Sleeping Beauty (RNZB 2011)

October 30, 2011 at 7:58 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to the second night of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s new production of Sleeping Beauty.

This is a new production, and in his first full-length choreographic work, Craig Horsman has tweaked and shortened the Russian version a little bit. The traditional second and thirds Acts have been combined into one. It becomes clear why the Black Fairy – Carabosse – was not invited: the Chancellor – Catalabutte – deliberately ripped up the invitation. Another innovation was the use of a shadow show to portray the birth of Princess Aurora. And for good measure the Chancellor is a cat ! – as his love interest; this cleverly elevates the Puss in Boots and White Cat characters from the original Ivan Vsevolozhsky story.

The feline antics of Catalabutte (danced by Shannon Dawson) and Lady Florine (danced by Lucy Balfour) added some lighter touches to what is otherwise a courtly ballet.

Being a new production the costumes and set were wonderfully detailed. The mortals got richly detailed customs and the fairies light etherial outfits.

The ‘good’ fairies are pretty much as you would expect to find them: simple chiffon tutus in light colours. Even the Lilac Fairy has a simple arrangement. I thought that she should have counterpointed the Black Fairy in a more visual way.

I think the best costume and character was the Black Fairy – Carabosse – danced by Maree White. She did a fantastic job; the choreography, personalisation, and costume seem to borrow heavily from von Rothbart in Swan Lake. The Black Fairy is dressed in black, looking a little bit like Charlize Theron in Aeon Flux with a massive black cape; she is the only fairy to have a head piece, but no wings. She has her own retinue of hench-goblins to boot. She even turns into a dragon – curtesy of Weta Workshop – when she fights Prince Desire.

I wish the fight between the Prince and Carabosse was a bit longer, so that the drama and tension cab build. But it was a nice deviation from the standard ‘cutting through the vines’ when it came time for the Prince to ‘rescue’ the Princess.

I was also wish that the four princes, from whom Aurora was originally to select a husband, had solos of their own.

I was disappointed that the Stella Abrera and Sergio Torrado were not in the principal roles. Instead, the cast was ably lead by Abigail Boyle and Qi Huan. Qi Huan is most princely – with well controlled jumps, leaps and turns. Abigail Boyle handles her technically demanding role well. The evergreen Sir John Trimmer plays the King. The dancing of Adriana Harper and Medhi Angot as the Bluebirds was wonderful.

While the story is relatively simple, I found the beautiful produced programme very useful for filling in some of the ‘gaps’. I though the wedding could have more visual ‘handrails’. [It certainly pays to read up on the story.]

The cast got a resounding ovation at the final curtain.

RWC 2011 – the Final – New Zealand vs France

October 24, 2011 at 3:27 am | Posted in Sporting Event | Leave a comment
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So I watched the final – last night. As a New Zealander, I am so glad and relieved that the All Blacks won. It was not a pretty victory, nor a big victory, but a deserved victory – 8-7 !

Once again, defence won the game. The All Blacks, did not deliver the kind of performance that they did against Australia (semi-final) and Argentina (quarter-final), but they tackled their hearts out and the forwards worked the hard tough metres.

It was a close game and the result was never assured. Both teams had a bad night with their kicking; both kicked 1 out of 4 attempts, and thankfully for New Zealand, our kick was worth one more point!

I think that the All Blacks without Dan Carter was weakened. But it speaks volumes for New Zealand’s depth in players that Stephen Donald became an unexpected hero – he kicked what turned out to be the winning penalty. Such has been the bad run of injuries to the first five-eights, that Donald who was not in the original team was called up – while whitebait fishing, so the story goes – within days of the final to provide cover for Aaron Cruden (who was also called in, from his skateboard, so the story goes) when Dan Carter was injured in training.

The pressure on the kickers must have been immense. Piri Weepu had a bad night with the boot, but made up for it in his tackling and marshaling the team – and saving a certain French try. the French kicking was equally ‘off’: only managing the conversion from close in.

Given the work done by both sets of forwards, it seems fitting that both trys were scored by forwards: Tony Woodcock and Thierry Dusautoir. The later, the French captain, was also made man-of-the-match. This was fitting in some ways, as the All Black team work, on defence, won them the game.

France were a little more inventive with their attacks; but the All Black defence was up to it. France won better line-out ball and their scrum was more than competitive; but the All Blacks tackled and tackled and tackled. In the end it was not anything fancy: just tackling hard, and sprinting back to your place in the defensive pattern, and doing it again.

Only with three minutes to go did the All Blacks snuff out French hopes: by retaining possession in the forwards, through a series of slow pick-and-goes that wound the clock down.

The win puts the demons of 1991 and 2007 to rest, and sets them up for the next decade or so. It sets the example and the bar for future All Black teams.

Finally, I think it is fitting that France, who out tackled a spirited 14-man Wales to an 9-8 win, to get to the final, were, in turn, out tackled to a 7-8 loss, in the final.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Wellington, 2011)

October 23, 2011 at 12:12 am | Posted in Musical Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I saw the New Zealand Drama School’s production of this Tony Award winning show.

I presume the cast were drawn from the School’s graduating class. Full marks for them for doing a work that required lots of singing, some dancing, as well as acting.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, not having researched the origins, but having seen 42nd Street the week before I was quite unprepared for this piece of musical theatre / musical comedy. There was a lot less dancing, and much more acting.

I found it a bit wacky, not just because it is a comedy, but the array of characters all had ‘issues’. The entrants were a combination of hot-housed over achievers to lonely under achievers – for good measure some random members of the audience were tossed in. The spelling bee officials also had ‘history’ that they were trying to get past.

What I liked about this work was that when the characters sang, they gave the audience a view of their personality, neurosis and flashbacks in a way that is all but impossible any other way in the time and space available.

I found two characters struck a real chord with me: Marcy Park (played by Alice Canton) and Leaf Coneybear (played by Andrew Paterson).

It did take me a little while to mentally cast the spelling bee entrants as children – because the drama students are adults :-). Maybe more audible cues when these characters were introduced?

This was the last night; otherwise, I would say go to it!

RWC 2011: Australia vs Wales

October 21, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Posted in Sporting Event | Leave a comment
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I found myself in front of a TV at the right time and watched a disappointing game that pretty much summed up Rugby-World-Cup style rugby: tense, defence oriented, play to the referee, and not quite delivering on the promise.

Both teams are capable of playing entertaining rugby, but stick a label – World Championship 3rd place – on the game, and suddenly everyone is tense and focuses on defence. If you stop the other guy from scoring, you can’t loose – so you will probably win.

Poor old Wayne Barnes missed another forward pass – in much the same circumstances that he missed the ‘other one’. Only this time it did not affect the outcome of the match. I also felt that he let the Wallabies get a way with a bit too much at the breakdown. And what about that charge down early in the game on Shane Williams – the second Aussie guy to arrive made no attempt to play the ball and seemed to have no regard for player safety – neither Williams, nor his own guy.

Australia deserved the win: they defended very well and kicked all of their kicks. And their scrum looked good.

Wales will rue the fact that they lost three crucial games – South Africa, France, and Australia – because they could not kick the points when they were on offer. Still Warren Gatland done a very good job getting his side very close to the final.

Still four tries were scored – two a piece.

RWC 2011: New Zealand vs Australia

October 16, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Posted in Sporting Event | 1 Comment
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I watched the other semi-final of the the 2011 Rugby World Cup last night and the difference between it and the Wales-France semi-final was amazing. Last night both teams came to play attacking rugby; and it was fast, and exciting.

The Dagg-Nonu try will go down as one of the amazing trys of all time. Dagg beats the last man in the Australia defence, but is unbalanced and falls – towards the touch line – but is able to deliver a pass inside to Nonu who is following up, and goes over for the try. All of this happens awhile running a a pace that any 100 metre runner would be proud of!

The All Blacks dominated much of the game: Australia were starved of possession. And a good thing too, when Australia had the ball they looked dangerous. Australia was forced to kick all too often – and for some reason they kept kicking to Cory Jane. Who was never flinched and gathered up everyone.

The All Blacks have finally added the drop kick to their arsenal. Aaron Cruden’s drop kick, in the 23rd minute, means that the AB’s are not some one dimensional. Dan Carter’s drop kick against Australia – in the Tri-Nations clearly signaled their intent.

World Cup Rugby is about taking points when you can – kick them, dot them down, drive up the middle, or run them in. It doesn’t matter; what matters is the points.

The role of the AB’s forwards and scrum was huge. They dominated much of the set pieces, though the line out lost some of its clinical execution towards the end of the first half. They even won a tight head in scrum late in the second half!

The amount of physical conditioning work (and the mental commitment) that the AB’s must have put in shows – how do you play 80 minutes of rugby at this pace and impact otherwise?

The only blemish was the goal kicking: The AB’s missed close to half of their attempts at goal. But in the end it didn’t matter.

Final word for the Wallabies – great sporting gesture at the end guys.

RWC 2011 : Wales vs France

October 15, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Posted in Sporting Event | 1 Comment
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I found myself in front of a TV last night and watched this intriguing semi-final.

Despite being one player down for three quarters of the game Wales stayed in the hunt, playing positive attacking rugby whenever they had the ball. France played a game that was an exemplar of safe rugby: keep it in the forwards and kick for field position. France did just enough to stay ahead of Wales – the final score 9 – 8 to France a reasonable reflection of the game. France are into the final for the third time.

Defense wins games, and it certainly did that for France. Who were content to use their one player advantage to defend stoutly and kick penalties when the Welsh were forced into conceding them.

In a high risk strategy France opted to defend a 6-point lead. In effect, Wales were in with a change right up to the end. France made no real attempt to put the game beyond reach. It was almost as it some marketing genius on the French side decide to even out the game; to keep the game as a spectacle alive!

So it was fitting that Wales scored the only try. Thus bring them within one point. The conversion appear to hit the lefthand upright, and France breathed a sigh of relief.

A very disciplined French side meant that most of Wales penalty kicks at goal were from way-way out. Leigh Halfpenny’s attempt at a 48m penalty dropped just under the cross bar late in the second half typified it all.

The game did come down to the last play: Wales had the ball and were camped in the French half, but solid disciplined defense saw France sneak home. Why Wales did not go for the drop kick – they got to the 22-metre line – or put the big up-and-under into the far corner we will never know.

it is tempting to dismiss this French effort as a bit one dimensional and not very adventurous; with no chance against either New Zealand or Australia. But they won. And they did it by soaking up a spirited Welsh attack for three quarters of the game. The last 10 minutes was reminiscent of the 2007 quarter final between France and the All Blacks – France defending their line while the All Black’s tried to punch through with their forwards.

Much will be written about the refereeing decision to send off the Welsh captain and #7 – Sam Warburton – for a dangerous tackle. But there is no denying that it was dangerous, and such dangerous play has no place in the game. Especially, if the International Rugby Union wants to make rugby a globally acceptable game and therefore watched by billions and thereby generating billions in sponsorship and advertising. But something else that has no place in a ‘game’ is a one sided contest.

What really hamstrung Wales was that they were not able to put another loose forward on. They were forced to pack down one of their backs on the side of the scrum. The scrum ceased to be a contest and became a very dangerous encounter every time one was called. The Welsh to their credit did not flinch from the fray and eventually the French marketing genius told the French pack to cease screwing the scrum and just to shunt the Welsh pack backwards; at the end France just held the Welsh up, so as not allow the scrum to collapse and thereby force the referee toss the die to see who to penalise.

42nd Street (Wellington, 2011)

October 11, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Posted in Dance Review, Musical Review, Show Review | 1 Comment
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I went to the Wellington Musical Theatre production of 42nd Street last night, at the St James theatre.

I got to see/hear some classic Broadway numbers, such as: Lullaby of Broadway and We’re in the Money.

The tap dancing was was impressive. Almost all of the dancing was tap, with a little bit of jazz and ballet thrown in for good measure. I did not think the short en pointe segment added significantly to the evening and would have preferred to see another tap number. There isn’t much tap dancing on show in Wellington, and it was nice to see a stage full of talented tap dancers going for it. Tap can be pretty unforgiving, as any one dancer lagging or leading is very audible; so good on them for getting out there – especially in the numbers where the band did not provide any backing music.

The costumes were very nice – lots of glitter, good fitting (without being confining), and well put made. The props and lighting were very good; the mirror to show the Busby Berkeley dance sequence – dancers in circular patterns ‘swimming’ – was genius.

It was good to have live music – the winds, the brass, some strings and some percussion from the Vector Welling Orchestra provided some great numbers.

The two standout performers on the night, for me, were: Courtney Hale (who as Peggy Sawyer in the space of 36 hours goes from chorus-girl to star) and Kelly Maguren (who is Andy Lee the dance master).

Disturbia: a Tale of Terror

October 8, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Recital Review, Show Review | 2 Comments
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Last night, I went to see the Whitireia (Institute of Technology) Year One Commercial Dance students’ end of year production. It was fun and I really enjoyed it.

The evening began with an energetic tap version of the Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was a very clever homage to an iconic show, and set the tone nicely for the rest of the evening. The foyer being decorated like a graveyard also helped set the scene!

The whole horror theme was put to good use with a number of UV pieces – the dancing Skeletons were particularly effective.

Two individual performances stood out: the Black Cat solo and the doll in Reflections.

Reading the dancers’ bio.s in the foyer revealed that most of them had ballet training, and this showed in a number of pieces – particularly “Spirits”, with some very nice lines and grand jetes. Having two staff with extensive professional ballet experience can’t do any harm either – Anderson and Samblaceno.

From the dancers’ bio.s and watching the performance, it seem clear to me that the standard of dancer and dance has steadily increasing over the last few years – perhaps the benefit of being part of the better resourced Whitireia. The production demonstrated a range of dance styles, including drama (Werewolves), burlesque (Vampires), and even musical theatre (Witches).

Even though it was the last show, the cast – Brianna Coughlin, Cassandra Wallis, Chelsea O’Rielly, Ebony Sushames, Eliana King, Hope Bartley, Jennifer Maxwell, Karis Vernon, Kate Bruce, Kate Holden, Kelly Wisniewski, Laura Vaughan, Melissa Bardell, Michaella Sayer, Natalie, Morris, Natasha Hammond, Olivia Van Den Yssel, Racquel Brant-Partridge, and Rebecca Hulse – poured out their energy and enthusiasm – good work guys.

Whitireia should promote these productions more widely.

Insight

October 8, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review | Leave a comment
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I went to a studio performance at the New Zealand School of Dance. This is really a chance for the School to promote its end of year performance and give the show’s participants a rehearsal opportunity with a bit more bite.

There were 16 pieces shown: a mixture of classical ballet, ‘modern’ ballet, and contemporary dance. Four pieces stayed in my mind:

  • La Bayadere Act 2
  • Spring and Fall
  • Prince’s solo from The Nutcracker Act II
  • Excerpts from Company B

Lee Jia Xi, in the La Bayadere excerpt, impressed me with her leaps and jumps that at times terminated with an arabesque.

Spring and Fall, was an interesting piece – being a lyrical solo for a male dancer. Caue Frias’ long limbs fitted well with the choreography.

The prince’s solo was a wonderful show piece for Christopher Gerty’s talents – in a minute and a half or so, there were powerful jumps and well controlled pirouettes. It started with a slight slip, but Gerty retained his composure and delivered a fine performance; so I was surprised when he felt the need to repeated the whole piece.

The music of the Andrews Sisters is always appealing with its cheer and warm voices, so Company B was very attractive. I was particularly interested to see that it was classical ballet vocabulary used in new ways.

The end of year performance looks well worth going to.

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