Swan Lake - The Royal NZ Ballet

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

30/07/2013 - 30/07/2013

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

18/07/2013 - 27/07/2013

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

21/08/2013 - 25/07/2013

CBS Canterbury Arena, Christchurch

03/08/2013 - 03/08/2013

Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna, Auckland

17/08/2013 - 18/08/2013

Production Details

The Royal New Zealand Ballet is delighted to present a national tour of New Zealand dance icon Russell Kerr’s classic production of Swan Lake as the centrepiece of our 60th birthday year.

Considered the greatest of all classical ballets, Swan Lake is a perfect synthesis of music and dance. We are excited to be able to present this important revival with the support of colleagues from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (Wellington), the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (Christchurch) and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (Auckland).

With Tchaikovsky’s sweeping score – lush, romantic, instantly recognisable – and Kristian Fredrikson’s opulent designs, Swan Lake transports the audience from ballroom to lakeside. You’ll be caught up in the unfolding tragedy and exalt as the dancers bring every nuance of their characters alive through ballet at its most illuminating.

Audience members are advised to check the RNZB’s website here for up to date cast lists.

Artists of the Royal NZ Ballet with international guest artists Karel Cruz (a Principal Artist with Pacific Northwest Ballet), will dance the role of Prince Siegfried opposite Miss Murphy's Odette/Odile. 

Additionally, Australian Amber Scott and New Zealander Ty King-Wall, Principal Artists of the Australian Ballet will also perform the leading roles, alternating with casts from within the RNZB.

3 hours

Principals superb, matched by impressive dancing all round

Review by Raewyn Whyte 22nd Aug 2013

Among the things that draw ballet aficionados to see the enduring nineteenth century classic story ballets again and again, are their lush, romantic orchestral scores played live, the often opulent sets and costume designs created in earlier eras, equal weighting of ensemble work and bravura solos, and the chance to see famously challenging choreography danced by a new generation of dancers, often including internationally experienced guest stars in the principal roles. 

And so it is with the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Swan Lake, now nearing the end of a national tour. Previous reviews have attested to the artistry of the guest stars in this season – Cuba-trained Karel Cruz (Pacific Northwest Ballet) as Prince Siegfried  partnering the company’s own principal Guest Artist Gillian Murphy (American Ballet Theatre) as Odette/Odile , paralleled  by Ty King-Wall and Amber Scott  (The Australian Ballet). Other casts have seen senior company dancer Abigail Boyle paired with RNZB principal dancer Qi Huan, and the rising stars Lucy Green and Kohei Iwamoto.

The much anticipated pairing of principal dancers Gillian Murphy and Qi Huan was not scheduled til the final major centre for this tour, Auckland, at the grand Civic Theatre. And just as they were superb partners in Giselle, they are again superb here.

Gillian Murphy’s finesse and artistry is seen to the full in her beautiful, delicate, feathery, soaring swan maiden Odette, and her steely, triumphant mesmerizing evil twin Odile. She deeply fulfills all the technical and emotional challenges of the joint roles, while providing the requisite counterfoils and moving the plotline forward through her interactions with the other swan maidens , the Sorceror Von Rothbart (in the guise of an Owl),  Prince Siegfried, his Mother, and the many guests at Siegfried’s birthday ball. Her subtly quivering foot which comprises the last moments of a stunning grand pas de deux near the end of Act 2 absolutely rivets all attention,  and when it comes to the famous fouettes which mark Odile’s total command of events, she nonchalantly varies them with triple pirouettes, upping the ante.  We are extremely fortunate to have her dancing regularly in New Zealand.

Huan is also a very fine dancer, with soaring leaps, concise, cleanly controlled spins and beautiful feet, ably fulfilling the bravura demands in high overhead lifts and the deep swan dive, providing secure partnering at all times. After his disinterest in naming a bride at his birthday ball has been subverted by Odile, he is left with a kind of possum-in-the-headlights despair, but once back at the lakeside in the company of the Swan Maidens, his ardent side comes to the fore in his interchanges with Odette, leading to their ultimate joint suicide.

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, under the direction of conductor Nigel Gaynor, play Tchaikovsky’s glorious score in Auckland and the live score makes the ballet experience so much the richer. From the very first notes of the overture to the final coda, the music enlarges the emotional subtext of the narrative, with repeated motifs providing through lines for the plot, and reiterates passages which underline the essential duplicity at the heart of the tale. Gaynor’s conducting has it’s own sense of bravura, carefully matching Gillian Murphy’s oh-so-perfect  timing of particular moves.

Kristian Fredrikson’s opulent designs for the birthday ball scene, originally created in 1996, are almost rococo in their lavishness, with use of dark burgundy, navy,  and inky black swirls interlayered with sequins and lace, jewels and gold braids. However, when the warm gold lighting of the ball scene changes to intense white with lightning flashes at the moment of Siegfried’s capitulation  to Odile and betrayal of Odette, the logic of the design becomes apparent: the guests so costumed  — begin to withdraw, showing just how far Rothbart’s subversion of the court has gone, adding to the sudden chill in the air.

The company is in excellent form all round, dancing most impressively, and they have drawn capacity audiences throughout this tour..


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Iconic moments splendidly performed

Review by Raewyn Whyte 18th Aug 2013

The Royal  New Zealand Ballet’s Swan Lake presents the company in splendid form throughout the work’s four acts, elaborately costumed by Kristian Fredrickson, dancing to the music of Tchaikovsky, with choreography by Russell Kerr which honours the 1877 Petipa-Ivanov original. This classic “white” story ballet is famous for its bravura pas de deux and solos, and includes a series of iconic moments which draw aficionados back to see it  time after time – most famous perhaps the rows of female dancers with faces framed in white feather headresses and wearing embroidered, bejewelled, petalled-skirted tutus which yield as if made of feathers, swans slowly emerging from mist on the lake, soaring lifts and a deep swan dive which are the means by which Prince Siegfried declares the depth of his love for the swan maiden Odette.

The narrative, of course, is somewhat unbelievable, derived from Russian and German folk tales with a moral twist to warn young men and women not aspire to roles outside the status of their birth. So here we have a young man on the cusp of turning 21, a time at which he must assume his late father’s responsibilities to administrate the local duchy, and he must name a bride from amongst the suitable foreign princesses who are guests at a birthday ball in his honor.  The twist in the tale, however, is that instead of choosing one of the foreign princesses, he is tricked into pledging his love to a seductive black-clad woman, Odile, who is a duplicitous doppleganger for the beautiful Odette, swan by day, maiden by night, with whom  he has developed an understanding. Odette is one of a group of young women trapped in swan bodies by an evil sorcerer, Von Rothbart, and Odile is his daughter: the only way to break the sorceror’s power and free all the swan maidens is for Siegfried and Odette to commit suicide together.


In their New Zealand debuts, Australian Ballet principal dancers Ty King-Wall and Amber Scott provide beautifully complementary performances as guest stars in the roles of Prince Siegfried and Odette/Odile, ably fulfilling the work’s bravura demands.

At 26, and just recently promoted to principal dancer, King-Wall is a credible Siegfried. He is about the right age to be the prince. He is slim and strong,  and attains impressive heights in his lofty leaps. He has a regal bearing and clean footwork,  plus the requisite social graces when it comes to greeting nobles and peasants, but he seems awfully young to be saddled with the responsibilities of ruling the local duchy in his late father’s place.  And he is understandably reluctant to name a bride at the ball to mark his coming of age. He is disinterested in the local beauties, and once he has fulfilled his obligations to meet, greet, and dance impressively for guests arriving for the next evening’s festivities, he retreats to the nearby lakeside.

He becomes very clearly fascinated with one of a flock swans (Odette), and is increasingly entranced by her beauty and delicacy, and her uncanny mix of birdlike movement and womanliness.  When he impulsively starts to pledge his love for her, she stops him, and explains the nature of a sorceror’s power over the flock.  Subsequently, at the next evening’s ball, he is bewitched by her evil twin, Odile, whom the sorcerer has ordered to secure Siegfried’s pledge of love. Siegfried is visibly dismayed when he realizes he has been ensared in the sorceror’s trap, and flees back to the lakeside to make amends, subsequently joining Odette in a suicide pact.

Amber Scott is a willowy dancer with beautifully balanced proportions and her long arms and supple wrists, flexible torso and strong legs all contribute to her embodiment of the marvelous swan – ranging from ruffling feathers  and quivering poise to steely flight poses . Her  dancing makes clear the distinctions between Odette –  primarily  a swan, with womanly instincts, and Odile  – a seductive temptress with the ability to produce Odette’s swan-like movements on demand.  

King-Wall’s partnering is sensitive to Scott’s needs, providing the room she needs to manouevre and assert her sense of self, and fulfilling the iconic moments when she is raised high above his head in a series of soaring lifts which declare his love for her regardless of their joint fate; dipping her almost to the floor in the swan dive; and gliding in behind to provide support when (as Odile) she begins to tire in the famous fouettes. 

The flock of swans is picture perfect, arrayed in their ranks from smallest at the front to tallest at the back, moving smoothly through the various formations which provide their framing of  Odette and her Prince, and magically emerging from the mist on the lake which at times hides their legs altogether. The company also provides an impressive  array of nobles, courtiers, and villagers who present various formation dances reflecting their social standing, and provide the framing for interchanges between Siegfried, his mother (Laura Jones), his tutor Wolfgang (Jon Trimmer), and a commedia del’arte Jester (Rory Fairweather-Neylan) who provides moments of light relief with virtuoso antics.


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‘Swan Lake’ a Classic Birthday Treat

Review by Toby Behan 05th Aug 2013

As a part of the 60th birthday celebrations undertaken this year by the Royal New Zealand Ballet, Russell Kerr’s production of Swan Lake makes a very welcome return to the stage. This is the fourth time this production has toured the country since its creation in 1996 and none of the original magic has been lost.

This is ballet at its best – make no mistake. So much dance is packed into the two-hour spectacle that no one could possibly leave the theatre wanting more. And whilst there is undoubtedly some splendid dancing (and acting) from the company, it has to be said that the star of this production is the choreography itself – primarily the sublime musicality and construction of the dance. This is one of those things that easily goes unnoticed – which is itself evidence of Kerr’s genius at work. The steps themselves match, anticipate, and provide completion to Tchaikovsky’s legendary score. The onstage formations of the swans convey imprisonment, strength and vulnerability. Practically speaking – the choreography being so complete (and yet subtle) in this way – lets us get on with the joyous task of watching the story portrayed before us.

Kerr’s production tells the story firmly through the eyes of Prince Siegfried – one of the two main roles in the story. The first act captures how close the Prince feels to his subjects in the surrounding villages, his courtesy, his nobility – yet also the disconnectedness which comes from his royal station. For the past few years the lead male roles in Royal New Zealand Ballet productions have often been largely dominated by the formidably talented Qi Huan – but last night in Christchurch Kohei Iwamoto strode fearlessly to the stage and delivered a performance to make all sit up and take notice, in a role that he was destined to play. Iwamoto has superb technique and elevation, but more to the point, he *gets* this role. His dramatic interpretation is completely in line with Kerr’s choreography and he is a joy to watch.

Amongst the village celebrations of the first act (danced with splendid attack from the company), the pas de trois was a real highlight. Jacob Chown showed clean lines and soft landings, and Mayu Tanigaito especially impressed as a dancer to watch for.

Young company member Lucy Green last night made a huge stride in her performance capabilities, tackling the demanding role of Odette / Odile. Here is a young woman with enormous promise and true sincerity in her performance. The only things that might be said to be lacking are elements that will solely come from more years undertaking such roles – and these are years that we look forward to immensely. Her footwork is sharp, sure, and she works hard to convey the unique character of the swan maiden Odette (as well as her evil counterpart) with some great decision making. 

The partnership between Iwamoto and Green must also be mentioned. The term ‘synergy’ is used to describe a situation when the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. The partnering between Iwamoto and Green shone last night – something that was greater even than the considerable talent of each of these two artists individually.

The backbone of Swan Lake lies in the ‘white’ acts – when the swans dominate the stage. If this element is weak – the performance will be unsuccessful. The females within the ballet company happily respond to this challenge, displaying well drilled and polished ensemble work. Tonia Looker, Adriana Harper, Kat Grange and Bronte Kelly performed the much anticipated Dance of the Cygnets with wonderful precision. The corps are to be commended for their attack and care.

Elsewhere, Brendan Bradshaw clearly relished the role of the evil Baron von Rothbart, with a focused and intelligent character study. Helio Lima was sharp and impressive as the Jester (with more comic timing yet to be developed). It was fantastic also to see some familiar (non-Royal New Zealand Ballet) Christchurch faces onstage, as non-dancing roles.

The Christchurch Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nigel Gaynor played the score with real aplomb – wringing the emotion and drama from the splendid score and receiving a duly deserved ovation at the conclusion of the performance.

Swan Lake is a wonderful production and a pillar of the current repertoire. As a dance going audience, we are incredibly grateful for this gift (even though it is not our birthday being celebrated!) from Russell Kerr, from Artistic Director Ethan Stiefel and General Manager Amanda Skoog, and from the wonderful group of young dancers which form our national company. Happy Birthday to you. 


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Classic ballet's significance shaded by contemporary events

Review by Jennifer Shennan 29th Jul 2013

We are in our seats at St.James Theatre, for a matinee of Swan Lake. This is a re-staging of the 1996 production by Russell Kerr (named an Icon by the Arts Foundation: never was a title better ascribed.) The Wellington season (dedicated to the memory of stalwart arts protagonist, Richard Campion) ends after curtain down tonight, and pack-out will commence for their national tour that continues until early September.

The Company’s survival for 60 years, against various negative forces that more than once tried to close it down, could itself be choreographed. Russell Kerr would probably lend the title from one of his own earlier works … Scripting the Dreams.

Amid the sounds of the orchestra warming up in the pit, it’s the wailing oboes that seem to presage the enormity of the four-act saga that is about to get under way.  Despite our familiarity with Tchaikovsky’s composition, we still thrill to the sublime colours and qualities in the score. We know about the violin solo that will play in an hour or so.   My 5 year old companion is hearing this music for the first time, and whispers, “Is a harp always that beautiful?”  (She has already asked “Is this story really, really true … like really, true life?” What should I tell her?)

Is Swan Lake a romantic telling of a remote German legend about the power of good love countering evil addiction? of wounded women living half-lives? a bully, von Rothbart, habituated to cruelly maltreating others and deceiving those around him with disguises? Is all of it drawn from far away 19th century Europe?

The best choreography is allegorical, and themes in ballet’s settings can sometimes take on stark significance in the light of contemporary events. Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies, to Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, deeply moving at the best of times, became achingly more so in the days following the tragedy in 1966 of the collapse of a coal slagheap at Aberfan, Wales, that killed an entire school of children.  Audiences were awash throughout Rambert Dance Company’s performances of the ballet at the time.

Ireland’s theatre ensemble of genius, Fabulous Beast, dedicated their remarkable Giselle (staged at an International Arts Festival here, 2008) to the Irish girl who was found dead, her stillborn infant alongside, in front of a forest grotto of the Virgin … witness to the undoing that some Albrecht by another name had visited on her.

Just this week in Ohio, a criminal was sentenced to “life imprisonment plus 1000 years”, in a plea bargain that saved him from the death penalty. He had incarcerated three women in his house for years, raped and assaulted them, fathered a child by one of them. When he asked if he could see “his” child before descending to prison, the judge replied a resounding, disgusted “Never”, but did not address him by what could well have been his real name, Baron von Rothbart.

It is the dancers’ challenge to portray their roles in specific ways within a production yet also offer resonance of wider readings. We are not here to count fouettes or applaud the height of jetes, so much as to gauge a dancer’s interpretation, through those technical feats, of the emotional experiences of character. Fiction? Maybe.  Really true life? Maybe.

There have been three alternate casts in the lead and solo roles so far this season.  Gillian Murphy as Odette / Odile, partnered by Cuban dancer Karel Cruz as Siegfried, have set a sublime performance in our memory.  Lucy Green, with Kohei Iwamoto, taking these roles for the first time, are beautifully partnered and move us beyond words.  Abigail Boyle and Qi Huan have a depth and honesty in their shared emotion that we drink deeply from. It is a mark of strength of this relatively small company that it can offer alternate casts of such calibre. Russell Kerr is renowned for the encouragement and space he gives to dancers to develop roles in the way they themselves can believe in.   

At the recent launch of the book, Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty, many told an anecdote from past decades. They were mostly about wardrobe malfunctions, or of mid-performance hitches that require all the dancers’ resourcefulness and quick wits to carry on, mostly without the audience knowing anything was amiss (unless the scenery had caught fire, or an earthquake required evacuation of the building.)

It’s of course always easier to remember the one-offs. It’s not that we want the bad news … it just is intriguing to know how people cope with the unexpected, and still keep their calm.  It also means that on all ten thousand and one nights, when nothing did go wrong, a beautiful poetry of emotion has entered our kinaesthetic experience. That lasts forever, and becomes a part of us.

Fortunately the golden glow of dawn light filtering onto the final scene allows the reading that Odette and Siegfried have gone to a beautiful place, after the dreaded von Rothbart has lost all his power over them, and drowned in the lake. So it’s “Yes my dear … it’s a bit like really true life. Good friends are better than bullies, and always win in the end.”


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Superb show for ballet's birthday

Review by Ann Hunt 22nd Jul 2013

A more fitting tribute to the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 60th anniversary than this stunning Swan Lake would be hard to imagine. It is choreographer Russell Kerr’s fourth production and they get better every time. 

What would be the feather in the company’s cap if it were not the jewel in its crown, is the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra which accompanies the Wellington season. Nigel Gaynor conducts with flair and great sensitivity. Together they capture all the sweeping richness of Tchaikovsky’s wonderful score.

Add to this splendour sumptuous costumes and sets by the late Kristian Fredrikson, atmospheric lighting by John Buswell, the ballet in top form and two superb principal dancers and you have an unforgettable evening.

In the dual role of Odette/Odile, Gillian Murphy is magnificent. [More]


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Cause for celebration

Review by Lyne Pringle 20th Jul 2013

Russell Kerr comes onto the stage in the curtain call for the 60th anniversary season of Swan Lake by the Royal New Zealand Ballet. The cast salute him as do members of the audience – some on their feet. 

He is 83 with a walking stick, vibrant and slightly stooped. He has endured, as has his choreography, this is the third time this sparkling version has been mounted on the company. 50 years ago he was the director of a fledgling company, today as then it is a resplendent tour de force of local and international talent: it is so fitting that Russell Kerr’s choreography (after Petipa and Ivanov) should mark this celebration and honouring of dance pioneers in New Zealand. There are many artists who have toiled, on stage and back stage, over the years to make a season like this possible.

Swan Lake is a love story and a battle between good and evil, purity and deceitful manipulation, the ethereal versus the material world. The story is derived from Russian folk tales with the central image of the swan having deep resonances in that culture. The score by Tchaikovsky is famous and rightly so, it creates a beautiful frame for this magic to happen. Dripping in hyper-romance, Swan Lake is a perfect vehicle for a night of opulent production elements and potentially a deep emotional connection with the plight of the characters.

The work revolves around the artistry of the central figures of Prince Siegfried, his love interest Odette, and her nemesis Odile.

In Act I we are introduced to Siegfried’s world.  The production elements from the 2007 version still impress “We are transported back in time to a beautifully realized picture book setting: set and costumes lavishly designed by the celebrated Kristian Fredrikson, lighting designed by Jon Bushwell” (2007 review).  The costumiers and scenography painters, who realize this vision, are highly skilled artists in their own right.

This prince, guest artist Karel Cruz, has a whimsical, vulnerable character, almost diffident. He is statuesque, with elegant legs that go on for ever as the peasants of the village dance exuberantly around him. Mr Kerr has added swirling circular patterns here to evoke the bustle of this community. A joyous bouncy jester (Rory Fairweather-Neylan) and sparkling trio (Lucy Green, Tonia Locker, Arata Miyagawa) fail to alter his mood as he yearns for a love that this world cannot fulfil.  The company is in fantastic form, dancing with passion and generosity.

Eventually this lonely prince finds his way into the wilderness, presumably to hunt, but his encounter with – Odette- a woman cursed into the body of swan- changes everything.

Act II – Night falls and enchantment happens.

One of the key elements of this act is the performance of the corps de ballet as Odette’s kin. Here the dedication and skill of ballet mistress Turid Revfeim and ballet master Martin Vedel come to the fore, this flock of swans are brilliant. The cygnets are precise and dynamic and the big swans lyrical and expansive.

Gillian Murphy is a principal guest artist with the company and this is cause for celebration. She is sublime and utterly convincing as the timid swan/woman with a bravura display of technique and heartfelt acting. Her double pirouette into a 3rd turn with side backbend is extraordinary.

Eventually she yields to the advances of the prince, and the chemistry between these two dancers starts to take hold. In the famous love duet from this act, principal violin for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Vesa-Matti Leppanen plays in a way that supports the special quality of this moment and the reason why this classic prevails.  A hush falls on the theatre.  Ms Murphy’s foot trembles against her ankle as she pirouettes, held with one hand by Mr Cruz, and the duet comes to a close. These characters are smitten and hold our hearts in their dancing souls.

The NZSO is wonderful under the baton of Nigel Gaynor as the rich score by Tchaikovsky swells and recedes throughout this long evening of dance. It is a marathon of the artistic world.

Act III again has sumptuous production elements and fantastic variations. Lucy Balfour, Dimitri Kleioris and Helio Lima smoulder as the Spaniards. Clytie Campbell, Brendan Bradshaw and Jacob Chown are Hungarian and sensuous. Adriana Harper and Medhi Angot are vibrant as the Neopolitans.

Rothbert, suitably malign, appears in the best coat ever made to conjure his daughter Odile in the guise of Odette to seduce Siegfried.

Gillian Murphy is once again outstanding, completely transformed from the lithe and trembling Odette into a serpentine temptress. She tends to draw out sequences and use her focus and eye-line to great effect,  to draw the audience into the palm of her articulate hand. The drama of the scene sizzles with virtuoso variations, even some extra arms thrown into the famous fouette sequence.

Back at the lakeside, the story is wrapped up with the lovers reconciled, and we are left with enduring images of a strong production.

Cause for celebration indeed that brave and dedicated artists continue to wrestle with this most demanding of art forms and to bring it to the stage in New Zealand.


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