Swan Lake

Regent On Broadway, Palmerston North

05/06/2007 - 06/06/2007

Municipal Theatre, Napier

09/06/2007 - 10/06/2007

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

21/06/2007 - 24/06/2007

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

13/06/2007 - 17/06/2007

Westpac St James, Wellington

25/05/2007 - 02/06/2007

Production Details

Choreography by Russell Kerr after Petipa/Ivanov
Production restaged by Gary Harris with Russell Kerr
Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Artistic Director Gary Harris
Design: Kristian Fredrikson

Royal New Zealand Ballet


Seduction, treachery, mistaken identity, unrequited love and tragedy – Swan Lake delivers a story like no other.

An enduring masterpiece, the Royal New Zealand Ballet proudly presents a full-length classical ballet production of Swan Lake featuring acclaimed New Zealand guest dancers returning home to star in this lavish production.

Ballet fans will not want to miss world-renowned Lisa-Maree Cullum and Roman Lazik from Munich’s Bayerische Staatsballett who will share the lead roles with The Australian Ballet’s Gaylene Cummerfield and Matthew Lawrence.

Artistic Director Gary Harris says the RNZB are delighted to have scored a trifecta by enticing Kiwi’s Lisa-Maree, Gaylene and Matthew back to New Zealand for this production.

“They have achieved huge international recognition. We are thrilled they are coming home. It’s a major coup for the company,” he says.

First staged 130 years ago at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, the magic of Swan Lake has been witnessed by millions around the world in countless productions, proving a great story can never be told too many times.

Swan Lake shows the road to love is never easy. It tells the story of Prince Siegfried who falls in love with the beautiful Odette. However, Odette is under a spell by the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart which turns her into a swan by day. While the prince’s love will break the spell, he is tricked into declaring his love for another woman, whom he mistakes for Odette.

Featuring Tchaikovsky’s much-loved score, spectacular sets and dazzling costumes, this enchanting production of Swan Lake is not to be missed.


Westpac St James Theatre
25 May – 2 June
Featuring the Vector Wellington Orchestra

Palmerston North
Regent on Broadway
5 June – 6 June
Featuring the Vector Wellington Orchestra

Municipal Theatre
9 June – 10 June

Aotea Centre
13 June – 17 June
Featuring the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Isaac Theatre Royal
21 – 24 June
Featuring the Christchurch Symphony

Regent Theatre
28 June – 30 June
Featuring the Southern Sinfonia

Dance ,

Making the world a kinder, better place

Review by Jennifer Shennan 10th Jun 2007

St.James Theatre, Wellington, bursting at the seams with primary schoolchildren at a mid-week matinee performance of Swan Lake. Gold coin donation. Good on these troupers. But isn’t that a long ballet to expect the littlies to survive? Well, maybe, but the idea is to have the gifted Stacey White, the company’s education officer, start by sitting in p.j.s and bedsocks downstage centre, reading from a giant story book: ‘The Story of Swan Lake’.

Act I is taken care of in a few paragraphs, and the appearance of Prince and Queen posing this way and that.  The dancing starts with Act II: Yu Takahama in an exquisite reading of Odette, soft as a white pearl, you hardly breathe when she dances. Craig Lord is a pensive and elegant Prince Siegfried who does mighty big leaps and super fast turns and loves this Swan Woman heaps. Nothing fourth rate about this casting.

Stacey comes back to tell us what happens next, and we all get to boo the slimy von Rothbart every time she says his name. Good fun that (and stops the wriggling, or the familiar trekking out for a loo break.).

Act III, dancing again, and we’re agog at the sumptuous way these posh wealthy get to party. Yu is now the dark Odile, a black diamond all shining and sharp, The Prince falls for von Rothbart’s mean trick of deceiving him and now there’s going to be trouble. But lots of smart dancing first … and super-smart music. Wow.

Stacey’s back to finish off the story, and we’re done now and out onto the buses and back to school. Our grandparents used to go to see The NZ Ballet in schools shows back in the 1950s and they still remember that.

If von Rothbart ever proved his power of evil and laid a curse, it was on the miserably multi-disabled angel children from Kimi Ora school. They are brought to the theatre in wheelchairs and harnesses, their eyes mostly closed, their limbs mostly unbiddable. The stalwart ushers help to position them, their devoted carers get settled, and the ballet is under way. I doubt many of these children can see the dancers on stage, but they can surely hear Tchaikovsky’s glorious music, and the atmosphere of storms and lightning will be palpable and special.

That the Company and the School’s – and all the other schools’ – teachers bother to bring this much beauty, spunk and decency, to share with so many children, can only make the world a kinder, better place.


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Back to the future with a new view of classical ballet

Review by Jennifer Shennan 28th May 2007

There is a Māori expression about "walking backwards into the future". That image describes well the contemporary staging of a classic work of the ballet repertoire, such as Swan Lake, which involves looking back at history and honouring tradition, while allowing performers to interpret roles anew, and inviting audiences to perceive fresh meaning in those interpretations. The current RNZ Ballet season, staged by Russell Kerr, whose genius and sensibility are legendary, is a triumph on all these counts.

The colourful opening act is full of joie-de-vivre, with spirited youth out-dancing each other. A trio (Qi Huan, Yu Takayama, Katie Hurst-Saxon) positively shine, and The Jester (Michael Braun), laughing off his virtuoso technique, is never still. Prince Siegfried (Matthew Lawrence) is handsome but subdued and can muster no spirit for his Mother’s ambition that he choose a fiancée. The Queen seethes with complexities of frustration (no King anywhere in sight) and takes refuge in a wardrobe of wearable art, the work of Kristian Fredrikson.

The swans in the second and fourth acts are splendidly schooled by Sherilyn Kennedy, another of New Zealand’s finest ballet talents. There’s a moody mist by the lakeside and these mysterious creatures, half swan / half woman, emerge from the shadow of their master, von Rothbart (Craig Lord). He is an enigmatic force, here in a costume resembling a frill-necked lizard and about as slimy. The third act is set in a court where sumptuous clothes, smashing dancing and weighty privilege suppress emotion in all but the innocent.

The dual role of Odette,Swan Queen, & Odile, deceiving daughter of von Rothbart, was danced by Gaylene Cummerfield, a former RNZ Ballet member, now with The Australian Ballet.  This was Cummerfield’s debut in the complete ballet and those who saw her on Friday night witnessed a flawless performance of exquisite poetry and musicality. She danced with legs of steel that said "I am trapped in evil" but with arms of rippling breeze on water that ached for escape. Lawrence partnered her with devotion and we watched poignant love-making in their beautiful dancing.

Possibly only Markova has dared to take this classic pas-de-deux and solo at such a breathtakingly adagio tempo. For Cummerfield to have the technique, and the trust of both Kerr and of conductor Kenneth Young to do so, will not easily be forgotten here. You could have heard a feather drop. As Odile in the third act her arm movements were hauntingly used to deceive the unsuspecting prince. In the final act as Odette again, she plummeted down from a high lift, head first to within one inch of the floor. It seemed as though her swan neck (read, woman’s heart) was broken.

Young is in the mould of Ashley Lawrence (ex-pat New Zealander, who was recognized as one of the world’s great ballet conductors). Tchaikovsky¹s score is redolent with such glorious melodies that I suspect listeners are lulled into thinking it’s easy to play. Not so, and the orchestra, including a number of soloists, do a fine job pulling both poetry and drama from the score. Young is New Zealand’s best ballet conductor by a country mile.

At Saturday evening’s performance the lead roles were danced by Lisa-Maree Cullum, New Zealand dancer now with Bayerisches Staatsballet in Munich, and her partner Roman Lazik. The drama and passion of both their interpretations were played to the hilt with marvellous effect, and in intriguing contrast to the poetry and mystery of the previous night. There are altogether six changes of cast in the lead roles during this season, testament to the strengths of the company that Gary Harris directs with verve. They will make considerable impression in China when touring two programmes there later this year.

TVNZ is ending its involvement as an RNZB sponsor, as is Air New Zealand. The RNZB is a flagship national company of international renown. Fortunately Qantas has stepped in.


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Uplifting artistry elevates classic from “dance about birds”

Review by Lyne Pringle 27th May 2007

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s latest production of Swan Lake has all the glorious opulence of grand bourgeois Theatre – yes, with a capital T. It is a triumph, under the assured and gracious leadership of Russell Kerr in what he has stated will be his last major work: an incredible end to an illustrious choreographic career that has spanned 50 years. Kerr rightfully deserves his status as a New Zealand arts icon and this work is a testament to that passionate artistry. Bravo!

After the overture – such a delicious way to begin an evening in the theatre – the plush red velvet curtain rises and we are transported back in time to a ravishingly realized picture book setting: set and costumes lavished designed by the celebrated and late Kristian Fredrikson, lighting designed by Jon Bushwell.

The effusive corp de ballet’s peasants cavort in pastoral bliss as their Prince Siegfried, played dashingly by Matthew Lawrence, faces the inevitability of having to find a bride. This jewel in the crown of the balletic canon has begun and I sense the spirits of the great Russian choreographers Petipa and Ivanov swirling up into fly tower. I think if a theatre could talk we would hear the St James theatre groan with pleasure: "Aagh, yes! This is what I was made for." Yes, this is Tradition with a capital T and yes, this ballet reinforces the rules and demands of classical ballet.

Swelling underneath the artists of the company – in sparkling form – is the grand orchestral score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. He has been called the outstanding symphonist of the 19th century. Swan Lake, the first of his full-length ballets, debuted in 1877. His music, the engine and impetus for the evening, is masterfully played by the Vector Wellington Orchestra under the assured baton of Kenneth Young. Indeed symphonic in its scale, the orchestration provides a vast range of dynamics and poignancy that choreographer and company embrace with a gorgeous musicality, inviting a seamless interplay between the eye and the ear.

Act I rolls along with some beautiful corps choreography, there is an enchanting pas de trios sharply danced with exceedingly light landings by Qi Huan, Yu Takayama and Katie Hurst-Saxton. Stunning elevation and lightening execution define a quirky interpretation of the role of Jester by a sprightly Michael Braun.

The members of the court arrive, led with regal example by Jon Trimmer as Wolfgang and Abigail Boyle as the Queen – mother to Siegfried: "You’d better get a move on and choose a bride son." In these scenes the old-fashioned mimetic ballet style is employed to propel the narrative; the dust of tradition swirls around this "pas d’action".

And so to the famous second act, which begins with a whimsical solo danced exquisitely by Lawrence as he heads off to hunt swans. (I believe Rudolph Nureyev had this solo inserted into the ballet to allow the audience a chance to glimpse into the psyche of the prince, rather than view him as simply a crane for the ballerina.) It provides a beautiful segue into the mystery of the ‘white act’.

The melancholic tones of the oboe playing the theme for the swans is one of the great musical moments in the classical dance canon and the mood of this is beautifully matched by the dancers. Odette enters. Prince meets swan. She is the most exquisite swan of all, condemned by the sinister sorcerer Baron Von Rothbart to be a beautiful swan by day and woman by night.

As a friend said to me on the way to the theatre, "Unless the lead dancers are great actors who can invest the choreography with real feeling and drama, Swan Lake is just a dance about birds."  Fortunately the lovers, played on opening night by husband and wife team Matthew Lawrence and Gaylene Cummerfield, convince us of their love for each other in the gorgeous love duet in this act.

The tempo for this beautifully executed pas de deux is achingly slow which serves to draw out the bitter/sweet tenderness of the scene; the theatre is hushed we are entranced: caught in what the programme describes as "the exquisite melodies and passionate adagios reflecting the essential humanity of Odette and Siegfried." Emotional themes in the music are brought to life by these two stunning dancers. Gaylene Cummerfield brings liquid extension, arms like ripples on a lake and heartfelt feeling to the role of a supernatural female creature. This is idealized and fantasized womanhood and Siegfried, of course, is entranced.

We are treated to seamless and sensitive work by the corp as they move around, between and through the dancing of the principals. They decorate the stage space with striking tableaux and disciplined unison choreography – a tribute to their ballet mistress and teachers. The act also features the famous dance of the cygnets performed with great dexterity, sharpness and precision by Yu Takayama, Katie Hurst-Saxton, Chantelle Kerr, and Catherine Eddy. Clytie Cambell, and Alana Baird as the big swans perform several dynamic and well executed vignettes. 

Baron Von Rothbart, played with great stature and presence by Craig Lord, enters and places adversity in the path of the lovers and the act draws to a dramatic conclusion. (The deal is that because Siegfried has never loved before, only his love can lift the curse from Odette.)

By inviting three delicious Princesses – danced with aristocratic style by Yu Takayama, Chantelle Kerr and Catherine Eddy – the Queen, dressed in an absolutely sumptuous costume in this act, has taken the matter of finding a bride for her son into her own hands. It is an opportunity for us to be treated to the atmosphere of the court. There are dances from various countries to entertain the courtiers: a Spanish variation danced with passion and style by Lucy Balfour, Qi Huan and Geordan Wilcox; a Hungarian variation danced with exactitude and mercurial technique by Katie Hurst-Saxton, Eliot Rudolph and Brendan Bradshaw, and a Neapolitan variation danced with vigour and personality by Alessia Lugoboni and Benjamin Crown.

Rothbart enters dressed as a nobleman and the plot thickens as he enchants Siegfried into declaring undying love for his daughter Odile, presented as a black-frocked version of Odette. Cummerfield’s Odile is totally beguiling; the sharp yet sensuous virtuosity she brings to the role meets the Odette/Odile challenge with great artistry. Thus Siegfried is tricked and once again the act charges to a dynamic conclusion when he realises his terrible mistake.

Back by the lake Siegfried and Odette meet once more but their love – tainted by his declaration to Odile – can no longer break Rothbart’s spell. They decide to break the spell and be together for all eternity by throwing themselves into the lake in true melodramatic fashion as the last swelling notes of Tchaikovsky’s score leads the swan corp into a perfect diagonal amidst the swirling dry ice. The red velvet curtain falls.

Uplifting, stirring theatre is matched by stupendous applause from an audience swept away by the artistry and commitment of the production.


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