Westpac St James, Wellington

27/07/2006 - 30/07/2006

Production Details

Esquisses : Christopher Hampson
Banderillero: Javier De Frutos
Les Noces: Michael Parmenter


Esquisses (es-kees)
Christopher Hampson’s sweetly subversive homage to the 19th century tutu tradition. French for ‘sketches’, Esquisses is set to Charles- Valentin Alkan’s luminous piano studies. The dancers empty and then fill the stage in a series of solos, pas de deux and ensemble pieces.

Banderillero (ban-dair-ee-air-oh)
Javier De Frutos returns with a hotly anticipated new work, Banderillero. Taking the form of a tryptch, two groups of dancers perform in a special space created on the stage. De Frutos’ work is consistently dramatic, intensely personal and passionate.

Les Noces (lay-noss)
Michael Parmenter’s Les Noces is a vividly theatrical exploration of Igor Stravinsky’s remarkable score. The humour and chaos of a peasant wedding is revealed with sudden leaps back and forth between formality and the unruly wild.

The Work

Overall impression:
Three starkly contrasting works are a smorgasbord of dance – from the languid lines of pure classical ballet in Esquisses to the eclectic and eccentric Banderillero, and the passion and power of Les Noces, there is more than enough for everyone.

Styles of choreography:
Esquisses is fresh, sophisticated, musical, groups, duets, solos, showing the strengths and heritage of ballet and bringing it into the 21st century; Banderillero is metaphoric contemporary dance, quirky, intriguing, fascinating, thought-provoking, creative, visual, and highly engaging, and Les Noces is narrative contemporary dance, earthy, grounded, powerful, strong, intensely musical.

From Stravinsky’s sublime orchestral score for Les Noces, to Charles-Valentin Alkan’s luminous piano studies for Esquisses, and the eclectic Chinese percussion of virtuoso Yim Hok-Man for Banderillero.

Minimal with the traditional black box stage changing for each work using specific lighting states. Banderillero has a space marked within the space of the stage floor; and Les Noces uses a backcloth and 20 identical oak chairs.

Costume design:
Esquisses – jet black tutus with diamonds, and the men in black tights and long sleeve fitted tops with diamond detail.
Banderillero – flesh tones for men and women, free flowing, lyrical and revealing.
In Les Noces the dancers are in couture, the women in red and white and the men in black.

AUCKLAND - Aotea Centre at The Edge
Wed 2 August - Saturday 5 August

CHRISTCHURCH - Isaac Theatre Royal
Wed 9 August - Saturday 12 August

SYDNEY - Sydney Theatre at Walsh Bay
Wed 16 August - Sat 19 August

BRISBANE - Playhouse, QPAC
Wed 23 August - Sat 26 August

MELBOURNE - Arts Centre, State Theatre
Wed 30 August - Monday 11 September

Dance ,

2hrs 10mins, incl. two 20 min intervals

Is showcasing enough?

Review by John Smythe 30th Jul 2006

Trinity proves once more that the Royal New Zealand Ballet is a world-class company of versatile dancers, able to respond with alacrity to any challenge a choreographer offers.

Because the three short contemporary works are very different in style and content, it would appear this programme exists to showcase these skills per se, rather than use them to some greater end, or pursue inter-related themes. It’s as if we are sampling fare at a very eclectic dance market.

Christopher Hampson’s Esquisses wittily plays fast and loose with the classical vocabulary of the 19th century tutu tradition. Against a night blue sky-cloth, to a rhythmical range of piano works by Charles-Valentin Alkan, he employs 19 dancers (11f, 8m – a grand jete from the smaller version that toured with Tutus on Tour) to populate the stage in varying combinations and permutations from solo through pas de deux, trios and quarter to pas de six … 

In costumes designed by Gary Harris, the women wear exquisite jet black tutus frosted at the rim and flecked with silver (each reputed to take three and a half weeks to make) and the men wear dark grey tights and long-sleeved fitted tops. Abiding images include the graceful reaching and arching, and the frisky prancing of ballerinas en pointe; a cheeky solo that cleverly bounces and undulates the tutu (Abigail Boyle); the men carrying ballerinas aloft like window-dressers moving mannequins around the warehouse.

Does it mean anything? Not that I could see. Should it? Not necessarily. It’s poetry in motion and the more conversant you are with the classical vocabulary, the more nuances you will divine.

In Banderillero, Venezuelan-born Javier de Frutos uses a very different language, and the charged rhythms of Chinese percussionist Yim Hok-Man, to explore and evoke the qualities of, and relationship between, the Spanish bull and the teasing banderillero (the bullfighter who taunts and provokes the bull, stabbing coloured darts into its flanks, preparing it for its final encounter with the murderous matador).

Initially (as with the passé doble, made a household term through Dancing With the Stars), the women evoke the bulls and the men the bullfighters. But their moves are not literal or mimetic. They abstract the physical qualities of bull or banderillero in extraordinary ways that refresh and revitalise the vocabulary of modern ballet. At times the roles become conflated, each reflecting the other in sublime symbiosis, until their adversarial separation is defined once more.

Although there is a poignant dance of the dying bull, the climactic dramatic structure of one bullfight is eschewed in favour of recurring patterns of posturing, promenades and dynamic encounters finally suggesting, to me at least, the endless production line that bullfighting finally is beyond the mesmerising moments that make the spectacle so compelling. 

Perhaps moreso than Esquisses, Banderillero challenges the notion that the longer a work is, the more it needs to reveal a structure that validates the journey. The mere fact that a work chooses to start and end when it does, and do whatever it does in between, cannot help but raise the question of why? People who appreciate an ending that resolves all that has gone before, and/or are addicted to finding meaning in things, may feel Banderillero outstays its welcome, while those happy to bask in a timeless ebb and flow of muscular and lyrical physicality could enter a trance-state of bliss.

Michael Parmenter’s Les Noces does, on its own terms, use roles, dramatic conflict and narrative structure to transcend technique and explore a universal dimension of human society: the wedding. Its rich intensity is the diametric opposite of The Wedding with which the RNZB opened this year.

Having danced The Groom in Australia in 1982, and fallen in love with Stravinsky’s insistent rhythms, Parmenter created his own contemporary dance version, Svadebka (Russian for wedding) in 2002, and incorporated it in his Commotion retrospective (2005). Now accepting the RNZB view that Les Noces (French) is the better known title (in classical circles anyway), he has reworked it for this company with thrilling results.

The would-be symmetrical regime of an arranged wedding is set in conflict with the emotions that swirl tumultuously beneath it. As I see it, the reluctant Bride (Alana Baird) and Groom (Michael Braun) begin estranged and find each other on the common ground of their alienation from the machine that compels their future.

The inexorable machine, headed by the Groom’s Father (Geordan Wilcox) and Mother (Clytie Campbell), is chillingly created by the ensemble with bursts of heated passion from the Father of the Bride (Vivencio Samblaceno Jr), the Bride herself and her Mother (Lucy Balfour). The Father’s drunkenness adds to the rich vein of comedy that distinguish this from the more austere versions by other choreographers that span the last 80-odd years.

Most memorable, for me, is the supine couple being held aloft by their respective families and thrown into uprightness, like rigid figurines destined for the wedding cake. When they embrace each other for survival, it may or may not be the beginning of love.

The final image, of the guests lying on their backs in two rows, head-by-head, while the wedded couple walk over them, is puzzling for me – does it denote their victory over the guests or the sacrifice made by one generation for the next? – although I must confess to becoming preoccupied with where exactly the couple were treading and whether the bride, in particular, was about to lose her balance.

Paul Jackson’s lighting for all three works is superb and John Verryt’s large wooden hall backdrop for Les Noces (not unlike an uncarved whare nui in structure) adds to the sense of institutional symmetry.

As for the dance market aspect, the company is clearly capable of honouring a wide range of styles and conventions. For my money I’d prefer them to get on with bringing those skills to more coherent, purposeful and satisfying productions. I suppose there are all sorts of reasons why such programmes as Trinity are necessary and valuable for the company but the many empty seats on the second night (a Friday) – in a freezing cold Westpac St James, by the way – seem to say something about what the audience prefers. Or maybe it was just a mistake to play Wellington in the middle of the Film Festival.


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