Three By Ekman

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

17/05/2017 - 20/05/2017

ASB Waterfront Theatre, 138 Halsey St, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland

24/05/2017 - 01/06/2017

Municipal Theatre, Napier

04/06/2017 - 04/06/2017

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

09/06/2017 - 10/06/2017

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

15/06/2017 - 16/06/2017

Production Details

Alexander Ekman’s Cacti captivated audiences during the RNZB’s Speed of Light tour in 2016, with the New Zealand Herald hailing its ‘cheeky effervescence, irrepressible energy and beguiling wit.’ New Zealanders now have the opportunity to see Cacti again, together with two additional works by Ekman: Tuplet, created for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and premiered at The Joyce Theater, New York, in 2012; and Episode 31, made for the Senior Graduation Class at The Juilliard School and premiered in New York in 2011. The RNZB is the first company in the world to present these works together.

All three works showcase the hallmarks of Ekman’s style: exuberant and complex rhythms in which the dancers are at one with the music; a deep pleasure in the human interactions of dance; and witty, stylish staging. Tuplet, for just six dancers, is the most intimate of the three works, riffing off the split-second precision of contemporary ballet dancers at the top of their game. Episode 31 is larger in scale, a torrent of youthful vigour harnessing the energy of New York City. Cacti (2010) brings it all together, combining hilarious insights into the dancers’ innermost thoughts with a mesmerising musicality. Once again, the RNZB will be joined by the New Zealand String Quartet onstage for all performances.

Contemporary dance , Dance ,

90 mins

Exploration and adventure

Review by Hannah Molloy 16th Jun 2017

Everything about the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Three by Ekman was unusual, starting with Veronika Maritati’s quiet appearance on stage several long minutes before the house lights went down.

There was a lot of spoken word over and between the music and there were phrases that, for me, epitomised these three works by Alexander Ekman. “A heartbeat as a lifelong symphony” spoke to Tuplet, the first, with its percussive crispness. The dancers looked at times like marionettes and at times like they were opening and teetering on the edge of a void in the stage. It felt strident and rhythmic and moody. Massimo Margaria and Jacob Chown are always compelling to watch, and Alayna Ng’s earthy fluidity was a fantastic counterpoint to Maritati’s sharper shapes and Shih-Huai Liang’s freshness. The part of Tuplet that has stayed with me though was New Zealand School of Dance’s Mali Comlekci’s silhouetted movement. He was crisp and decisive and his hands and arms were remarkable.

Episode 31 is like no ballet I’ve seen. I could have watched it for hours. There was so much to look at as the dancers moved from tableaux to mad, manic movement with moments of stillness as a reprieve from the immaculately structured chaos.

Listening to the dancers and Alexander Ekman talking about their experience of creating this work was another unusual aspect of this programme – I firmly believe audiences appreciate and enjoy those invitations into the inner workings of a performance. The video interludes offered thoughts that would resonate with many people – Ekman commented, for example, that he has to turn off the critical voice in his mind, an oblique reminder perhaps that we could all benefit from being kinder to and more trusting of ourselves and our instincts.

I’ve seen Cacti three times now (or excerpts of it) and it was as fresh and fun this time as it was the first time. I giggled, wondered anxiously if my reviews are as pretentious as the thoughts of the narrator (they’re definitely not as complex or deep!), became immersed in the positive/negative effect of the strobe lighting on the dancers’ bodies and revelled in Laura Saxon Jones’ comical expressions and Alexandre Ferreira’s reciprocal wryness.

Throughout the programme, the dancers looked simply as though they were delighted with the playfulness of the choreography and I felt a mood of exploration and adventure coming from the stage. I thought several times it must be such a wondrous feeling as choreography like this becomes embedded in a dancer’s muscle memory – “from figuring it out to making it feel good”. The fibres must tingle.


Make a comment

Voiceovers, incongruity and the unexpected

Review by Dr Ian Lochhead 11th Jun 2017

A year ago, the Royal New Zealand Ballet performed Alexander Ekman’s witty and provocative Cacti as the final work in its Speed of Light season. Ekman’s signature piece now returns alongside two of the Swedish choreographer’s more recent creations, Tuplet, premiered in New York by Cedar Lake Contemporary Balletin 2012, and Episode 31, made for the Julliard School’s graduation class performance in2011.  As previously seen as part of a triple bill of contrasting works, Cacti was engaging but also baffling. Now, however, Francesco Ventriglia’s bold decision to present a triple bill of Ekman’s work has paid off as together they reveal the on-going themes underpinning his choreography.  As Ekman explains in the short video preceding Cacti, he is preoccupied with the question, “What is dance?” He finds answers in the way bodies respond to their environment whether in rehearsal studios or theatres, or interacting with the urban or the natural environment.  A filmed introduction to Episode 31 captures the RNZB’s dancers in the studio, on the Wellington waterfront and in the Botanic Gardens; Ekman’s message is that dance exists wherever human beings are and he challenges us by asking, “When did you last dance?”

Voiceover commentary is another signature feature of Ekman’s work. In Tuplet a wry voice describes, or is it directs, a lone dancer’s movements; the introductory videos feature the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s dancers commenting on their experience of performing these works, and Ekman himself, on a boat trip to Somes Island in Wellington Harbour, muses on what he will find and how his body will react. Far from being mute performers, dancers in Ekman’s works are expected to employ their vocal chords along with the rest of their bodies. While traditionally dance performance has been all about hiding the physical effort involved, Ekman invites his dancers to shout and puff and pant, but these effects are precisely synchronised as part of the total effect.  Hands slapping on thighs or drumming on the floor are all part of Ekman’s sound vocabulary and contribute to his fascination with the underlying rhythms that propel the dance.  Props are also used throughout the evening, whether they are minimal, such as the mats that create individual performance spaces in Tuplet, or more complex, like the low platforms that function as both mini stages or, when turned on edge, become walls to hide behind in Cacti.  Even the apparently incongruous cactus plants that give the work its name are deftly manipulated for sometimes comic and unsettling effect.  Are these stand-ins for the prickly dance critics that Ekman is pillorying in Cacti?

It is tempting to see these three works, created over as many years but performed in reverse order of composition, as an on-going exploration of the nature of dance and its intersection with everyday life.  This becomes apparent as we enter the theatre since Tuplet is already underway; two screens show close-ups of mouths and torsos with lips and hands in constant motion. Gradually the six dancers enter, moving in response to sounds only they can hear.   As the house lights dim and the performance proper begins, we are drawn into a hypnotic world in which Mikael Karisson’s electronic score and the sounds produced by the dancers are interwoven with the synchronised lighting design of Amith Chandrashaker.  As light sound and movement intersect, it is impossible to tell which medium is reacting to which, until it becomes apparent that they are all interlinked by some hidden force. In a captivating sequence, complex rhythms emerge from a commonplace roll-call, individual dancers responding with signature moves to a seemingly random sequence of verbal and lighting cues.  

Episode 31 brings 25 dancers to the stage in a rapidly unfolding sequence of moves, initially glimpsed as the curtain repeatedly rises and falls, as if brief flashes of the choreographer’s imaginative world are being revealed.  Nothing is quite as it should be; men wear skirts and women moustaches; black socks held in place by suspenders make us question whether the dancers are fully dressed or not. Alex Ferreira and Massimo Margaria perform a duet accompanied, not by music but by a recital of poems by Christina Rossetti, Eleanor Farjeon, Edward Lear and others. While the larger group fills the stage with a frenzy of movement, the lone figure of Laura Saxon Jones glides imperturbably across the stage en pointe, a serene counterpoint that seems to come from another dimension.  When finally the music of Satie’s familiar and haunting Gymnopédie No 1 enters, the mood is immediately undercut by a sign held aloft stating “Beautiful”.  In Ekman’s world, the only thing that can be expected is the unexpected.

The return of Cacti brings the evening to a close with a now familiar work, but the wit and humour of the piece make it well worth a repeat viewing.  The New Zealand String Quartet’s contribution is integral to the performance, the musicians weaving in and out among the dancers as the work unfolds, reminding us that musical performance is also a kind of dance in its own right.

Throughout this demanding programme, the dancers of the Royal New Zealand Ballet meet every challenge that Ekman poses, inhabiting his works as if they own them and revealing that dance can be whatever we say it is.   The voice of the disembodied critic in Cacti keeps asserting that this is the end, although the work refuses to conclude on command.  This, nevertheless, is an end in other ways too, as this sequence of performances marks the end of Francesco Ventriglia’s all too brief tenure as artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, although his production of Romeo and Juliet is still to come in August and September.  Over the last two years, he has challenged the company to explore new territories and exposed local audiences to a rich variety of stimulating dance works. He has made a rewarding contribution to our cultural life for which we must all be grateful. 


Make a comment

Without filter or compromise

Review by Kim Buckley 05th Jun 2017

It is not often I wake up the next morning after a show and have my brain mulling it over all day. But these Three by EKMAN have done exactly that. And after connecting with why, it is because of this… I relate very deeply to Alexander Ekman’s belief that there is no right way to analyse and ‘understand’ art. That everyone can interpret and experience art the way they want. And with this, he seems to boldly create without filter or compromise.

TUPLET is percussion in black and white. A sound bite from different levels of conversational city babble. I am reminded of Trisha Brown’s Accumulation as a single dancer’s perfect silhouette compiles and expands movement in a vigorous and forever refreshing manner. I am swimming in this piece with echo’s of industrial clockwork madness in the order of chaos. There is body percussion, floor percussion, voice percussion in a tapestry of rhythm. A cleverly transitioned resolution synchronises this pieces beginning to co-exist with itself. Everything becomes clear.

EPISODE 31 is again with the black and white. The sock suspenders are delightfully quirky. A suited slow motioned man contracts the perimeter of the stage as the dancers’ landscape becomes increasingly enthusiastic and energetic. A solid still point within this speed is the dancer on black point like the red paint in an impressionist painting drawing the gaze. A woman’s voice is seductive cushioned intimately by the joyous soundscape of jazz and snare. With a ‘Beautiful’ nod to French composer Erik Satie.

CACTI is a divine experience for me. Fascinating, thrilling, rhymical, concentrated and complete. It is this work that has been fermenting in my psyche since the curtain closed on it. Ekman shreds the reviewer with this work. Using the narrative to spread the word. Questioning what is dance and how does one view it. This art is totally owned by everyone who lays eyes on it whether they accept it or not. It is what it is. I love everything about it, the string quartet, the grooving cellist, the cacti, the costumes, the lighting, the exquisite transitions, the white squares, the voiced narrative, the angular and sculptural tableau, the nightmare of grotesque shapes making the stillness even more breathtaking, and The Duet, Oooh The Duet!

Much gratitude to Francesco Ventriglia, Artistic Director of The RNZB, who rightfully understands that New Zealand audiences need to experience more groundbreaking works like this. And oceans of kudos for our dancers. To extend themselves to such a degree is undeniably skilled. 


Make a comment

Ekman hallmarks feature in triple bill

Review by Raewyn Whyte 26th May 2017

Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman is in focus in the Royal NZ Ballet’s latest season.

Just 33 years old, Ekman’s output is prodigious, creating not only ballets but also film, opera and large-scale events; he is much in demand around the world.

The three ballets presented here, TupletEpisode 31 and Cacti, are entertaining pieces without any deep significance. They’re anti-classical in terms of style and genre and with comedic moments to raise chuckles every now and then.

Read the review



Make a comment

Three's a charm

Review by Brigitte Knight 26th May 2017

Three by Ekman is bold programming from the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and an indication of the importance of bringing international works of significance to our national ballet company. A prolific powerhouse in the dance world, Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman’s work is both popular and accessible.

First up, Tuplet; a work for six dancers introducing the audience to Ekman’s choreographic signatures. Dancers use live voice, recorded sound, body percussion and immaculate rhythmic timing to create a soundscape and their own accompaniment. A simplistic colour palette and sophisticated lighting is crucial to the joy and impact of the piece. The dancers open the show subtlety, casually, appearing one at a time onstage a full ten minutes before the house lights go down

Read the review


Make a comment

Triple bill proves playful and entertaining

Review by Chloe Klein 25th May 2017

Three by Ekman, the contemporary triple bill choreographed by Alexander Ekman, presented and performed by the Royal New Zealand Ballet, is a playful and entertaining watch.

The three pieces share thematic and aesthetic similarities. The playful and gestural movements throughout the works, though a stylistic break from the traditional ballet aesthetic, are performed with excellent control, strength and timing. I find myself yearning for groundedness from the dancers, and a quality of freedom that Ekman’s work seems to demand. The characters in each piece are strong: comic, frenzied, cheeky: it’s clear these dancers are enjoying the works.

Dynamic spotlights organise the space in all three works. The rig rises and falls, squashing space and stretching it back out again. Group sections are converted into duets, trios, solos, divisions and back again in a matter of moments, dancers transform from flat silhouettes to full bodies in a phrase. The works innately rely on the lighting to make sense, to add mystery, and wonder.

The opening work Tuplet introduces us to the evening’s thematic motif of rhythm. The dancers slap, move, and click their tongues to their own rhythms, seemingly without pattern, and are gradually meshed concordantly… or we learn to understand and recognise their rhythms. The work is fun and lighthearted, and appeals the satisfaction of randomness being interpreted through order.

Episode 31 is a working state of organised chaos. A solitary performer is juxtaposed to the frenzy, slowly, consistently making his way around the stage edge until he arrives where he started. The curtain itself a performer opens, drops, and reopens to reveal ever-changing mechanisms and flurries of activity. Chorus, solos, duets, and the placing and redistributing of mats happen too quickly to take in. I find myself watching the whole picture, unable to absorb details.

The evening closes with Cacti, a visually appealing and absurd work featuring manicured cacti in white planter boxes, and according to Ekman, “pulsing with subtext.” The dancers are accompanied by the New Zealand String Quartet who provide a variety of sounds – their presence onstage as performers is effective. White-dusted caps and smiling unison give the feel of synchronised swimming. Ivory podium blocks provide a grid for the dancers, the spotlights dictating sub-patterns and focus within the arrangement. As the work progresses, the podium blocks are rearranged to build an asymmetric ivory structure.

Overall the evening is satisfying and enjoyable, well curated and structured. I look forward to more explorations in this movement vocabulary and style from the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet is presenting Three by Ekman at the ASB Waterfront Theatre in Auckland until the 1st of June.


Make a comment

Shadow play, unison sequences and frenetic gestural movement

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 19th May 2017

Three by Ekman is a triple bill by a single choreographer with a movement vocabulary that dismisses the aesthetic and technique of classical ballet and relies on what almost feels rebellious, percussively driven, frenetic, gestural movement

There are clear similarities and connections between the three works which go beyond the movement choices: the dancers are variously constrained by light beams, boxes, and rostra, with only short breaks from self-focussed activity. And in each work, dialogue imposed by external voices asks us to consider an array of issues.

There would be few young people in this country whose classroom experiences in dance and drama have not included exploration of parts of the body to the rhythm of their name, responding to conversations with movement rather than words, and building movement phrases with repeated motifs.  Although used effectively in these works they seem surprisingly unadventurous.

These dancers can dance, and their ensemble control and energy is strong and compelling. I felt that as yet they did not fully engage the torso nor use impetus and weight to drive the choreographic intent of Ekman’s very idiosyncratic technique.

Live theatre and particularly contemporary dance need to engage us, the audience, and this is inconsistently successful.

The opening work, Tuplet starts with shadow play and fades away before our eyes. Lights are used to punctuate the space and to initiate the dancers, however, a controlling voice reminiscent of a fashion shoot constantly shuts them down. The dancers are blank puppets with a slightly scary and robotic delivery of the rhythms which are the subject of the work.

Episode31  is encompassed by a lone random real figure who walks the perimeter of elegant dancers with a cross -gender look, but very tense, restricted polarities as they drive themselves relentlessly to the edge of destruction and collapse. The fundamental need for performers to engage with their audience is more limited in this fast-paced series of unison sequences.

Cacti, the third work, which was seen here in the NZ Festival last year, is the most successful piece. The New Zealand String Quartet are a powerful and very present part of this work and made me long for live voices in the duet to make the sharing of art forms more immediate. Despite having seen aspects of the choreography already in the two previous works, in Cacti the structure and purpose has a clarity, a universal statement to make, and the sections relate well.

Ekman is making a choreographic statement about our times and the world is unquestionably in turmoil. I loved the element of edginess that this contemporary programme gives us.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council