The Wedding

Westpac St James, Wellington

22/03/2006 - 26/03/2006

Production Details

original concept and narrative by Witi Ihimaera
choreographed by Mark Baldwin to an original orchestral score by Gareth Farr

Royal New Zealand Ballet Company

Angie and Brad are love’s young dream. With their movie-star good looks and impending nuptials, the couple are the toast of Auckland society. The big day draws closer and Angie begins to doubt her all-American fiancé is the marrying kind. When Charles shambles his way back into her life, she finds herself caught in a hopeless love triangle. As her suitors square off, Angie is forced to choose between her head and her heart.

Master of Ceremonies Witi Ihimaera has created a madcap take on modern romance. From rugby clubroom to inner-city nightclub, hotel reception to church, The Wedding is a distinctly homegrown love story. The major commission of 2006 reunites the acclaimed creative team – choreographer Mark Baldwin, designer Tracy Grant and lighting designer John Rayment – that gave the Royal New Zealand Ballet its groundbreaking ballet FrENZy. Combining pure classical technique with a contemporary edge, The Wedding is set to the Gareth Farr’s sparkling new score. It’s a marriage made in heaven.

Regent on Broadway, Palmerston North, 30 March – 1 April
Municipal Theatre, Napier, 6 – 8 April

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marc Taddei

choreographer Mark Baldwin
designer Tracy Grant
lighting designer John Rayment

Chantelle Kerr
Qi Huan
Michael Braun
Clytie Campbell
Hana Tipa
Vivencio Samblaceno Jr

Musical , Dance , Dance-theatre ,

Eye candy

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 29th Mar 2006

IN the effort to deliver a Kiwi original that will please everyone a storyline that began with Witi Ihimaera has been simplified to the point of non-existence.

There are no really developed characters or complexities to the plot and a sense of caricature is never far from the surface.

Sugar coated eye candy all the way through. Tracy Grant’s designs interpret the superficial chocolate box look of the production perfectly and there were some lovely touches with the mosaic frieze that surrounded the proscenium and the hearts that set the scene among the most beautiful.

The dancers were at their sparkling best with good energies and clear technical control but they had little to do that really challenged their skills. Much of Marc Baldwin’s choreography was repetitive and seemed to be too closely derivative of traditional classical repertoire. That said, the duet between two of the groom’s friends the night before the wedding stood out as not only choreographically interesting but also sensitively interpreted.

There were satisfying sections, the men’s shower line and three stereotyped and comical airhostesses from (I hope) a bygone era; Chantelle Kerr as the bride had the lightness and fragility required; Qi Huan as the groom turned and leapt with excellent precision although his movements seemed often disconnected from the music.

Michael Braun as the other man finally got to dance in a saccharine-sweet pas de deux with Kerr but it was too little and too late – his character lacked the dramatic tension that could have made his role more interesting.

Gareth Farr’s score was the real success of the evening, great music with hints of near plagiarism and lyrical waltzes that carried the ballet forward well. The NZSO conducted by Marc Taddei played with the right sense of accompaniment to the action but there seemed a curious sense of detachment between the dance and the music at times as though down in the orchestral pit the musicians knew this was a wedding that was never going to work out the way it should!

It was a fun night at the ballet and the audience loved it but I felt the potential seemed unrealised and the genre more suited to musical theatre. Where were the tap dancers? There were strippers, a stag night, dressmaking dilemmas, rugby players and plenty of beautiful people all in matching outfits, arabesques aplenty but just not enough rigour in the content and no engaging of the audience’s intellect. A pity as the company looks great and ballet as an art form deserved better


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Doubt doesn't do it

Review by John Smythe 23rd Mar 2006

Promoted as Witi Ihimaera’s The Wedding, this much anticipated Royal New Zealand Ballet Company commission has generated great expectations. We are promised a contemporary ballet set in New Zealand "within our passionate postmodern, postcolonial and multicultural times," as Ihimaera puts it in his programme note. He also describes it as "a metaphor of New Zealand as a squabbling family who live on the Pacific Rim." And his primary intention is "to ensure the audience has a really good time."

Choreographer Marc Baldwin reinforces the intention to "make this a popular work; its central themes – doubt, love, marriage, civil partnerships – are universal." He also talks about mixing the styles of contemporary dance ("which drives the torso"), classical ballet ("provides placement of the arms and legs, and the punch, away from the floor") and Pacific dance ("pushing the weight down, leaving the hips loose"). And he invokes commedia dell’arte, misrepresenting it as an "over-the-top … kind of stylised acting" but neglecting to mention it is firmly rooted in emotional truth, which is fundamental to creating universal and popular performance works.

The dancing – to Gareth Farr’s alternately languid, excited, wistful, robust and romantic score, superbly rendered by the NZSO under the baton of Marc Taddei – is impeccable. From principals through featured roles and cameos to the corps de ballet, in solos, duos, small groups or the whole ensemble, they do all that is asked of them with style, grace and flair. But does this ask enough of them? When I don’t find myself saying, "Wasn’t that a fun show!" – which Ihimaera aimed to ensure we’d all do – I have to ask why. Why was I not sufficiently engaged, let alone moved, by the story?

It opens with the wedding preparations. Angie, the bride (Chantelle Kerr), Awhina, her mother (Clytie Campbell), her Aunty May (Hana Tipa) and four Bridesmaids flutter around with frock fabric and frills while Mario, her father (Vivencio Samblaceno Jr), provides some level of passion by sending gift boxes flying down a long table. Later I realise they must have been shopping boxes and he is upset at what it’s all costing them. But that’s not a big-stakes issue because Tracey Grant’s ultra-modern shiny veneer sets and the high fashion costumes throughout make it clear we’re getting a privileged look at a mega-rich family lifestyle.

If there was squabbling, by the way, I missed it. What drives the story forward is doubt, which is not what I’d call a passion. The guy delivering flowers turns out to be Charles (Michael Braun), who Angie knows from way back (the programme explains he was her high-school sweetheart) and there is clearly still a spark. But Angie’s all set to marry Brad (Qi Huan), who is quickly established as an openly philandering bastard stuck in some retro 1960s male fantasy where a recurring quintet of dolly-birds exhibit the sort of plasticised lust we see in Hugh Hefner publicity shots.

Called the Temptations in the programme, they are variously reincarnated as Rock Chicks (black beehive hairdos, blue mini-dresses, long boots), Club Dancers (feather-festooned Vegas girls) and Flight Attendants (blonde beehives, mini uniforms, long boots – the sweet FAs?). We’re in drag queen territory here. Could it be …?

Brad is also a rugby player and it has to be said the rugby practice and shower sequences – with Jon Trimmer as the whistle-blowing coach – offer exquisite eye-candy and quiet humour, what with blending kapa haka aggression and graceful ballet moves, and toying with male vanities in the showers. And there’s something about the soon-to-be best man, Angus (Craig Lord) … Sublimated gayness is gently hinted at in the male-bonding rituals, not least in the stag night sequence involving the aforementioned Club Dancers who, not being strippers, must surely be performing at a gay club, in drag.

The girls, meanwhile, are having their hen night at a male strip club and one of the strippers turns out to be Charles (who, the programme tells us, is working his way through university). The poignant longing intensifies. With Charles supine and asleep while Angie dances her pining solo, we go to interval wondering if they did it or do they just want to? I’m also thinking the attempts to capture a multi-cultural feel – which is a good call, given the multicultural nature of the company – has, along with the high society setting, led to a rather non-specific cultural blandness, which may or may not be intended.

Brad’s tryst at the airport with the impossibly attentive FAs heralds the arrival of his family – Coral, his mother (Alana Baird), Larry, his father (Eliot Rudolph), his Uncle Alf (Jon Trimmer) and brother Warren (Andrew Simmons) – all bright yellow costumes and luggage. They turn out to be American. Why? So a Stetson-hatted, gum-chewing, cigar-chomping Uncle Alf can get cheap laughs by waddling around all bow-legged and lustful after Aunty May? If this superficial attempt at humour is Baldwin’s idea of commedia dell’arte, he needs to go back to class. Because there is no value gained by contrasting the Texan Yanks with the bland Kiwis, I can’t help musing how it would be if the bridegroom’s family had come from our own deep south, nice and earthy …

The mysterious Gorilla-gram who infiltrates proceedings turns out to be Charles, of course. And Angie’s brief encounter with him is followed, again, by another pas de deux with Brad that reclaims the status quo without advancing the story a jot. Had it wound up the tension, the mostly comic hotel sequence that follows might have earned the right to interrupt the central narrative, as it does. A long line of numbered doors, hinting at farce, successively reveal who’s up who the night before the big day: Brad and a sweet FA, threesomes, foursomes, Alf and May, best man Angus and groom’s brother Warren …

The pas de deux between Angus and Warren, to Farr’s languid strings, produces the biggest applause on opening night (in Wellington). Their love is wistful and heartfelt but not without humour: they want to foxtrot but who leads? The bells at the end suggest a wedding that might have been – or do they signal the round is over?

And so back to the inexorable momentum of the wedding and Angie’s growing despair. Unable to communicate with anyone, she walks, skips and ducks about amid the waves of dancers, all preoccupied with their own concerns. When at last she does get to dance, alone, there’s a sense of not being able to run or fly. But her place is set, as the bride amid the bridesmaids … The wedding proceeds, inexorably, signified by trapping her at the centre of a rolling wheel of bodies.

But she can’t go through with it. Charles appears. Brad challenges him to a fight. Stylised but spectacular. Charles loses but wins Angie; Brad wins but loses Angie. The Angie-Charles pas de deux is soft and romantic, she melts into his arms … Cue big ensemble finale, bells, drum and cymbals.

So what’s missing? First Angie, with whom we are asked to empathise, has no individual identity. Despite protestations that this is a contemporary story, she’s just another princess with no job, no vocation, no purpose in her life other than to find her man and live happily ever after. Second, the story as it stands – or falls – finds no tension where it should. The father’s concerns about money go nowhere – there is not even a dramatic pay-off when all the spending is for nothing – and it’s not offset with any sense that he dotes on his daughter. There is no subterfuge around Brad’s philandering, he shows no remorse, its sole purpose is to make him Mr Wrong, which means there is no dilemma and no contest when it comes to whom she should choose.

Third, and most important, there is no theme at the core from which the story radiates. The opportunity is just not taken to explore love in all its forms – father-mother, father-daughter, mother-daughter, boy-girl, boy-boy, short-term, long-term – by pitting it against such passions as jealously, fear or hatred. Instead we get a trite and largely predictable story that produces no opportunities for dancers to excel because there’s not much to explore and express when the driving force is doubt.

The other thought that won’t go away is that the choreography already favours the men and the gay dimension could have been The Wedding‘s saviour. Isn’t this the story they are skirting around? Something like: The rugby star – a country boy made good in the big smoke, and a prime paparazzi target – is getting married for all the wrong reasons. He is secretly screwing around because he’s in denial that he’s in love with his best man. Besides his bride-to-be is a hot-shot professional destined to inherit her father’s business empire. She’s a great catch. And she’ll be so busy he’ll have plenty of time for visitors … Except her Dad is facing bankruptcy … What I’m pointing to here is high stakes and jeopardy: the stuff that generates passion, drama and true commedia-style comedy. Doubt doesn’t do it.


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