t help but look for her during the rest of the show, seeing her reappear and become embodied in the music, the only one who can really do this, just in time for the curtain to come down. 

But first there are more captivating delights to behold.

NZ Trio come into their own at a dizzying pace set by homegrown composer Claire Cowan. The focus is electric, the audience collectively captivated and spellbound as the intensity grows beyond fever pitch. What heights will they go to next? How much faster can that pianist play? The violinist’s body swaying in unison with every jerk and tension of the bow, mirrored by the cellist. We are drawn in and forget about the dancers for a hot minute.

Until a sexy beat, beat, beat, knock-knock. A reprieve by way of a simple tango tune takes hold and all the dancers are back for Subtle Dances, the final act choreographed by Loughlan Prior.

One by one they sashay their way seductively around the piano and downstage, in variations of black crop tops and bike pants beneath black chiffon. In amongst the Ballet Collective the eye catching dancer is the one with the most flexibility, which appears to be Alina Kulikova with her most impressive leg extensions.

This is what we’ve been building towards, the crescendo, the romantic pas de trois. Kyoka Takahashi is strong in this role, possibly the smallest dancer, she is the object of the most spectacular lifts.

The dramatic solo dancing, the mirroring each other, a giant weave of spaghetti, as all the dancers become enmeshed in a heartbeat. Coming together in an intimate embrace, breaking off in a lover’s tiff. And so many lovely arabesque lifts that transport you into a dancer’s dreamland, the essence of beautifully classic ballet. 

What an en pointe ensemble. Now New Plymouth has Winter Fest, we hope to see many happy returns of the Ballet Collective Aotearoa to treat us to a bit of classic-contemporary culture on a cosy weekend night. 


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Whoops and whistles of delight

Review by Dr Ian Lochhead 17th Apr 2021

Forming a new dance company at any time is no easy task but the path to the stage for BalletCollective Aotearoa has been more than usually challenging with the development of their premier season interrupted by the national Covid 19 lockdown in March and April 2020 and their initial performances at the Auckland Festival being delayed by a further local lockdown in March this year.  Fortunately, their Dunedin Arts Festival performance proceeded as scheduled.  Founded by Turid Revfeim in order to allow established ballet dancers to further their careers and to give emerging graduates from the New Zealand School of Dance the opportunity to gain professional experience, the company is committed to working with New Zealand dancers and choreographers, and, in the case of Subtle Dances, with New Zealand musicians and composers as well.  By creating opportunities for the art of ballet to flourish in a way that reflects local experience and cultural aspirations we will, perhaps, find out something new about ourselves, something no one had counted on.

The programme begins with Sarah Knox’s Last Time We Spoke to music of Rhian Sheehan arranged for trio by Ryan Youens.  A work for six dancers, three women and three men, it bears some resemblance to Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations in the way the six performers remain on stage throughout, attentively watching when they are not actively engaged in the dance.  There is none of the cool, classical detachment of Ashton’s work, however. The dancers shift from one coupling to another as a narrative of changing and broken relationships is hinted at but never directly stated.  The mood is reflective and elegiac rather than overtly dramatic, although the tempo and intensity increases as the work develops. Katie Day’s flowing costumes further reinforce the contemplative quality of the work.

The finale of John Psathas’s Island Songs, brilliantly played by NZTrio, serves as a prelude to the next work on the programme, Cameron Macmillan’s Helix, which takes its title from the composer’s workThe passionate intensity of Psathas’s score is reflected in Macmillan’s choreography in which opening and closing sections for an ensemble of six dancers frame a central solos and a duet for Abigail Boyle and William Fitzgerald. Initially Boyle seems unable to move away from the chair that is moved to various points around the stage; she is a black-clad, grieving figure who seems to bear all the sorrows of the world in her pent up frame.  Eventually she breaks free to dance alone and with Fitzgerald, her sorrow relieved through the release provided by movement.  Boyle remains one of this country’s finest dancers and she has been absent from the stage for much too long; her dramatic focus, eloquent line and responsiveness to music make her an asset to any dance company and an inspirational model for younger performers.

After the intermission NZTrio returns to the stage alone to tune ready for the programme’s title piece, Subtle Dances. They are joined by Boyle who also ‘tunes’ before the music starts. Claire Cowan’s inventive and witty score for piano trio and pre-recorded track is based on tango rhythms and is ideally suited to dance. Loughlan Prior’s choreography is the perfect match for Cowan’s music, evoking a steamy night in Buenos Aires as the natives come out to play.  If Abigail Boyle once again dominates the stage, reminding us of her sultry gypsy in Didy Veldman’s staging of Carmen for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, she is surrounded by a troupe of dancers who bring a further depth of talent to the work.  Among them William Fitzgerald, Medhi Angot and Tabitha Dombroski particularly shine but this is an ensemble piece with no weak links.  William Fitzgerald’s gender-fluid costumes are spare but stylish, with a teasing quality that compliments the undercurrents of Prior’s choreography and Cowan’s music. 

At its conclusion, Subtle Dances was greeted with whoops and whistles of delight from the large Dunedin audience.  A teenager behind me who pronounced before the show, ‘I hate ballet’, was clearly won over; ‘This is pretty cool’ he commented after only a few minutes of Subtle Dances.  He is absolutely right!

Festivals provide ideal opportunities for new ventures and without their support in Auckland and Dunedin it is hard to see how BalletCollective Aotearoa could have brought Subtle Dances to the stage.  Having proved themselves with these performances surely theatres around the country will now be clamouring to show their own audiences the work of New Zealand’s newest ballet company.  While Covid 19 has presented unprecedented challenges to our performing arts organisations it has also shown us how much creativity there is to be drawn on from within our own shores.  BCA deserves to become a permanent part of our performing arts landscape and those who hold arts funding purse strings need to ensure that it does. The fact that in recent weeks BCA has collaborated successfully with two of our most respected and long-established musical ensembles, the New Zealand String Quartet and NZTrio, is an impressive imprimatur in itself. BCA simply cannot be allowed to fail.


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Nothing short of a triumph

Review by Jennifer Shennan 11th Apr 2021

The Auckland Arts Festival presentation of the premiere season of a new contemporary ballet company, BalletCollective Aotearoa in collaboration with the NZTrio at the Bruce Mason Theatre in Takapuna, was nothing short of a triumph. Come the curtain-call, many in the sizeable audience were on their feet to salute the choreographers and composers, the dancers, musicians and designers, the courage and commitment—the whole fresh resilient New Zealand-ness of it all.  

Artistic director and company leader, Turid Revfeim, has led her stalwart little troupe of  dancers in and out, around and back to find a way through the Covid-induced challenges and shadows of these past many months. They must have walked close to the edge more than once, as funding began then disappeared (questions should be asked about that), lockdowns descended (‘Just do the right thing and stay home’), schedules postponed (‘Well, let’s just re-schedule’), flights and accommodation booked then cancelled (‘OK, let’s just re-book’), ‘Let’s just abandon the project since there’s no budget to keep going,’ (‘Never, never. Let’s do it anyway’).  

It was an Edmund Hillary sort of moment as out into the light they danced, with the intensely passionate musicians of NZTrio right there, just off-centre, upstage left, throughout the whole performance. Three separate choreographies came to seem like a trefoil of faith, a shamrock of hope, a clover of charity. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Bach walked 400 miles to hear a concert. I only had to sit on a plane for an hour.

There is an impressive interview with Turid Revfeim on RNZ Nine to Noon, 9 April, (the podcast on RNZ website is well worth listening to), which sets the background and context of this courageous ballet initiative. If you think this is a rave review of the performance and of the entire enterprise, you are right.  

The opening work—Last Time We Spoke—by Sarah Knox, to composition by Rhian Sheehan, was an abstract yet poetic treatment of themes of how to be alone together. The cast of six dancers in fluid pairings across several sections of the work found connection in the lyrical music to make friends with consolation and memory. Tabitha Dombroski and William Fitzgerald were striking among the cast of six dancers.

Helix, the second work by Cameron Macmillan, one of New Zealand’s ex-pat choreographers whose work we all want to see more of, borrowed its title from the music, Helix, composed by John Psathas, leading New Zealand composer. It was preceded by an excerpt from Island Songs, a different composition by Psathas, a staggeringly virtuosic challenge to musicians who rose to every thrilling, throbbing quaver of its melodic percussion.

In Helix, the drama continued as Macmillan traced a journey, not exactly narrative but with suggestions of story nonetheless—a woman, a man, and shades of relationships between them. Some woman. This was the phenomenal Abigail Boyle who is quite simply the leading ballet dancer in the country, no contest. Just standing still she is dancing, such is her sense of line and presence, but when she moves, o my. Her investment in the role as she journeyed round the corners of the stage carrying her chair, and through the centre of the stage as she contained emotion in her every movement, was a deeply anchored yet airborne performance. Boyle is a national treasure of dance in New Zealand and we are overjoyed to see her performing still at the peak of her powers. William Fitzgerald partnered her with a strong and sensitive quality that reminded us of his dancing which has also been much missed here of late. Tabitha Dombrowski and Medhi Angot were powerful among the committed cast of eight performers.

The third work, Subtle Dances, choreographed by Loughlan Prior, composed by Claire Cowan, takes its title from the music, which in turn becomes the title for the triple-bill as well. Prior and Cowan are a pairing of major talents. The work explores and explodes with themes of gender blurring—swirls of hot tango as the boys and girls and boys come out to play. It is saucy, spicy, dark and compelling. Complex courtships, allusion alternating with illusion, remind us of nature’s best dancers. It invites searing performances from all the cast, and confirms this BalletCollective Aotearea as a troupe of striking dance talent, in fabulous collaboration with the phenomenal musicians of the NZTrio.

As soon as the box office opens for their next season we will be in the queue, however many hundred miles of travel that might mean. Here is a link to the RNZ podcast featuring Turid Revfeim.


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Unequivocal joy and strength of technique

Review by Jenny Stevenson 09th Apr 2021

New Zealand’s newest dance company, the Wellington-based BalletCollective Aotearoa, finally hit the boards last night in an inaugural Premiere following a Covid-related delay, presenting an exuberant programme of contemporary ballet accompanied live onstage by the vibrant NZTrio.  The dancers and musicians were received with waves of enthusiasm by a full house at Bruce Mason Centre in Auckland.

Artistic Director Turid Revfeim who founded the company to create “homegrown work” and tell “our own stories” has kept this vision alive against impossible odds to finally emerge triumphant. She has assembled a group of nine accomplished young dancers and the inimitable Abigail Boyle, the much-loved former star of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, as the ensemble, and commissioned three New Zealand choreographers to create the programme to music by three New Zealand composers.

A definitive and unique style that reflects a contemporary ethos is definitely apparent by the end of the evening, particularly in the performance of Loughlan Prior’s Subtle Dances, a work reflecting the rituals of courtship and touching on the ambivalence of gender fluidity.  The work is set to music of the same name, by Claire Cowan played with remarkable flair by the NZTrio of Amalia Hall, Somi Kim and Ashley Brown.

Here, Abigail Boyle sets a sensual tone, dancing with languid insouciance with partner William Fitzgerald, who also designed the costumes.  Clad in minimal black coverings that softly drape the body or are transparent, the dancers progress through the gamut of emotions, flirting, interacting briefly and then moving on.  Snatches of ballroom partner dance are evident and the vocabulary of movement is cyclical and curving as the dancers randomly meet in seemingly spontaneous liaisons. The backdrop of large black corrugations is replaced by a white screen that slowly lowers to half-way point and then fully to the ground.

London-based New Zealand choreographer Cameron McMillan chooses John Psathas enigmatic composition Helix which is given a powerful performance by the NZTrio, to build an  intense work, that is also entitled Helix. It  features Boyle, once more partnered by William Fitzgerald, this time as a woman of mystery, and Tabitha Dombroski as a strongly contained, contrasting presence. The dancers all perform McMillan’s fluid choreography with elegantly poised bodies and superb extensions in costumes designed by Elishia Ward, to reflect the continuum of movement.

Sarah Knox’s opening work Last Time We Spoke to music by Rhian Sheehan played by NZTrio, is a contemplation of the transience in our communications with each other and the dream-like evanescence of memory.  Katie Day’s costumes are layered in floating light-coloured fabric and there is playful variety in the choreographic structure which reflects and embellishes Sheehan’s score. The ensemble’s choreographic contributions are skilfully woven together by Knox, giving each dancer a chance to shine.

The company is a delight to watch throughout the evening.  There is a freshness to their dancing and the unequivocal joy and strength of technique that they bring to their performances is inspiring.

BalletCollective Aotearoa will obviously provide young New Zealand talent with a chance to fully develop their artistry, to participate in New Zealand dance-making and thereby to contribute to the emergence of a New Zealand balletiic style in this country. The company and Director, Turid Revfeim in particular,  are to be congratulated and celebrated.


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