THE PIANO The Ballet
Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin
16/03/2018 - 16/03/2018
ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland
08/03/2018 - 10/03/2018
02/03/2018 - 03/03/2018
Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch
21/03/2018 - 23/03/2018
Regent On Broadway, Palmerston North
28/03/2018 - 28/03/2018
23/02/2018 - 25/02/2018
New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2018
WORLD PREMIERE SEASON
“Not just about a story, or some characters, but a whole universe of feeling” – ROGER EBERT, FILM CRITIC
Twenty-five years ago, cinema-goers around the world were captivated by an extraordinary tale of desire, violence and hope.
The story of Ada McGrath and her daughter Flora, husband Alastair and lover Baines unfolded against the wild grandeur and desolation of New Zealand, as Jane Campion’s award-winning film took audiences on a visceral journey into New Zealand’s imagined past as it had never been portrayed before.
Drawing on the rich inspiration of The Piano, the Royal New Zealand Ballet is honoured to stage the world premiere of this new full-length dance work by Jiří and Otto Bubeníček. Originally conceived as a short work for Dortmund Ballet, The Piano: the ballet is now reimagined and expanded for the RNZB, giving Ada’s story a new and distinctively New Zealand voice and, in dance, a powerful new means of expression. Excerpts from Michael Nyman’s iconic film score are blended with evocative music by Debussy, Arensky, Stravinsky, Schnittke, Brahms and Shostakovich.
For more information, visit the RNZB website.
St James Theatre
Friday 23 Feb – Sunday 25 Feb
Pre-Show Artist Talk: Fri 23 Feb, 6.30pm, St James Theatre
Concession and subscriber prices available
Recommended for ages 12+
REGENT ON BROADWAY
Wednesday 28 March 2018
Dance , ,
1 hr 50 mins (incl. interval)
Divine duets and perfect partnering
Review by Tania Kopytko 02nd Apr 2018
The Palmerston North performance marked the last performance of The Piano after a successful five-week tour of New Zealand. The Regent Theatre was packed; and at the end the audience was ecstatic. I understand also that it was the likely last performance for Abigail Boyle after twelve years performing with the company. She was given a huge applause. As the lead, playing the mute Ada McGrath, Abigail Boyle gave us the most superb performance. She performed with every inch of her body. Her acting was completely nuanced with her movements. For the entire ballet she was convincing, at times bold, at times subtle – she was completely ‘in the moment’ and credibly conveyed the subtleties of the complex, mute character. She is a divine New Zealand dancer.
Boyle was complemented in sensitivity and confidence by Alexandre Ferreira as George Baines, her lover. The two were perfectly partnered. Alexandre conveyed his turmoil, indecision, demands and love in a convincingly impassioned way, through his movement and acting. Choreographer Jiří Bubeníček said, “You have to be honest in acting these roles. You have to feel it. I tell them don’t act, be the role”. They both indeed were the roles.
Their divine duets were stand out passages of dance. The last duet, where they finally declared their true feelings in equal expression, had beautiful passages of lifts, falls and entwining, expressed with a confidence and sure technique. It was a joy to watch. The beautiful costuming (Elsa Pavanel), in particular, Ada’s full gathered skirts, enhanced the movement and shaping. Paul Mathews as the pompous and controlling husband was ably performed by Paul Mathews, especially as I feel he had a difficult character to convey in the wider choreographic narrative.
The set and setting of the ballet (Otto Bubeníček) was excellent and gave so much to the story. The use of the splittable movie screen and exquisite scenes of sea and forest brought vitality to the ballet, energising it with natural New Zealand vistas. The opening film of the crashing sea, and then the screens opening to reveal the boat emerging on the beach, was superb. Conversely, in the second act, the clever narrowing of the screens, heavy with highly patterned wallpaper, provided the narrow claustrophobic atmosphere of the drawing room and the unhappy marriage. The piano was a ‘being in itself’, and was cleverly choreographed into the work. Firstly it arrived battered and damaged from the boat, and then it was treasured and played about with rapture. In the second half, like the controlled and wounded Ada, the piano was constrained and controlled by the husband; in one telling, poignant moment he expressed this by sleeping on top of it. Then at the end the piano was liberated, as it travelled by waka to its new life with George and Ada.
The children performed beautifully and were given interesting choreography in the church scene, coping well with cannoned timing and nice spacing. Hazel Couper as Flora, Ada’s daughter was assured and wonderful.
Congratulations must go to the RNZB for producing a ballet that is characteristically New Zealand. It happens so seldom. We had Ihi FrENZy in 2001 as the major previous work to mix Māori themes and movement with ballet. Choreographically this ballet must have been a challenge for the accomplished Jiří Bubeníček and on the whole he rose to this challenge well.
The ballet has an unusual genesis. Jiří Bubeníček was attracted to The Piano, as an idea for a ballet, when he saw Jane Campion’s film. Eventually he was offered a commission from Ballet Dortmund for a one act show and the ballet premiered in 2014. As part of the research process Jiří and twin brother Otto (set, video design and musical arrangement) toured New Zealand in a camper van, filming and sound-recording the New Zealand countryside. Their love of the environment and nature shows in the beautiful film work. With the invitation from the RNZB to stage a full work, the ballet needed to be revisited and sections re-created. In particular, the challenge was to incorporate Māori elements and movement within the ballet context, and this to be performed by a company of diverse nationalities and backgrounds. Acclaimed contemporary Māori choreographer Moss Patterson was brought in as an advisor. One senses that this worked well, as the passages of contemporary Māori-themed movement, particularly involving the community people, were convincing and suitably contrasting to the contemporary ballet vocabulary of the ‘European settlers’.
However, I found that the interpretation and choreography set up some interesting and challenging narrative opposites. Narrative opposites are the core of all traditional ballets – love and betrayal, good and evil. In The Piano it took on a sort of cultural judgement. We have the spiritual, kindly, community folk, including the lover, George Baines, leaning towards a Māori spiritualism and emotionally expressive world. Opposing that are the staid settlers (including the husband, Alistair Stewart), with their constrained behaviour and limited, conservative beliefs. Superficially jolly, there is an underlying violence and rage in their world. This control, violence, jealousy and rage, of course, bubble into the key cruel act by Alistair – the chopping off of Ada’s finger. The minister/missionary played by Shaun James Kelly, seemed a kindly soul, maybe too jolly a minister for such a very restricted worldview of order, discipline and restraint. Yet the happy minister presented a strange and terrifying pantomime of executioner and jailer to the parishioners, which was naively stopped by misunderstanding village folk, thinking someone had been hurt. The church scene I felt was the weakest in the ballet and it felt laboured. The strange kissing and trotting about like fops seemed unrealistic. The scene did serve to show the opposite worldviews and experiences, but I did not feel that it had a New Zealand essence or heart; while, the contemporary Māori movement vocabulary, did capture the energy and feeling of the haka and waiata.
I do hope that the RNZB, following what has been an acclaimed season with The Piano, will commission more New Zealand work and not be afraid to explore the boundaries of ballet and haka in a deep and meaningful way. In doing this I hope they will encourage and support our choreographers to create these works.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Ballet unfolds with almost cinematic fluidity
Review by Dr Ian Lochhead 23rd Mar 2018
One of the most memorable sequences in New Zealand cinema is the arrival of Scottish bride, Ada McGrath, her daughter Flora, and her piano over billowing waves onto a remote North Island beach. In the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s latest production by Czech team of Jiri and Otto Bubeniček, the opening sequence of Jane Campion’s award winning film, The Piano, is dramatically translated into theatrical terms using natural sounds and video projections of surging waves and isolated shorelines.
Even before Ada steps ashore we are made aware of the Maori presence in this strange new land with silhouetted figures darting across the beach. As in Campion’s film, Maori function almost as a chorus, reacting to and occasionally participating in the unfolding drama. The natural world is also ever-present in the video projections that Otto Bubeniček recorded during an extended visit to New Zealand prior to the staging of the ballet.
The tortured love triangle, into which Ada is drawn, torn between the demands of her unbending husband, Stewart, and the allure of the moody Baines, is acted out against an Edenic background of unspoiled nature, the turbulent human emotions emphasised by the serenity of the natural world. Ada’s piano, which Baines rescues from the beach where Stewart has callously abandoned it, is also ever-present, playing a crucial role in the unfolding drama. For Ada it is a means of expression and a source of consolation, as well as a link to the world she has left behind. For Baines it is the key to her heart. For Stewart it becomes the barrier that ultimately separates him from his wife.
This human drama is played out to the accompaniment of a rich collage of music that ranges from Ives to Shostakovich and from Brahms to Schnittke, but which also incorporates haka, waiata, taonga puoro, and birdsong. The sounds of Europe and Aotearoa collide and blend, mirroring the conflicts at the heart of the ballet. One of the most telling examples of this occurs when Stewart fully realises the extent of his wife’s unfaithfulness; his storming rage is accentuated by the sound of a haka but from this emerges the searing chords of Alfred Schnittke’s Second String Quartet. At this moment the realisation dawns that Stewart will seek revenge against his wife.
The part of Ada was created on the RNZB’s Abigail Boyle and she lives the role from the moment she steps on stage. Hers is a powerful realisation of a woman who is disorientated and frightened but who gradually responds to the new reality that confronts her. The smallest gestures; a rigid wrist, a reflexive tensing of the shoulders, a tender stroking of her piano, help to build up the picture of a complex individual trapped in an impossible situation. Choreographer Jiri Bubeniček’s has created a demanding sequence of pas de deux that play a pivotal role in the unfolding drama but these hold no fears for Boyle as she charts Ada’s progression from frosty bride to passionate lover.
As Stewart, Paul Mathews is a buttoned up, preening figure, too concerned with what others think of him to be able to express his own emotions. His initial dances with Ada are conventional and tentative but once he realises that he has lost her, his fury provokes a jagged and bruising encounter with his unrepentant wife. In contrast, her reactions to the brooding but passionate Baines of Alex Ferreira follow a very different trajectory. Their uncertain first encounter as Ada plays for him unfolds by degrees, moving forward and then pulling back. By the second act, as Ada realises that she has unwittingly fallen in love, their passions become overt in a swirling pas de deux witnessed by Stewart.
Amidst this maelstrom of adult passion, 12-year-old Hazel Couper as Flora conveys the radiant innocence of childhood. Among so many experienced performers she is no mere cipher required by the plot but a confident presence in her own right.
The brutal climax of the ballet is prefigured in the colonial Christmas celebrations that conclude the first act. Amateur theatricals, in which Bluebeard’s slaughtered wives are projected as a dumb show, prove all too convincing for naive audience members unfamiliar with such illusions. As the Reverend Campbell, Shaun James Kelly dances eloquently and conveys the character’s well-meaning enthusiasm as well as his religious fervour. Mayu Tanigaito provides a delightful cameo as the exuberant and flirtatious Nessie, who tries to persuade first Stewart and then Baines to dance with her, while Kirby Selchow is an energetic and characterful Aunt Morag. While the conclusion to the first act provides some light relief the second act builds to its brutal climax. The axe that Stewart wields to clear his land becomes his instrument of vengeance against Ada. There is no gore in this climax, but with chilling effectiveness the projected image of sea on sand turns blood red as the axe falls, a metaphor for the fate of the colonised land as much as for that of Ada.
The Piano is an ambitious production that does full justice to the film that inspired it. If Ada’s muteness is inevitably less central to the drama in its balletic form than in Campion’s film this loss is compensated for by the clarity with which the conflict between the central characters is presented. Indeed, an audience member overheard at the end stated that the ballet had helped her to understand what was happening in the film.
Any doubts that Jiri and Otto Bubeniček would be able to expand their original one-act version of The Piano, staged for Ballet Dortmund in 2014, into a successful full-length ballet have been well and truly allayed and the RNZB’s former artistic director, Francesco Ventriglia, is to be congratulated for his vision in providing them with the opportunity to develop their original concept. Mention should also be made of the elegant costume designs of Elsa Pavanel that combine the appearance of constraining nineteenth-century fashions with the flexibility necessary for dancing. The evocative lighting design of Jeremy Fern also achieves that difficult balancing act of creating atmosphere without compromising visibility. Otto Bubeniček’s simple but effective set also ensures that the ballet is able to unfold with almost cinematic fluidity.
The Christchurch audience was gripped by this performance from beginning to end, with none of the tentative applause that punctuated the previous opening night’s show but instead an outpouring of enthusiasm when the final curtain fell. It is timely to see a New Zealand story brought to the stage by our national ballet company although there is also irony in the fact that it required two Czechs to recognise the film’s potential as dance. This is surely a production that the RNZB could tour internationally with success. Jane Campion’s acclaimed film has already paved the way for the RNZB to follow.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Performed in vivacious style
Review by Hannah Molloy 17th Mar 2018
I’m going to preface this review with the confession that I might be the only person in New Zealand who hasn’t seen the film The Piano (my apologies to Jane Campion). That said, I’m perfectly happy to leave my understanding of it with the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s version – within very few moments, I knew I was going to love it. It’s such a pleasure and a privilege to see a new work performed with such vivacious style by the company.
Sara Garbowski as mute and tormented Ada McGrath was almost unbearably beautiful to watch. She seemed to melt into her movements and managed the two men in her life with grace and power. Nathan Mennis performed the brutal but somehow tortured Alistair Stewart with electricity. His incredible height added a lowering menace and a sort of spidery elegance even in his most cruel moments. His dance of rage when he discovers Ada and George’s infidelity was breath-taking. William Fitzgerald performed a gentle George Baines, an arts lover rather than a bush man. Both men were remarkable foils for Garbowski.
Other standout performers for me were Felipe Domingos’ jaunty Reverend Campbell, Leonora Voigtlander’s bossy and saucy Aunt Morag, and, although only briefly in the party scene, Yuri Marques seemed to have an especial flirtatiousness and sparkle that kept me seeking him out as he flashed across the stage.
The set design’s deceptive simplicity, with the two enormous screens sliding back and forth to reveal other screens or to enclose the space and only a few pieces moving on and off the stage, allows the choreography to tell the story in its own vivid colours. The video and audio footage give it an unmistakable New Zealandness and the gentle conversation of birds juxtaposed against the emotional turmoil is clever.
Jiří and Otto Bubeníček have created a masterwork with The Piano – the ballet and reading their thoughts about the process in the programme made me believe in their devotion to creating something beautiful, respectful, imaginative and everlasting. That they immersed themselves in and explored our country shows in the detail and emotional connection of the production.
I was delighted to see the introduction in the programme describing the RNZB’s will to envelop our New Zealand story into the work they produce. Our national ballet company has such a privileged place in our country, (not really so different to the godlike rugby team) and it’s timely for them to explore and deepen the importance they place on tangata whenua and Tikanga Māori in the development of work.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Adaptation to stage extends Campion's film The Piano
Review by Jennifer Nikolai 09th Mar 2018
The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) is currently staging the world premiere of The Piano: the ballet, a full-length dance work choreographed by Jiří Bubeníček. The musical score includes Michael Nyman’s iconic film score (1993) integrated with tracks from music by Debussy, Arensky, Stravinsky, Schnittke, Brahms, Vasks, Ives and Shostakovich. Numerous Maori contemporary musical sources include vocal and instrumental music as well as nature sounds produced by Symbiosis Music (1997), providing a diverse score. Jane Campion’s Oscar-winning (1993) film The Piano has been adapted (2018), in consultation with Maori advisor Moss Patterson, with stunning performances from our national ballet company. The Auckland cast on 8 March features Paul Mathews (Alistair Stewart), Alexandre Ferreira (George Baines) and Abigail Boyle playing the character of Ada McGrath, a mute Scotswoman, shipped with her daughter Flora (Hazel Couper) to New Zealand to be married.
Although the fictitious story is set in 19th Century New Zealand, this contemporary, fictional re-interpretation blends eras and aesthetics, amalgamating period design with contemporary design. The ballet opens highlighting the epic New Zealand setting amongst what local audiences will recognize as the waves at Piha. This historical and contemporary performance, moving from screen to stage, amalgamates history and geography within the cultural context of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Given the challenge of living up to the standards set by Oscar-winning actresses Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin, the breathtakingly sensitive and subtle performance choices made by Abigail Boyle and Hazel Couper (as Mother and Daughter), portray a complex relationship that shifts and evolves through the narrative of The Piano. Both Boyle and Couper respectfully portray the essence of the characters entwined with each other and the piano. Both are memorable in the giftedness of their performance nuances and implications of character interpretation.
The melodrama that underlies The Piano (1993) is beautifully elevated by the dancers’ performances, beautifully encapsulating elements of Campion’s original film. Abigail Boyle embodies the character Ada McGrath with a subtle contrast between stoic awareness and sensual playfulness. The treasured relationship Ada has with her daughter Flora binds them in a love that is inflected by her love for her piano, and is made more tender in the trios between Mother, Daughter, and the piano. Likewise, Boyle as Ada performs stunning duets with her beloved piano as if it were her sanctuary in stillness and seduction.
Boyle’s performance provides a clear contrast in her manner and approach towards her husband, with her lover, both exquisitely distinct from her relationship with her daughter, revealing Ada as a mature, personalised, responsive woman.
Duets performed by Mathews and Boyle have enormous range in tone, from reticence to acceptance, to violence and submission as forced partners, in contrast to the duets performed by Ferreira and Boyle, hiding in the forest or in the comfort of Ada’s piano. These male characters, also deeply complex, troubled, and lost, are deeply nuanced and make their own resolutions as the story progresses.
The choreographic choices and integration of the piano as a character in the work, both as a set object and a dance partner, by Jiri Bubeníček, are beautifully explored and developed and one of the most memorable elements of the production. Otto Bubeníček, designer of set, video, music arrangement, composition, and staging accomplishes the feat of translating the original cinematic interpretation of Campion’s The Piano to stage.
Digital video projections are used representationally to determine time and place (interior and exterior locations) as a productive element in furthering the narrative and bringing NZ geography and culture to the stage space. The oceanic geography of New Zealand, land and sea is most often stunningly established as meditative, vicious and epic, through ocean footage. The most impactful use of video, analogous to cinema, is the transition between widescreen and intimate framing within the still and moving frame. The use of the frame as foreground and background to the story, and the ways in which characters interact with the moving frame, creates fluidity and juxtaposition. Video effectively encapsulates the epic scale of the ocean and the forest in comparison to the confinements of the decorated home space where Ada dreams and plays with her daughter but is also confined to perform the expectations imposed of her, as Alistair Stewart’s new wife.
Video transitions one scene to the next effectively supporting a very minimalist set and prop design. The minimalism of the set design is excellent, as the elements of moving image, moving bodies, and a vigorous musical score are calmed and contrasted by less set.
RNZB has a gift to now share with New Zealand audiences, extending Campion’s film work through an entirely revised re-framing of the work through live performance. Perhaps it would also be interesting to have a female, dramaturgical and choreographic approach to interpreting Campion’s film for New Zealand and international audiences.
If you have not already planned to attend this event, please consider the numerous opportunities to support The Piano: the ballet as the RNZB tour includes: Auckland March 8, 9, 10 (matinee and evening) then Dunedin (16 March), Christchurch (21, 22, 23 March) and Palmerston North (28 March), 2018.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
A compelling story
Review by Summer Aykroyd 06th Mar 2018
The theatre was packed and buzzing on the Friday night premiere as the audience waited in anticipation to see how Jane Campion’s classic New Zealand film, The Piano, had been brought to life as a full -ength ballet. The premiere was held at the St James, home of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and shown in association with the New Zealand Arts Festival.
The choreography is by Jiří Bubeníček, set and design by Otto Bubeníček and Māori consultation by Moss Te Ururangi Patterson. It’s a big season for the company, to perform a brand new ballet and introduce new dancers to their loyal audiences…
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Filmically inspired choreography
Review by Kim Buckley 03rd Mar 2018
Congratulations to The Royal New Zealand Ballet for undertaking such a risky task and for giving the opportunity to re-create Jane Campion’s pioneer masterpiece The Piano for stage, in balletic form, to Polish choreographer Jiri Bubenicek, with design and arrangement by twin brother Otto. Original costume design is by Elsa Pavanel with lighting design by Jeremy Fern. Moss Patterson has collaborated with The Company as Maori Advisor. This version of the work was has been redeveloped from a one-act version for Ballet Dortmund in February 2014 with Arsen Mehrabyan the character of George Baines, now in the role of Rehearsal Director.
The love story of Ada and George is helped along with clever devices and a simple set. Large moveable screens hold the backdrop of the Wild West Coast Ocean and bush delivering the quiet sensuality that grows into a great passion between them. Sara Garbowski dances Ada McGrath in a convincing portrayal, embodying the choreography and musical motif. William Fitzgerald is George Baines, and brings a quiet longing with his depiction. I really wanted more from the choreography for Alistair Stewart danced by Nathan Mennis. I don’t think there is enough dynamic or punch when he combusts with the jealous rage that ultimately takes Ada’s finger.
The duets between Ada and George, and Ada and Alistair, are delicious, featuring very clear narrative in both relationships. Jiri Bubenicek has a clear aptitude for creating gratifying duets that for this work, embed themselves in the reality of the story told.
Flora is delightfully danced by Bianca Lungu. Felipe Domingos holds the role of The Reverend Campbell. The church pantomime scene seems gratuitous to the story but necessary perhaps to give the rest of the Ballet de Corps something to do.
In his programme notes, Patterson describes the dancers as “…not portraying Maori, but [they are] imbued with something of the spirit of the land.” While I acknowledge that Patterson’s role in this work was invaluable and absolutely necessary, the rendering of what we see on stage feels awkward. Would it not be more appropriate to collaborate with Maori dancers for these roles? There is an obvious future for the company with this in mind.
Overall, I think Jiri Bubenicik has edited the filmic version well, clearly taking the main points to choreograph for his stage version.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
A dance of passion, danger and violence
Review by Ann Hunt 26th Feb 2018
The projected opening image of The Piano: The Ballet is of a roiling sea off the coast of New Zealand. This prescient image encapsulates all the passion, violence and danger inherent in the work.
As the black and white image slowly divides, Ada and her daughter Flora arrive through it by boat, their possessions loaded around them, including her treasured piano. Like a river in flood, the story sweeps us along until the astonishing climax, which is a dramatic tour de force.
All aspects of the production, choreography, performance, music, set, video projections and costume design are in sync, making for an extraordinarily compelling evening at the theatre. [More]
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Chamber ballet enriched by duets
Review by Lyne Pringle 25th Feb 2018
Essentially a chamber piece, with the grandiose symphonic scale coming from the raw natural environment, it was always going to be a challenge to evoke the earthy gothic world of Jane Campion’s masterpiece, The Piano; on stage in balletic form. It is a great privilege for these two European creatives, choreographer Jiří Bubeníček and designer Otto Bubeníček, to be given the opportunity and the resources of the Royal New Zealand Ballet to create their version, The Piano: The Ballet.
Congratulations to the Royal New Zealand Ballet for taking the risk with this work. It is a delicate balancing act to introduce the new and ‘contemporary’ to the audience for this company. An audience that has been built up over the years, largely fed a diet of choreographic works that have either originated over seas or been created by overseas choreographers, including, very occasionally, ex-pats.
Works created that truly reflect New Zealand’s culture have been few and far between. Works that have included Maori culture have been even fewer. It is therefore, potentially, refreshing to see a work that reflects back this country to the viewer. Indeed it reads as strange, because it is such a rarity. In this instance rendered through the lens of the creatives who spent ten days on the tourist route, ‘researching’ in a camper van taking films, visiting the location sites of the movie and then compiling a romanticized video to appear as a backdrop on our national stages as the work tours. In the designer’s words, ‘I would like the audience to see New Zealand with fresh eyes’.
All of that has to be put aside if one is to come to the work with an openness to being transported and offered new insights into the story.
There are many clever devices in the telling of what is, in essence, a love story with some complex elements, such as the negotiation around the location of Ada’s beloved piano and her need to be close to it. This sets the scene for the triangle between Ada’s arranged husband Alistair Stewart and her potential lover, George Baines. Each of the characters has a particular choreographic language to assist in the development of their narratives.
Nadia Yanowsky performs the role of Ada McGrath with impeccable intensity and technique. Her acting is totally believable, particularly in a solo of yearning, for Baines.
In her first intimate scene with George Baines, performed by Massimo Margaria, we are introduced to the potentials of their chemistry. At the first touch of the piano, by Ada, Baines launches into a rapturous, airborne, choreographically complex solo which seems at odds with the positioning of his character in the story as an earthy, taciturn man deeply connected to the power of the land. The tension between these characters requires a slower build. Later scenes between them are more engaging with simpler movement and space in the action. Baines, in his relationship with Maori, invites Ada into a new way of seeing, a new sensuality. This version skims lightly over the surface of such themes.
Loughlan Prior is immediately convincing as the stern repressed Alistair Stewart. He carries this role outstandingly through the work until the inevitable implosion of rage in his dramatic climax. Bianca Lungu as the child brings a poignant innocence into the dark angst of the adult world.
The richest choreography and that which sits well in the ‘world’ of the story comes in the duets. Jiří Bubeníček has a gift for sensuous inventive partnering. Nadia Yanowsky is served well by both Massimo Margaria and Loughlan Prior in the duet sequences. She is thrown, rotated, inverted, caressed and shaken into a breathless state. In these scenes all other components of the production are stripped away to reveal raw human emotion in its glorious intensity. It is deeply satisfying.
As mentioned video plays a large part in setting the scene and this is used cleverly with moveable screens and set pieces. Whilst the design and sets are beautiful, it misses the oppressiveness of the domestic interiors and the bush, rather the stage is expansive in order to accommodate the spatial requirements of ballet. The outstanding costume design by Elsa Pavanel is sumptuous in texture and style.
An impressive amount of music has been sourced for the work; in particular Alfred Schnittke’s compositions bring an emotive intensity to the action on stage. At times the smorgasbord of different composers becomes aurally overwhelming and there could be an argument for a composer to be on board with this production.
The whole section at the end of the first act in the church seems utterly superfluous with its playful fluffy choreography for stock pantomimic characters. Were the Colonials really such buffoons as portrayed with comedic twists, dark shadowplay portending future action and the priest flirting and kissing Nessie and Aunt Morag on the cheeks? It is I suppose the only opportunity to engage the talents of the ‘Pakeha’ corps de ballet and offers ‘light relief’ to a dark story that essentially revolves around four characters. During this scene there is a compelling dramatic tension, if the focus stays with the central characters in their misery whilst the rest of the garish jovial action whirls around them. Perhaps two layers at play here, keeping the punters happy with the dancey bits whilst offering another layer for people looking for something deeper? Generally, there are two poles in the work which the action see-saws between, the comedic and serious drama with no nuance between.
I appreciate how the depiction of Maori is contextualized in the programme notes, but the rendering is uncomfortable. It seems ballet requires we must suspend ethnicity. The Company’s collaboration with former Atamira artistic director and choreographer Moss Patterson is admirable and necessary. He has carefully advised the work and curated a number of traditional music tracks for the soundscape, as well as advising on the incorporation of some traditional Maori movement. But why not take this one step further and collaborate with a company like Atamira for this production? Imagine the power in that!
Kia Kaha to the Royal New Zealand Ballet in their statement of intention that “our art [should uphold] the mana of this land and the partnership values we strive for, as all New Zealanders should . . . We look forward to continuing and strengthening this part of our identity as a New Zealand company, in the future’.
We watch this space with anticipation.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Raewyn Whyte April 3rd, 2018
Jennifer Shennan reviewed the Piano for Radio New Zealand Concert on Upbeat Tues. 27 February 2018. Listen to the podcast at http://www.radionz.co.nz/concert/programmes/upbeat/audio/2018633869/review-rnzb-s-the-piano
Editor February 27th, 2018
Different casts, Julia. If you go to http://rnzb.org.nz/shows/the-piano-the-ballet/#cast and click on each date you will see the relevant listings.
Oh and the RNZB usually provides a free A4 sheet with the casting at each performance.
Julia Rowling February 27th, 2018
Lyne Pringle/Ann Hunt - two completely different cast sets noted. Is one a mistake or were there ttwo different troupes? ImI interested to know which I saw on Friday, as my budget didn't stretch to a programme.
Pianoforte February 26th, 2018
Dear Lyne Pringle, I have to disagree with this: “The whole section at the end of the first act in the church seems utterly superfluous with its playful fluffy choreography for stock pantomimic characters. Were the Colonials really such buffoons as portrayed with comedic twists, dark shadowplay portending future action ...?” This sequence is true to the film, it portrays the means by which such settlers attempted to make their own entertainment – and the “portending future action” is entirely valid, especially as the ineptness of the vicar et al, making light of beheadings, counterpoints the way the 'real action' is done.
Raewyn Whyte April 3rd, 2018
The choreographer and designer talk with Radio New Zealand Concert about making The Piano: the Ballet - listen to the podcast at http://www.radionz.co.nz/concert/programmes/upbeat/audio/2018632714/the-piano-en-pointe
Raewyn Whyte April 3rd, 2018
Theatreview understands that Abigail Boyle's contract with the Royal NZ Ballet has now been extended beyond 31 March 2018.