The Ryman Healthcare season of The Sleeping Beauty

Regent On Broadway, Palmerston North

25/11/2020 - 25/11/2020

Opera House, Wellington

29/10/2020 - 07/11/2020

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

14/11/2020 - 15/11/2020

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

19/11/2020 - 21/11/2020

Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre - Aotea Centre, Auckland

03/12/2020 - 06/12/2020

Civic Theatre, 88 Tay Street, Invercargill, Invercargill

11/11/2020 - 11/11/2020

Municipal Theatre, Napier

28/11/2020 - 29/11/2020

Production Details

Presented by the Royal New Zealand Ballet

Once upon a time, in an enchanted kingdom, a princess was born. Blessed by fairies, Aurora grew into a beautiful young woman, protected by everyone who loved her from the evil beyond the castle walls. On her 16th birthday, Aurora’s world was shattered by the malevolent Carabosse, but, saved from certain death by the kindly Lilac Fairy, she and her kingdom slept for a hundred years, until woken by a brave and handsome prince. Restored to life and health, Aurora and her prince ruled over the kingdom with wisdom and kindness, in a happy golden age of love and beauty.

The Sleeping Beauty is the quintessential classical ballet. The grandest of fairy tales, luxuriating in Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous orchestral score, it spills over with fairies, woodland sprites, handsome princes and, at its heart, an enchanting princess. This new Sleeping Beauty will unfurl like a fragrant summer rose, with all the radiance and joy that any ballet lover, young or old, could wish for.

For Christmas 2020, we are delighted to present a magical new production, with beautiful traditional costumes designed by Donna Jefferis and sets by master designer Howard C Jones, creator of the RNZB’s much-loved production of Giselle.

All the hallmarks of the fairy tale classic will feature, including the iconic Rose Adagio in Act I and a spectacular wedding celebration, with grand pas de deux, in Act III. RNZB Principal Conductor Hamish McKeich will conduct live orchestral accompaniment in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch, with a special recording for all other centres.

Share the joy of a timeless classic with the young and young at heart this Christmas.



Family , Dance , Children’s ,

2 hrs 45 mins

An evening at the ballet

Review by Raewyn Whyte 04th Dec 2020

There is much that could be said about the Royal NZ Ballet’ s presentation of The Sleeping Beauty in a seven week Covid -impacted national tour. Certainly connoisseurs are likely to quibble about issues to do with a strangely unexciting chocolate box set design and overblown, aesthetically incoherent costumes; some narrative choices which failed to move the plot along; the current composition and balance of the company, and the large number of children dancing as members of court. On opening night in Auckland, however, with the Aotea Centre full to the roof and resounding with cheers and applause at the final curtain, even the curmudgeons grudgingly admitted they were glad they had come to the ballet and that the ballet company is to be congratulated on staying the distance in this most difficult of periods.

The Sleeping Beauty weighs in at close to 3 hours when intervals are included – a long time for any audience to remain attentive. One of the big old story ballets in the classical repertoire, it is set to a very famous score by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, thrillingly played in Auckland by the APO, conducted with gusto by Hamish McKeich.

The (of course) socially regressive storyline starts with the birth of the much longed for Princess Aurora, an event blessed by good fairies and cursed by a wicked fairy, Carabosse, and subsequently the coming of age of the Princess and her reluctant submission to her father’s requirement that she marry one of a series of Princes arrayed for her to choose from. Subsequently, the curse plays out and she falls asleep, lying at the heart of a deep forest where her body awaits the kiss of a handsome prince who will claim her as his consort and marry her so the court can rejoice.

By far the most impressive aspect of this production is the sustained bravura performance of key performers who we should thank for sticking with the company at a time when they might have packed their bags and fled. Each performs with clarity, precision and assurance throughout the evening.

As The Lilac Fairy, Sara Garbowski is a warm serene presence with steel at her core, always pivotal to the action, keeping a close eye on things when conflict threatens, and intervening bodily when it does. Without her watching eye, Prince Desire would never survive to claim the hand of Princess Aurora, and the court would never get to celebrate their wedding.

The Wicked Carabosse is danced with considerable relish by Kirby Selchow, riding in on her midnight black chariot accompanied by minions and with her consort Morfran (Paul Mathews) who subsequently charms the Princess into accepting his black rose which carries the curse.

Kate Kadow is the epitome of the fairytale Princess Aurora, glowing radiantly with youthful vitality at her coming of age ball, and responding to her suitors with an equal sense of challenge as she sustains her balance in the famous Rose Adagio. Later, in the Wedding scene she comes into her own convincingly, and utterly charms the audience as well as the court.

Laurynas Vejalis is every bit the noble fairytale Prince Desire, self-assured, lyrical, strong in his variations, and an attentive partner to the Princess, especially in the culminating Grand Pas de Deux. He leaves the audience wanting to see more of his dancing in future.

Others of note include Katherine Skelton and Kihiro Kusukami, most impressive in the Wedding interlude Bluebird Variations, good fairy Curiosity, Madeleine Graham; and the ever charming and impeccably rehearsed children who so relished every one of their performances.


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A ballet with lockdown at its centre

Review by Kim Buckley 29th Nov 2020

My Dad gave me my first Brothers Grimm Book. It was Christmas day 1973 and I was seven years old and an avid reader. Dark and macabre, I could not put that book down and read and re-read those fairy-tales for years to come. Little Briar Rose was chillingly good. Reading the programme notes of this 2020 version of RNZB’s production of Sleeping Beauty has taught me that The Brothers Grimm took their inspiration from the original author Charles Perrault (1628-1703).

As a four-year-old, my son received his first fairy-tale book from me. It was the Disney version of The Sleeping Beauty that I found in an Op-shop. One year later his year one class was studying fairy-tales to figure out the morals of humanity. My son chose to be Prince Phillip, Aurora’s love. When asked why he wanted to be Prince Phillip, he replied “Because he has a talking horse, and he gets to fight the dragon!”

This 2020 production of Sleeping Beauty does not have the talking horse or the dragon, but it is closer to the original Perrault version than either of these two versions that I have mentioned. And it is only the first half of the original story, another learning for me from the programme notes.

Truly inspiring is the dedication that the RNZB have shown to get back on stage in this COVID-19 era. Beyond the boundaries of normal workload, Artistic Director Patricia Barker, once an Aurora herself, has majorly collaborated to pull this together and make it happen for both us and them, both a tad desperate for live performance. And not just any ballet, this is only the fourth staging of Sleeping Beauty by the RNZB in its 65-year history. Fitting that Sleeping Beauty is chosen with the Princess Lilac putting everyone to sleep… a little like a lockdown. Even today, we can find similarities with a fairy-tale written more than three centuries ago. Go deeper if you want, I am going to stop there.

Marius Petipa’s original choreography was crafted to ‘combine the strength and virtuosity of the Italian dancers’ that originally performed the work. Consequently, the choreography has a virtuosity that when truly embodied, is breathtaking. It is said that the first Aurora, Carlotta Brianza, was ‘likened to that of a young panther’ and she was noted ‘for her lightness and virtuosity’. I would propose Kate Kadow can compare and is quite frankly sublime as Aurora. Another stand out performance is Kihiro Kusukami as The Bluebird. Fascinating to watch him dance this role. My plus one tonight is of course my son. He dances, and his eyes are glued to Kihiro. Everyone loves the bad guy and Allister Madin as Morfran is distinct. Entirely strength and flow.

Costume design by Donna Jefferis depicts the four stages of this story journey with seasonal colours and she has fun with the 100 years later design. Red tulle bustles really are exquisite. Jefferis gives credit to her workroom team which I love to read. To top it off, the King and Queen have lovely bling. The wigs are extraordinary thanks to Amy McLennan. Scenic designer Howard Jones delights us with moveable dark forest that with perceptive lighting from Randall G Chiarelli and Jeremy Fern.

Who doesn’t love a good fairy-tale?

Merry Christmas Royal New Zealand Ballet. Let’s cross our fingers for a Happy New Year.


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True love, and a vision of better times ahead

Review by Tania Kopytko 27th Nov 2020

Heartiest congratulations to the Royal New Zealand Ballet for achieving this massive New Zealand tour of The Sleeping Beauty and for giving us a grand performance in Palmerston North. The Christmas tree was up in the beautiful foyer, the theatre was packed full of excited youngsters and audience of all ages, all looking for the thrill, fantasy, beauty and escapism of the ballet after such a year.

Staging one of the top three most well-known and most difficult large scale ballets is not easy and to do it after the tribulations of a Covid lockdown year, is perhaps biting off too much of the cake, but the RNZB achieved it. The well-attended pre-performance talk gave us some insights into the enormous struggle they have faced. Two performance seasons were cut due to the lockdown restrictions and The Sleeping Beauty work started with dancers training individually at home and some dance learning achieved via Zoom. When lockdown restrictions allowed them into the studios, the two metre restrictions caused them to work in shifts, so distancing could be maintained. The intended choreographer, Australian born Danielle Rowe, was not able to travel to New Zealand.  Her concept was used, but the ballet was staged by the company’s Artistic Director Patricia Barker, assisted by her team of Ballet Masters: Clytie Campbell, Laura McQueen Schultz and Nick Schultz.

In the fairy tale, they saw the clash between good and evil but also “true love, and a vision of better times ahead”. With that vision and using all the resources at hand, they forged ahead. They had to build a team from within the country and with the resources at hand, in order to bring this project, in all its intricacies and complications, to life. Thus we have a new Sleeping Beauty, that emerged from the Covid fear, gloom and darkness, into this new and strange world. It is a Sleeping Beauty that might disappoint the purists, and which does have some anomalies, but for the majority of the audience at the Regent Theatre the RNZB presented a grand and entertaining evening, with plenty of audience gasps and “oohs and ahs”.

The ballet was arranged as chapters in a fairy-tale book, with the core theme of the chapter written on the beautiful blue-hued curtain designed by Howard C Hughes. When it lifted it revealed pale columns adorned with twisting roses, plus rich chandeliers. Thus the scene was set for the baby Aurora’s christening. The scene and the dance was light and bright. This was not a traditional grand version, set in a particular period. With some echoes of the bright off-beat style used in Hansel and Gretel, the male and female courtiers were in bright pink, with the women wearing large flouncy tuille skirts and high wigs in natural colours rather than, as in many traditional versions, the pale wigs and elaborately embroidered costumes. The males wore flouncy pink capes. The King, Nicholas Schultz, and the Queen, Clytie Campbell, looked suitably regal in more traditional dress.  Enter the fairies, light and airy, with Ana Gallardo-Lobaina as Generosity, Lara Flannery as Honesty, Caroline Wiley as Serenity, Candence Barrack as Joy, Madeleine Graham as Curiosity, and Maggie Bryan as Clarity. Each of the fairies performed their roles with the appropriate varied temperament and technique, light of foot and joyous. Their Cavaliers were suitably elegant and gallant.

The Lilac Fairy, Sara Gabowski, was most assured in her performance with an air of assertiveness in her gracious style. Kirby Selchow played a vain, and equally assertive, Carabosse, with her attendant creepy, menacing minions, plus Paul Mathews as an attendant, Morfran, who has a special role to play later. We are assured of a good and strong battle between good and evil. But this version of The Sleeping Beauty is not the usual version of the story. Once again purists might grumble, but one must also acknowledge that with all fairy tales the story changes with the teller and there are infinite variations on the theme.

The fairies costumes also deviated from the traditional norm, with the six fairies in rather modern tutus; their bodices showing an asymmetrical design and only a splash of their fairy colour, but they had the little gossamer wings at the back, as true fairies do.  The Lilac Fairy, by contrast, wore a beautiful, more traditional lilac tutu, with intricate embroidery on the bodice and top layer of the skirt. Caraboose’s black tutu resembled the Hansel and Gretel witch in style, a different style again. The costume design is by Donna Jefferis, Head of Costume at Toi Whakaari. Some of the costumes were made by the staff and students of costume construction at the school, indicative of the team effort needed for this production.

Despite the difficulty of staging this huge production, the RNZB did not baulk at involving local children as it tours across the country. In all, over 700 children auditioned for the children’s roles for the tour. For the Palmerston North performance about 70 children auditioned from 9 local dance schools, to fill the 22 children’s roles. Our young dancers were beautifully prepared, as light and airy lilac attendants or as energetic, excited court pages. They had plenty to do on stage and that alone must have been a major feat of work and preparation for the ballet company.

Chapter two of the ballet jumps ahead to Princess Aurora’s birthday. Prior to the birthday celebration we have a short piece of drama in the forest, as the potential suitor princes arrive for the ball. In a story variation, the fourth prince arrives late, allowing Carabosse’s minions to kidnap him before he reaches the palace and replace him with Morfran. Thus, it will be Morfran, disguised as the other prince, who will deliver the spindle, disguised as a rose, that will prick Aurora’s finger. This kidnap happened so quickly in the darkened scene, that had it not been explained in the pre-performance talk, I would have missed it, as some audience members did. There are other places in the ballet where pieces of drama are very quick, such as when Aurora pricks her finger while also facing slightly away from the audience and, later, Aurora wakes very rapidly from her hundred year sleep. For such significant dramatic parts of the story, these moments seemed rushed.

Kate Kadow played Aurora with a delicate, confidant, youthful style. Her suitors, Edward Smith, Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Joseph Skelton and Paul Mathews, all dressed in quite differing costume style and colour, performed suitably regally. Kadow convincingly played the innocent, youthful princess, timid in choosing her suitor.  However technically, on the fourth repeat of both of the famous difficult technical phrases, which need balance and slow turns on pointe, she faltered.

Chapter three is the hunt picnic where, at last, we see Prince Désiré. From the moment Laurynas Vėjalis enters the stage he is the consummate prince. He is gracious, courtly, regal, with impeccable technique and has the ability to make the slow dramatic and mime sequences believable. Led by the Lilac Fairy he finds Aurora asleep and in a courtly manner kisses her hand. Aurora springs to life rather rapidly and strangely rushes past her prince to her father and mother. However love soon prevails.

Chapter four is the famous wedding scene, set largely in white costumes. The White Cat and Puss in Boots, Leonora Voigtlander and Luke Cooper, play a cute game of “don’t touch or I will scratch you”, which the children in the audience enjoy. Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Georgia Baxter and Edward Smith, also perform engagingly, while Princess Florine and the Bluebird, danced by Katherine Skelton and Kihiro Kusukami, are electric. In a violent blue tutu Skelton lights up the stage with her vitality and surety. Kusukami displays his excellent elevation. His costume seems somewhat dark and subdued for the Bluebird. The scene finishes with the beautiful solos and pas de deux work The Sleeping Beauty is famous for. Vėjalis’s princely performance and technical ability shines and the series of lifts, catches and dives in their final pas de deux at the end are perfect.

It is a miracle that the Royal New Zealand Ballet were able to produce this two hour and forty-five minute complex production and that they are achieving an eight centre national tour lasting from 29 October to 12 December. Congratulations for rising to multiple challenges and giving us dance, fantasy and joy before Christmas. May the rest of your tour bring you joy and success.


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Not quite the ideal Sleeping Beauty

Review by Dr Ian Lochhead 20th Nov 2020

The enduring power of fairy tales derives less from their ability to take us into a fantasy world where we can forget reality but rather from their capacity to connect us to the fundamental realities of life; the on-going conflict between good and evil, the immemorial cycle of life, death and renewal and the transforming power of love.  These themes are at the heart of Charles Perrault’s La belle au bois dormant and are central to the ballet that Petipa and Tchaikovsky based on his tale, first staged in St Petersburg in 1892.  In the almost 130 years since then, it has become a central work in the balletic cannon and has been repeatedly staged at significant moments in time.  It was the work chosen to reopen the Royal Opera House in London after World War Two and following the demise of the Soviet Union the Mariinsky Theatre in the renamed St Petersburg, somewhat provocatively recreated the theatre’s original production.  The Sleeping Beauty is a ballet charged with more than the usual freight of meaning.

When it scheduled its new production of the ballet more than a year ago the Royal New Zealand Ballet could not have possibly known that it would eventually reach the stage towards the end of a year that has fundamentally changed lives around the globe.  That it is the right ballet for this moment in time is pure serendipity. For Christchurch audiences, however, The Sleeping Beauty has already gained an association with cataclysmic events, since the RNZB’s previous production dates from 2011 when the city was still reeling from the earthquake of February that year.   The Aurora’s Wedding act from that production was performed on a temporary stage in the Addington Arena, providing welcome relief from the all-too-pressing realities of daily life.

A new production of The Sleeping Beauty is a major event in the life of any ballet company and particularly so in the difficult circumstances of the present time.  That the production reached the stage at all and that a packed audience could bask in the sounds of Tchaikovsky’s miraculous score played by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and watch dancers performing live is little short of miraculous when theatres all around the world are currently dark or offering performances for on-line audiences. It would have been easy to have decided that cancellation or postponement was a safer course but the company’s perseverance is a cause for congratulation.

Artistic director Patricia Barker’s staging is largely traditional, with a few new twists to the well-known story.  Her concept has been developed around the notion of a child’s storybook and the work is broken into ‘chapters’ rather than ‘acts, with verse texts projected onto the drop curtain as the drama unfolds.  Howard Jones’s set continues this theme with a cardboard cut out look that evokes once common children’s pop-up books that opened up to form a series of stage tableaux.  It is serviceable but lacks the sumptuousness ideally required for a ballet set in a royal court. Donna Jefferis’s costumes, however, lack a unifying aesthetic and fail to suggest a clear sense of time and place, something that is essential in this ballet in which the audience needs to recognise the passing of a century during the course of the evening.  Dressing the ladies and gentlemen of the court in pink is also misconceived since, although this may be the Court of the Rose, this is quintessentially the colour of Princess Aurora.  By splashing it about so liberally it inevitably diminishes the impact of Aurora’s presence.  The lurid colour contrasts on the costumes of the six Fairy Godmothers are clearly intended to identify their differing qualities but they only add to the colouristic confusion.  More successful are the elegant hunting dresses and hats for the ladies of the hunting party in ‘Chapter Three’.

The Christening of Aurora in ‘Chapter One’ is brought to life by the arrival of Kirby Selchow’s malevolent Carabosse and her attendants.  She is also accompanied by her accomplice, Morfran who, in the prologue to ‘Chapter Two’, is transformed into one of Aurora’s suitors.  In this production it is Morfran rather than the disguised Carabosse who hands Aurora the spindle on which she pricks her finger, initiating the spell that puts the entire court to sleep for 100 years.  In Petipa’s choreography the vision scene, in which the Lilac Fairly reveals Aurora to Prince Désiré, was the ‘white act’ that was an essential part of every full-length ballet in imperial St Petersburg.  In Barker’s ‘Chapter Three’ this is cut to the bare bones required by the narrative.  As the Prince makes his way through the forest he has to overcome the forces of darkness represented by Carabosse and her minions but it is somewhat gratuitous to send the vanquished fairy off stage impaled on Désiré’s sword.  Evil may be overcome for the moment but it has not been eradicated from the world.

One of the distinguishing qualities of The Sleeping Beauty is the way Tchaikovsky’s score drives the action forward rather than simply accompanying events on stage as lesser composers tend to do.  It is thus surprising to find that one of the supreme moments of frissonne in the ballet, when the Prince awakens Aurora with the kiss that brings the whole court back to life, counts for so little.  Instead of finding the inhabitants of the palace embalmed in sleep, Désiré is welcomed by the king and queen, whose permission he asks to approach their daughter.  She is brought back to life with a decorous kiss, on the hand! 

We are on safer ground with the wedding festivities of ‘Chapter Four’, culminating in a glittering apotheosis.  As Aurora, Katherine Skelton is a convincing 16-year old in the Rose Adagio of ‘Chapter Two’, secure in technique and growing in confidence as she interacts with her four suitors.  In the final pas de deux she is a radiant and assured bride.  Joshua Guillemont-Rodgerson, an elegant and accomplished Prince Désiré, received an enthusiastic welcome from his home-town audience.  He is a guest artist for this RNZB season having temporarily returned to New Zealand from the United States where he has been dancing with the Houston Ballet.  After many months off stage it is a relief to see the Royal New Zealand Ballet performing once again, even if this is not the ideal Sleeping Beauty we might have hoped for.


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Fantasy enables escape from Covid

Review by Kerri Fitzgerald 20th Nov 2020

It is 2020, and a COVID cloak of darkness has been tossed over the earth, threatening our known ways of existence. We wait (hopefully not for 100 years), for the magical kiss of a vaccine to bring us out into the light. Fortunately for us, as we wait (in New Zealand), we are able to escape into the sumptuous world of live ballet. The Sleeping Beauty, like many fairy tales, encapsulates the struggle of good versus evil and can be interpreted in many ways. First produced in 1890, the RNZB’s  production of this ‘ultimate’ romantic ballet has been three years in the making and is one of their biggest productions to date: 64 dancers, 22 local children on stage, and 9 creatives collaborate to produce the splendour.  All stops have been pulled out to ensure that audiences across Aotearoa /New Zealand can experience the buzz of the ballet, escape into a world of fantasy, and emerge from the theatre uplifted and smiling.

As the live orchestra warms up in the beautifully restored Isaac Theatre Royal, the excitement and anticipation are palpable. Tchaikovsky’s long time collaborator, choreographer Marius Petipa, wrote a detailed list of requirements for the musical score which is considered a masterpiece in its own right. The CSO under the baton of  Hamish McKeich delivers with characteristic assurance. The  impeccable timing between the orchestra and the dancers led this reviewer to muse over the many interruptions and uncertainties that artists have had to endure as COVID alert levels fluctuated. 

This whole production is a triumph: the directors held onto their vision, the dancers kept on training, the musicians kept on practising, and the production team continued to plan and create – all in spite of the conditions. A palette of pastels and mountains of tulle-based costumes create charming, delicate visuals and a facade with storybook chapter introductions digitally projected enhances the illusion of the fairytale world.  A realistic and moveable set effectively surrounds the action; the forest scene is a highlight with its spooky technical effects backgrounding our Prince as he slashes his way to Aurora, dashingly dispensing with all things evil on the way.  

Petipa’s choreography is technically demanding, well loved, and offers a lovely range of solos. The Fairies are a delicate dream; uniformly elegant and they each perform their solos with nuance.  The Lilac Fairy (Ana Gallardo Lobaina) dances warmly and serenely, providing guidance and solace throughout the dark days. Carabosse and her associates are a devilish pile of malevolence with their dark costuming adding a steampunk -like quality. The popular Bluebird pas de deux at the Wedding  is especially beautiful (Laurynas Vejalis and Kate Kadow) whilst young viewers adore the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood. We are all waiting for the Rose Adagio … and Aurora (Katherine Skelton) dances with delight, toying demurely with her four suitors. Her intensity of concentration in this pas de cinq adds to her youthful beguile and contrasts with the calm control she later demonstrates in the Grand Pas de Deux. Her Prince (Joshua Guillemot- Rodgerson) captures the bravura of the classical dancer. He is a dependable, attentive partner, and exhibits fluid control in his turns and landings. When he communicates his true love to the King and Queen, he is rapidly directed to the sleeping maiden. “Sold” piped up a voice in the row behind. He wakens Aurora with a chaste kiss on the hand.  

Being woken by a kiss from a stranger (an intruder!) is now totally frowned upon. There are many aberrations in fairy tales  to put our 21st Century minds around. In one version of this fairy tale, the prince is already married! But all thing considered, this fairytale is here to stay and will surely provoke many worthwhile discussions about women’s rights. 

The Sleeping Beauty brings us the message that everything is going to be all right again, everything will be restored, and goodness will win out. Despite the subliminal messages regarding the passivity of women, an evening at the ballet is just the tonic we need.  It is indeed a privilege to see this elegantly staged touring production at a time when most of the world’s arts’ companies are shut down. Bravo RNZB!


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Fizzing with anticipation....

Review by Hannah Molloy 17th Nov 2020

I don’t think it can be said often enough or loudly enough, the privilege of living in a country where we can sit in an almost full auditorium to watch live performing arts is immeasurable. And to be in a crowd of hundreds of people of all ages who are fizzing with the pleasure and anticipation of seeing the Royal New Zealand Ballet for the first time this year is also a privilege.

Swarms of smallish girls and their (mostly) female grown-ups poured into the Regent, chattering and laughing, vibrating with delight at the treat ahead.

Instead of the Regent’s gloriously rich red waterfall curtain, there was a Regency-style curtain, painted pretty pastel blues with matte golden tassels but with little texture or dimension, and I became curious as to the direction this performance was going to take.

It’s difficult to write a frank review while factoring in the range of obstacles the company has overcome to get Sleeping Beauty on the road and on stage – Covid has messed with scheduling, ticketing, rehearsals, every part of putting a production together and this was apparent in this performance. The dancers were tentative, cautious and their expressions seemed strained and a little watchful. There was tension in necks and hands, and sidelong glances, as though they were checking where their colleagues were and what they were doing.

It’s a very technical choreography and they performed it well, but somehow it felt rote, as though in a classroom or rehearsal studio. I didn’t feel the joy of a new baby, or the grief of a daughter’s passing, or the renewed joy of her wedding. It felt like I was watching a performance in slow motion.

At the risk of sounding snobbish, the show felt visually cheap (perhaps a result of the strain on arts funding, also due to Covid…). The costume fabrics didn’t have their usual luxe textures and colours ,and the design was busy and overthought. It was difficult to place the story in a time period, deliberate perhaps but also confusing when the costumes seemed to range all over the place – beehive hairdos that could have been Regency or 1960s, bustles from the Victorian era, steampunk leather from a dystopian future… There were a couple of small wardrobe malfunctions and the end of a ribbon protruding from a shoe, speaking to hurry and a lack of attention to detail.

The set was basic, flat in every sense of the word, with pretty pastels and florals but the columns looked flat rather than round and, from our seats only slightly left of centre, we could see the blacks at the back of the stage – the flats only needed to be about 20cm wider and they would have been hidden. Placing the king and queen on a raised platform disconnected them from the narrative as they became another static part of the scenery. The music often stopped abruptly as though the audio file had been cut a quarter of a second too soon, before starting again just as abruptly.

There were of course exceptions. The large cast of children were well drilled and clearly delighted to be on stage – and they were funny! Apprentice Maggie Bryan who danced the Fairy of Serenity, was lovely to watch, her face relaxed and expressive and her movement graceful. Serene indeed.

Carabosse was delightfully wicked by Caroline Wiley. She had sass and seemed like a 21st century anti-heroine, a woman not to be ignored or dismissed by foolish men but who can’t stop herself choosing revenge. Her entries were dramatic and fun and she moved with snap. Her wily imps were also a highlight and Allister Madin who performed Morfran was appropriately and expressively arrogant and obnoxious. I felt these characters.

But the moments that reminded me I was “at the ballet” were those when Katherine Skelton and Kihiro Kusukami were on stage. They were truly remarkable – I strained but I couldn’t hear Kusukami land even one of his meticulous leaps and Skelton looked composed and effortless, her hands beautifully and elegantly mobile without a sign of tension. I could have watched them both, together and separately, for hours.

All of that said, is it time to rethink these old classics, to frame them in a 21st century contextis it possible to think outside the heteronormative and often pretty sexist storylines? Perhaps Prince Desire could be Princess Desiree, or the king and queen could both be kings? Small adjustments to reflect our society and our world and to make our marginalised people feel like the ballet can be for and about them as well.

Aurora is offered to four men she’d never met, asked to parade in front of them and told she must choose one to marry. She is woken by a kiss permitted by her father but unable to give her own consent. The White Cat has to fend off repeated advances from Puss in Boots, presented as comedy – “just jokes love, come on”. I looked at all the little girls around me and wondered how we’re supposed to advance the change to our societal narrative around bodily autonomy and active consent, and build their sense of ownership of self when we present them with these stories as delicious treats.

The ballet IS a delicious treat and will always be. The 2021 programme looks stunning and, as I’m sure is true of the rest of the team of five million, my fingers are crossed that life continues in this new normal of caution and care so the dancers can regain their poise and feel comfortable and safe on tour, and the audience can experience the heady delight of watching our elite dancers at the top of their game.



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Dancing with aplomb

Review by Jennifer Shennan 11th Nov 2020

The Sleeping Beauty is a major undertaking for any ballet company, demanding high technical skills from a large cast of soloists. Those we saw perform on opening night were all equal to the challenges and danced with much aplomb, carried by the quality of the Tchaikovsky composition, a masterpiece of instrumental wonder, with Hamish McKeich conducting Orchestra Wellington. My seat allowed a view into the orchestra pit which was an extra thrill since there’s a whole other ‘ballet’ of tension, movement, drama and passion going on there.


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A palpable sense of occasion

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 30th Oct 2020

A packed auditorium and a palpable sense of occasion as we all realise how special a full-length production in a theatre with an audience is going to be!

As the house lights dim, the well-known and magical Tchaikovsky score begins under the baton of Hamish McKeich with The Wellington Orchestra in the pit. Perfect!

A technical hitch meant it all stopped… and started again back at the top!

A good decision.

Costuming and design were realised by Donna Jeffries and Howard C.  Jones.  The Courtiers were somehow ‘ larger than life’ and overblown detailing of sleeves skirts and neck ruffs were rather overwhelming.  I searched for a clear  context and for texture and  subtlety as the Christening guests all arrived in the same outfits reminiscent of an 80’s rock band. Bouffant wigs harked back to the 60’s and Mary Quant, and the nurses seemed to have come from post WW2 Karitane. Confusing, but we were there for the dancing and for the very traditionally tutued fairies who delivered their requisite gifts and very famous variations pretty much as originally choreographed by Marius Petipa.

This is a story book ballet with a very famous story – it is always tricky to mess with fairytales, especially this touchstone ballet and very time-tested story. There were comments aplenty in the intervals about the missing spindle and the lack of the kiss – it is all about disbelief.

Prince Desire (Laurynas Vejalis) and the Princess Aurora (Kate Kadow) were a perfectly cast  fairytale couple and both provided us with stand-out dancing, but eye contact and passion were needed to really bring us to our feet. My guest was very concerned at the speed with which Aurora woke up (maybe 2 bars of music?) after 100 years? Also details, such as the Court reappearing at the 16th birthday in the same costumes they were wearing at the Christening. That said – this is a magic story and magic can, of course, explain all. The audience was happy to be there and they were treated to a great night at the ballet complete with a spooky Halloween  forest, projected vines, Aurora Borealis lighting effects for the feisty  Lilac Fairy (Sara Garbowski), and green fire bursts across the stage for Carabosse (Kirby Selchow.)

All the soloists were strong and technically secure, and Patricia Barker’s choreography and staging were in safe hands. The Rose Adagio – always a dance-lover’s  delight, was assured, and the role of Aurora, danced by Kate Kadow, was a delight all the way.  Her Cavaliers were strong and making one of these four actually part of the evil Carabosse’s entourage gave Paul Mathews a chance to shine.

Act3 is often danced independently from the full ballet and it is easy to understand this. The Cats, danced by Leonora Voigtlander and Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson were crisp and amusing and the cameo BlueBirds, danced by Katherine Minor and Akihito Kusukami, totally delivered on the wow factor both technically and in their projection.

Local children were a delight and had lots to do throughout the nearly 3-hour long production. The little Lilac attendants danced particularly well and the pages were fun.

There was opening night tension apparent, so as this production settles and tours I expect everyone will relax and dance for the audience and, even more importantly, for each other.

How special for each and every dancer to be actually onstage.

Congratulations to the production team – this is a huge undertaking and must have presented many rehearsal challenges – particularly this year.  I applaud that the traditional variations were honoured and many in the very ballet-wise audience really appreciated seeing these variations danced well.

And after all the postponements, it is wonderful to know that on the same night as this opening, The NZ Opera opened in Auckland and Footnote NZ Dance were in Tauranga. We are lucky and 2020 has truly made us aware of significance of the arts as central to our lives.

Take care and keep dancing. Support our dancers when they travel to a place near you!

Thank you.



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