RNZB: Three by Ekman

June 5, 2017 at 5:08 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s latest production- at the Saint James Theatre – of three of Alexander Ekman’s contemporary ballet pieces Tuplet, Episode 31, and Cacti. These are not narrative ballets:there is no story; but the nice thing was that are any given moment one might have been in the middle of a story!

Tuplet began before the official start time – of 7:30pm. When I went to take my seat, there were already two dancers on stage ‘doing there thing’. As more of the audience filed in, more dancers came on, and by the time the house lights came down, the dance was underway.

Episode 31 and Cacti were both introduced by a lengthy video featuring Ekman and the Company. This was a clever way to introduce a narrative into a non-narrative dance. The dance still doesn’t tell a story, but by telling the back story, the audience is much more connected with the dances.

Ekman created structure by having many of his dancers dance only on a square. they danced on their square, moved it around, and hid behind it.  The squares even stacked them up.

Episode 31 was my favourite. It had the most structure: clever use of  wide cream strips broke up the stage into zones that were almost street.

Cacti featured the New Zealand String Quartet on stage – playing and moving around the dancers. In effect, there were two dances – the musicians moving in one choreography (abeit simple) overlaid on top of the complex choregraphy of the dancers. At one time or another all of the dancers have a pot plant in their hands – hence the name. There was a third pattern – made by the various squares and blocks that the dancers danced on and stacked.

Worth going to. Oh, because the show just eased it being, the traditional ‘no photography; no recording’ announcement did not take place – and I saw people around me taking advantage of this 🙂

Alana Haines Australasian Awards 2017

April 22, 2017 at 1:48 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review | Leave a comment
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Just as in 2013 and 2015, I went to the finals of the 2017 Alana Haines Australasian Awards (AHAAs) the other night at the St James Theatre – Wellington.

The AHAAs is the largest ballet competition in Australasia, and can justly claim to be the premier competition in Australasia – this year the finalists get preferential entry into the 2018 Youth America Grand Prix, in recognition that the two competitions clashed.

This year’s competition was bigger than before: there were more than 550 entrants; the competition started one day earlier than before too.

The Theatre was packed to witness the finalists (22) put themselves out there one last time. There were moments of thunderous applause – particularly for Nae Kojima and Cameron Holmes.

The night started with ‘set’ solos: Seniors followed by Juniors with their ‘set’ solos. Then the Seniors came back on with their ‘own choice’ contrasting solos. Then their there were performances by past winners – an audience favourite was Harrison Lee.

The finalists, and their solos, were:

  • Juniors (11 – 13):
    • Sonia Woods, Peasant Pas 2nd Solo – Giselle;
    • Jasmine Healey, Peasant Pas 2nd Solo – Giselle;
    • Brooke Wong, Peasant Pas 2nd Solo – Giselle;
    • Jenna Civin, CupidDon Quixote;
    • Macy Trethewey, CupidDon Quixote;
    • Rylie Wilkinson, Kirov Peasant Pas – Giselle;
    • Sotique Macuga, Peasant Pas 2nd Solo – Giselle;
    • Alfie Shacklock, Peasant Pas 2nd Solo – Giselle;
    • Madeleine Glassey, Peasant Pas 2nd Solo – Giselle;
    • Juliette Gray, Flower Festival; and
    • Honey Black, Peasant Pas 2nd Solo – Giselle.
  • Seniors, 13 – 15:
    • Meg Newton, Odalisque 2nd Solo – Le Corsaire;
    • Stella Byers, Lilac Fairy – Sleeping Beauty;
    • Macy Cook, Kitri’s Wedding – Don Quixote;
    • Hyo Shimizu, Basil – Don Quixote;
    • Noah Benzie-Drayton, James Act 1 – La Sylphides;
    • Monet Galea-Hewitt, Giselle; and
    • Kayla van den Bogert, Odile – Swan Lake.
  • Senors, 16 – 21:
    • Abbey Lavery, Lilac Fairy – Sleeping Beauty;
    • Nae Kojima, Gamzatti – La Bayadere;
    • Saul Newport, Siegfried – Swan Lake; and
    • Cameron Holmes, Corsaire Variation 2 – La Corsaire.

It was nice to see Monet Galea-Hewitt back from 2015.

This year’s adjudicators were:

  • Lisa Pavane, Director of the Australian Ballet School, former Principal Ballerina of the English National Ballet;
  • Stephane Leonard, Director Aspirant Program of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, former Soloist Royal Winnipeg Ballet;
  • Leslie Hughes, Tutor at the Hamburg Ballet School, former soloist Hamburg Ballet Germany; and
  • Terence Etheridge, Choreographer Duchy Ballet Cornwall UK, former artistic Director Hong Kong Ballet, former soloist Festival Ballet (English National Ballet).

With 550 entrants, the panel must have put in a heroic effort. They were still on their feet and handing out scholarships and awards on the final night. Lisa Pavane, the head of panel, gave a wonderfully appropriate address to the contestants and audience: she praised all of the contestants for their hard work and dedication; emphasised the need for good technique (in the upper back and head); called for a round of applause for the parents; and thanked Katie Haines and the volunteers. She was also open about ballet not being for everyone – as its technical demands and work load were more suited to those born with the necessary per-requistes.

Congratulations to the winners:

  • Alfie Shacklock
  • Macy Cook
  • Nae Kojima

Nae Kojima received a huge round of applause for her Gamzatti solo; her technique and elevation were breathtaking. Cameron Holmes, the runner up to Kojima, received two huge rounds of applause for his Corsiare solo and his contrasting solo; he was strong and athletic, yet technically well controlled.

Macy Cook’s first place was well received; she is the first Wellington based winner in the competition’s 29 year history.

All of the competitors are to be congratulated for their hard work and willingness to put themselves out there. [Apologies for any transcription errors – Junior and Senior results are available the at the AHAA website]

This biannual competition is held in memory of Alana Haines – a promising young dancer who died in a car accident on Christmas Eve in 1989. The competition has become the launching pad for some wonderful talent.

I enjoyed the evening and for me the highlight was seeing Cameron Holmes do a jump 360 about an axis that was set at 45 degrees; and a series of 720’s where the last 45 degrees slowed was slower than the first 690 – giving an impression of great control.

As always, I hope fortune will favour all the contestants in the years to come, and I will be able to say “I saw them at the AHAAs”.

Carmen (RNZB 2017)

March 27, 2017 at 9:44 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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The other night, I went to see the Royal new Zealand Ballet production of Roland Petit‘s Carmen, preceded by Petit’s L’Arlesienne, at the St James Theatre in Wellington. Petit’s Carmen is recognised as a significant neoclassical ballet. But I found L’Arlesienne a much gentler introduction to neoclassical ballet.

L’Arlesienne tells the story of a young man in a village set to marry a woman, yet obsessed with another, invisible, women. Frederi (danced by Massimo Margaria) clearly does not love Vivette (Katie Hurst-Saxon); who loves him and is confused by his distracted behaviour. Their pas de deuxs are choregraphed to emphasis their lack of connection; Viviette tries and tries, but Frederie is almost always facing away and cold.

The choreography for the rest of the villagers is geometric, yet without the grandeur of a romantic ballet. The villagers are starkly dressed and that is their general lot. Against a simple impressionist rendering of golden fields, the young villagers pair off and go about their lives.

Petit re-purposes the circular path so often used in romantic ballets to show joy, happiness, and love, into some darker, angst, yearning, and despair. The part of Frederi is a taxing role. In the final sequences, he is on stage constantly, working himself into every more frantic circles till he finally does a swan dive out a window – killing himself. Margaria does well, he is able to mute his power to stay within the role. Hurst-Saxon is by turns portrays confounded and confused.

After the interval the Company changed gears and put on Petit’s Carmen. This was nothing like the Company’s previous production of Carmen. Petit’s version  is shorter, condensed, and gritter. Don Jose is no sooner convinced that he is love with Carmen, than he has killed her; the story is pared down to the basics, as is the set.

Natalya Kusch, is a fiery independent  Carmen; her pose and attitude completely enslaves Don Jose – danced by Joseph Skelton. Paul Mathews, as the Toreador, has the difficult task of dancing a parody of Don Jose identifying moves – which he does, assisted by a suit of light that looks more like a clown suit!

The final scene when Don Jose overcome by jealousy stabs and kills Carmen shows the genius of Jean-Michel Desire – the lighting designer. A dimmed stage with minimalist props is used as backdrop for spot lights set at the edge of the stage. As Kusch and Skelton dance their pas de deux of death, their shadows fly around the stage – magnifying the emotions and interplay of the dancers. Carmen is defiant; Don Jose is possessive, frantic, desperate, and ultimately stupid.

Carmen is a disturbing story.

George Bizet’s music used in both pieces – provides the perfect emotional backdrop.

Worth seeing. Especially, since Francesco Ventriglia, the choreographer, danced in productions of Carmen, staged by Petit; and worked as a choreographer with Petit.

Swan Lake

January 10, 2017 at 2:52 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Show Review, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I went to see the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s touring production of Swan Lake, at the St James Theatre, in Wellington, last night. I took the opportunity to watch a traditional Russian staging of this iconic ballet.

The performance suffered a little bit from two things: no orchestra; and a small stage. Being a touring company, the St Peterburg Ballet tend to perform to recorded music – as was the case last night. By international standards, the St James has a small stage. While the Company must be very use to adjusting its choreography for a variety of stages, the smaller stage meant that some of the choreography looked a bit cramped; some of the larger swan formations were slightly compromised.

The lack of an orchestra meant that the ballet proceeded at a set rate. The was no conductor to adjust the pace to fit in with the audience’s clapping or the dancers’s energy.

The undoubted star of the show is Irina Kolesnikova; she is lyrical as Odette and fierce as Odile. The ballet comes to life in Act III, when she dances Odile – Rothbart’s daughter – at the ball. Dimitri Akulmin is Siegfried – the feckless prince. Akulmin’ Siefried is an adequate foil for Odile and suitor for Odette. But the duo only connected in the scene when Kolesinkova does her amazing 30+ fouettes.

Generally, the production was tidy, if a little clinical. The swan formations were most impressive: large, precise, and unified (in time and moving as one). The dance of the signets was the most staccato that I have ever seen – somehow each step was separate from the next – yet faster than I have seen before too; of course, the four dancers (Valeriya Andropova, Arisa Hashimoto, Olga Naumova, Anastasia Chaya) were wonderfully synchronised.

Two other dancers stood out: Seiyu Ogasawara and Saadi Imankulov; Ogasawara as the Jester, was an energetic, with all sorts of leaps and bounds; and Imankulov as the male member of the pas de trois in Act I, had height in his jumps, and control in his vertical 720s.

Being the Russian version, not only is there a jester – who replaces the Siegfried’s companion in western versions – but there is a happy ending! How happy? go see the ballet.

 

 

 

 

 

Giselle (RNZB 2016)

August 15, 2016 at 8:25 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review | Leave a comment
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The Royal New Zealand Ballet has re-staged it’s Johan Kobborg and Ethan Stiefel choreographed 2012 production of Giselle.

There have been some tweaks – there is now a clever front projection to create the extensive roots of a tree that appear to move.

Lucy Green dances the part of Giselle. Her solo during the wedding was technically strong – all the pointe work was precise and steady; yet she conveyed the image of a young girl in love. She continued this mix of technique and artistry in the second Act – to save an unworthy Albrecht. 

Qi Huan, as Albrecht, reprising his role from 2012. Once again his leaps and jumps were breath taking high; his turns fast and precise. The struggle to dance all night was well conveyed. He got a well deserved big round of applause after an astonishing number of back to back entrechats.

Clytie Campbell was as Myrtha – the Queen of the Willis.

Ben Chown gave a good characterisation of the gamekeeper; he was the ‘country’ to the Prince’s polished. This was to foreshadow the final outcome when they were caught out in the woods after dark in the second Act.

A must see.

 

Scope – NZSD Choreographic Season 2016

May 22, 2016 at 5:03 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I went to Scope last night at The New Zealand School of Dance to see original works choreographed by the third year contemporary majors.

In a new direction from previous years, all of the works were staged ‘in the round’, and were danced, essentially, in one costume. The traditional presidium arch was cast off and there were 4 banks of seating – one in the corner of a not quite square rectangle. The dancers came and went from the four sides. It felt intimate and yet spacious (when the lights were up).

The first and second works had the dancers wearing a white base layer; then at the beginning of the third piece – Obelus – the whole cast lined up and their clothes were dropped to them from the catwalks amongst the lights. The first thud of a neatly folded package of clothes caught the audience by surprise. Somehow each dancer knew which package – a light grey sleeveless shirt and grey light pantaloons – was theirs and they left the line to retrieve and put on their garments.

So Scope:

  • Tropics – by Tristan Carter
  • []3 – a square to the power of 3 – by Christopher Mills
  • Obelus – by Jag Popham
  • The Private Sphere – by Isaac Di Natale
  • Atlas of Intangible – by Breanna Timms
  • Come Along and Feel the Kairos – by Samuel Hall
  • Blight – by Tiana Lung
  • Shaving a Cactus – by Holly Newsome
  • XXX <cr> XXX – by Jessica Newman
  • Temenos – by Isabel Estrella

Even though there were 10 works, the whole show had a coherence to it. There was also some innovative use of boxes and ribbons. There is also an element of the observer as part of the art work: if you sit in any of the 4 front-rows be prepared to be ‘invited up, to part of the dance !

Worth seeing.

Whitireia Polytechnic: Behind Closed Doors

December 3, 2015 at 8:10 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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November and it was Whitireia Polytechnic’s Commercial Dance graduates end-of-year show.

This show goes from strength to strength and this year’s was fantastic. The class of 2015 are a hugely talented and precise group: watching the pieces, I could not see anyone lagging behind or standing out for the wrong reasons. Anne Gare and the other lecturers have done a fantastic job. The show had a very contemporary / lyrical feel to it, even the hi-hop piece – Let’s Get Ruckus – was softer than the hard crumping of other years.

The pieces that stay in my mind are:

  • Welcome to the Asylum
  • Ding Dong – Mormons
  • The Argument
  • The Office
  • Cinderella’s Ballroom
  • 13 Disturbia Lane
  • The Ritz
  • The Club

Welcome to the Asylum and 13 Disturbia Lane were contemporary works that dealt with the subject of mental illness. These were powerful, yet entertaining works, that required the dancers to dance and act.

Ding Dong – Mormons comes from the musical of the same name. It was funny and gave door-to-door missionaries a gentle send-up. It was funny and a little challenging.

The Argument was another contemporary work that revolved around two friends having an argument. It was raw and compelling.

The Office was fun. There is little opportunity to see tap dancing in Wellington, and this little number showed that tap is not just dance, but also something that can be central to a story: Sophia Ristossa’s shoes provided the sounds for the typewriter of her harassed personal assistant character.

Cinderella’s Ballroom showed that most if not all of the graduating class come from classic ballet backgrounds. This was a fun piece – formal ball and crass wicked sisters – with good mixture of pointe work, classical technique, and character work. Michael Sinnung was outstanding as the Prince.

The Ritz  was all energy and theatrical dance at its best.

The show felt more coherent this year, and the standard of student choreography seemed higher; and as I have already mentioned the execution was clean and tidy; with the energy and joy that is commercial dance.

The show ended with The Club – an extended burlesque piece. Clean technique, good characterisation, introduced by Cher’s “Welcome to Burlesque”; another great show.

The evening ended with Leigh Evans – the show director – and Anne Gare – the head of faculty – go  well deserved gifts from their dancers.

I hope the student, in crutches, who joined the curtain call, gets better and that her injury does not prevent her from graduating.

[Dancers listed in the foyer tagged to this article.]

NZSD: Graduation Season 2015

November 30, 2015 at 8:03 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Show Review, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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November, and another Graduation Season at the New Zealand School of Dance. These have become very popular, and my session was sold out – as were other. There was a solid feel to the programme: three chunky contemporary pieces and three significant classical pieces.

Three pieces stay in my mind:

  • Paquita Grand Pas
  • Forgotten Things
  • Concerto

The staging of the Grand Pas and Concerto, with  Tarentella in between, provided the audience with three exemplars of classical ballet down through the ages. The Grand Pas from Paquita provided a wonderful showcase for Yeo Chan Yee and Felipe Domingos’ individual (those fouettes! and jumps) and collective talents. Tarentella, by George Balanchine, suggests that Ethan Stiefel may be gone but his influence remains. Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto, was an example of the latter’s abstract ballets – neo-classical in nature, with the dancers in simple yellow, red, and orange, unitards and leotards, with small blocks of dancers moving like guardsmen on parade, while couples danced in the spaces.

The show was the world premiere of Sara Foster-Sproull’s contemporary work: Forgotten Things. This was an innovative work that had dancers dancing in tight groups – clever lighting emphasized bare hands, fists, legs (contrasted against dark 3/4 unitards). This created movements and forms not possible with a single body. The use of single dancers was carefully edited, to create extra focus. At times it looked like there was a long spine, other times very long sinuous legs, and at other times elephant like ears. This work probably got the biggest round of applause for the night.

This was one of the schools more memorable shows.

[Dancers listed in the programme have been tagged to this article.]

NZSD: Insight Studio Performances – 25 September 2015

September 25, 2015 at 9:33 pm | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review | Leave a comment
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I went to this last night, and as always something for everyone; and though not as well attended as other studio performances I have been to. Which is disappointing, as it is another of Wellington’s hidden dance gems.

As usual, there was a mix of classical and contemporary works. Most were pre-release glimpses into what will be danced at the Graduation Season in November. Some students also got to trial their piece for an up coming competition they are going to in Auckland.

The performance kicked off with the dancers in the Scholars Programme (a preparatory programme for dancers who wish to get into dance schools after secondary school).

Then it was:

  • As it Fades (excerpts) – contemporary
  • Paquita (excerpts) – classical
  • Conditions of Entry (excerpts) – contemporary
  • Agon (excerpts) – classical
  • Solos: Yuri Marques da Silva; Billy Keohavong; Emma-Rose Barrowclough; Jeremie Wen-Jian Gan; and Laura Crawford
  • Without Regard – contemporary
  • Concerto 1st (excerpts) – classical

I liked Paquita and Billy Keohavong’s contemporary solo.

Paquito was very tidy and Felipe Domingos Natel’s lifts were strong, controlled, and very impressive.

Billy Keohavong’s solo, Bait, danced to Tick of the Clock by Chromatics,  got a great round of applause. Unlike some contemporary work which I find very physical (to the point of being percussive),  Bait was by parts lyrical, loose, techno (good synergy with the music), and menacing.  The latter came across through with some martial arts undertones – kept well in check to avoid a  kataWhat is also very promising is that it was Billy’s own choreography.

I also recognised Felipe Domingos Natel, Yuri Marques da Silva and Jeremie Wen-Jian Gan from the Alana Haines’ earlier this year.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RNZB, 2015)

September 5, 2015 at 12:45 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review | Leave a comment
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I saw Royal New Zealand Ballet’s production of this the other night at the Aotea Centre – ASB Theatre in Auckland.

This was a brand new production for the Company – choreographed by Liam Scarlett, stage design by Tracy Grant Lord, lighting by Kendall Smith, and music by Nigel Gaynor (after Mendelssohn).

Titania was danced by Lucy Green; Oberon by Shane Urton; Puck by Shaun James Kelly; Botton by Paul Matthews. Green and Urton were nicely paired, and their final pas de deux, when they are reconciled, very touching, very lyrical, with some innovative lifts. Matthews was comical; and played the part to perfection. In some ways, Matthews and Kelly had the more difficult roles, demanding more acting than in most other ballets. Matthews was assisted by a donkey head. Kelly was by parts athletic and mischievous.

I much preferred Act II over the first Act. I found Act I a bit slow, this was understandable, given that it had to set up quite a complex set of mis-understandings and mis-pairings.Puck tries hard, but it is hard to get good help! I would have like to see more of the fairies. Partly because their customs were so good; and mainly because Titania-and-Oberon are Queen-and-King of the fairies, so we should see more of the fairies.

The venue itself was a grand example of a modern theatre – the minimalist lines of wooden interior is very grand.

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