Romeo & Juliet (RNZB 2017)

August 27, 2017 at 4:26 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Event Review | Leave a comment
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I went to the Royal New Zealand Ballet‘s new production of Romeo and Juliet the other night. Francesco Ventriglia, the outgoing Artistic Director’s version is longer (three Acts) and more theatrical than previous productions by the company. Jon Buswell’s lighting  combined nicely with James Acheson’s innovative sets to create a dark renaissance mood. Boswell’s costumes also provide a magnificent sense of pomp and grandeur for the nobles. This is also a grittier production; this production has a fight coordinator – Carrie Thiel – who gives the fights a sense of realism.

Joseph Skelton and Madeleine Graham are Romeo and Juliet – Skelton and Graham display chemistry during their pas de deux. Their balcony, morning after, and tomb choreography had innovative segments where they don”t dance – they just hold each other and/or step together. It actually reinforces their relationship. Graham genuinely looks like she could be 14 years old! Skelton gives the audience something to cheer for – when the secretly married couple wake up the day after the secret wedding – he is topless.

Paul Mathews’ Tybalt was impactfull; he was by turns: powerful, athletic, moody, angry, and passionate.

Massimo Margaria and Filippo Valmorbida were Mercutio and Benvolio. Margaria is the perfect loyal friend; Valmorbida is the friend who is always fooling around.

Abigail Boyle is the majestic and proud Lady Capulet. Watch out for her black mourning – for Tybalt – outfit as a harbinger of death.

Things I liked:

  • Paul Mathews’ Tybalt; it is good to see him in a challenging role.
  • Some of the fight sequences.
  • The visual symmetry of the Prince’s guard: half the guards held their pikes with their right hands, and the other half held their pikes with their left hands.
  • The noble ladies’ costumes – dripping in pageantry.
  • Graham/Juliet’s pointed toes – when she was asleep, unconscious, and even when dead.

Things I did not like:

  • The excess of divertissements.

 

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Swan Lake (RNZB: 2013)

July 27, 2013 at 7:23 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review | Leave a comment
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Last weekend I went to see the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 2013 production of Swan Lake. Warning: plot revealed.

Main cast:

  • Odette/Odile: Gillian Murphy
  • Siefried: Karel Cruz
  • Jester: Rory Fairweather-Neylan
  • Rothbart: Paul Mathews

Rory Fairweather-Neylan almost steals the show. I have always liked version(s) that include the Jester. The role is technically demanding and artistically demanding – he does well. The <Jester’s choreography acts as an overture for Siefried’s choreography.

Karel Cruz is very eye catching – he must be one of the tallest ‘leading men’ in the ballet world. His superb technique and height give him considerable stage presence; at times, the St James stage seems too small. The elevation he achieves with his jumps; the control in his pirouettes; and the strength in his lifts are just amazing.

Ms Murphy is wonderful. Her fouettes like the rest of her technical repertoire were complete. I made a conscious effort not to count them in Act III, choosing instead to focus on the wonderful artistry and mime.

Siefried and Odette (Cruz and Murphy) achieve a lyrical romantic partnering in Act II. The lyrical pas de deux creates such a sense that they are destined to be together, that the relatively energetic dance of the cygnets (ably dance by Katherine Grange, Adrianna Harper, Bronte Kelly, and Tonia Looker) seems a little out of place.

This version gave Rothbart a much expanded role, compared to other versions. Rothbart does much more than merely produce Odile (disguised as Odette) at the ball. Paul Mathews must manipulate the swans – particularly Odette through his black magic; and has a major showdown with Siefried in Act IV.

I like the happy ending: the lovers don’t die – they are together ! There is also a very touching moment when the swans are freed from their enthrallment.

The structure of the ballet is very clever, and one piece of choreography leads to the next. One example of this is the use of the Jester to provide an introduction to Siefried’s choreography – the Jester’s choreography is a comic version of the latter. Another example, is the use of big swans to bridge the visual gap between the cygnets and the traditionally small swans at the front of the bevy, and the larger and grander Odette, who is effectively their queen. Abigail Boyle and Antonia Hewitt nicely portray two ‘senior’ swans.

Sir Jon Trimmer, once again played the part of WolfGang the Prince’s tutor. He danced this role 17 years ago.

The music is provided by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. The costumes were bright, intricate and detailed; very fitting a production that marks the Company’s 60th Anniversary. There appeared to be many past members in the audience that night.

A must see.

Made to Move

February 28, 2013 at 9:03 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to the opening night of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Made to Move, last night at the St James.

Made to Move premiered three works commissioned by the Company:

  • The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud – by Javier de Fruitos
  • Of Days – by Andrew Simmons
  • Bier Halle – by Ethan Stiefel

I was struck by Of Days: lyrical choreography, sparse lighting,(leaving much of the stage in a warm darkness), switches of lighting and drops (changing the viewers’ gross perspective, highlighting some dancers, and removing other dancers), combined with phrases and words projected onto the background. The orchestral music was light and complemented the dancers on the stage.

Abigail Boyle, with her dancing and presence, stood out in both The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud and Of Days. Medhi Angot, also stood out in both works.

Bier Halle was a fun piece that show cased the dancers. Gillian Murphy was amazing: she made everything look effortless and light; she went from motion to stillness (en pointe)) with no discernible transition; her dancing was technically precise; she casually threw in lots of fouettes! Qi Huan reached new heights: entrechats from second position; and did a series of ‘russians’ to complete a circle!! Paul Matthews and Kohei Iwamoto got to do a comic turn. Jacob Chown and Dimitri Kleioris were the ‘young males’ turned by the flirting Antonia Hewitt and Clytie Campbell – nice forward rolls. Jacob and Dimitri also got to skull two pints (each) on stage!

Genee 2012

December 16, 2012 at 3:30 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Event Review, Exhibition Review, Show Review | 2 Comments
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I went to the final night of the Genee International Ballet Competition 2012 last night. It was a very enjoyable night. Some of the best young dancers produced by the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) syllabus were competing for the top accolades in the RAD world. It was a truly international competition with semi-finalists from Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, Spain, England, Scotland, South Africa, and of course New Zealand.

The semi-finals (which I did not attend) and the finals were held at the St. James Theatre in Wellington New Zealand. The competition was hosted by the New Zealand of Dance and the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Each competitor – ‘candidate’ – danced: a compulsory piece choreographed especially for the competition; a piece they choreographed; and one chosen by them from a limited selection classical repertoire.

I am told it has become the tradition for the Genee to have new work created for the competition. This year, Adrian Burnett – a Kiwi – choreographed two short dances, for this competition: Exalto (for female candidates) and Homage to Bach (for male candidates). I found these to be intricate / tricky looking pieces: as if designed to offer opportunities to slip-up. The way one would design a golf course or an eventing cross country course. The grand jete, from one step, at the very end of Exalto seemed especially challenging.

The “dancer’s own” works were quite varied, though mainly neo-classical, there were some lyrical classical styled pieces. This was an opportunity for the candidates to express themselves and showcase abilities not required in the other two dances. The two eventual gold medal winners had neo-classical works.

The limited repertoire was another test of the candidates skills and ability.

Throughout, the very knowledgeable audience was wholesome in its support and applause.

Then while the jury conferred, there was a surprise (for me at least) guest performance of excerpts from Swan Lake by Abigail Boyle and Qi Huan from the Royal New Zealand Ballet. The audience was treated to a virtuoso performance. The audience had given some pretty ‘big hands’ for some of the candidates, but surely Qi Huan got an even bigger hand for his Siegfried – amazing amplitude and control; and when Abigail Boyle did all those amazing fouettes – I lost count around 29 – the applause was deafening!

Then it was time for the jury to announce the medals. the jury was headed up by David McAllister, Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet; Christopher Hampson, Artistic Director of the Scottish Ballet; and Li Cunxin, Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet.

Congratulations to: Gold Medal: Aurelian Child-de-Brocas (male), Montana Rubin (female) Silver Medal: Harry Davis (male), Kaena Ahern (female), Ariana Hond (female). And to the other finalists: Anyah Siddall, Sana Sasaki, Georgina Hills, Olivia James-Baird, Isobelle Dashwood, Emma McBeth, and Kelsey Stokes.

A nice touch was that the semi-finalists were listed in the programme and also took in the medal presentations.

Giselle (RNZB, 2012)

November 8, 2012 at 9:21 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s new production of Giselle. Johan Kobborg and Ethan Stiefel have done an excellent job of the choreography.

It was great – well worth a look: the principals were great, the choreography had innovation, the standard of dancing very high, and sets and lighting well suited to the story.

Gillian Murphy was a sublime Giselle. She, Murphy, was technically flawless – subtle, light, flexible, yet strong and fast when necessary. Her solo during the wedding was astonishing – drawing gasps of admiration from the audience. Her dancing as a Wili – floating about – was just so.

Qi Huan, as Albrecht, was a revelation. His leaps and jumps were breath taking high. His strength and stamina was there for all to see as Albrent danced and danced all night – making it to the dawn, and life, as the Wilis retired. He got some very big rounds of applause.

Abigail Boyle aloof and imperious as Myrtha – the Queen of the Wilis. She produced strong spirt that floated about the forest.

Lucy Green and Medhi Angot were well paired as the wedding couple.

I liked that every peasant lifted his partner so that they could catch the bride’s flowers. It was nice Kiwi touch – like rugby locks being lifted in the lineout, or a goal keep being lift by the goal defence to block a shot in netball.

The second act was my favourite – with all the action and drama concentrated on the main protagonists and the supernatural action in the forest.

The Company seems to have upped its game all across the board – well done.

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.

The Secret Lives of Dancers #4

September 29, 2010 at 12:26 am | Posted in TV Review | 1 Comment
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The Company travel to Dunedin – the opening city of their Triple Bill tour.

As usual it was mainly a human interest story – who is broken up with whom, more of the threads started in episode 3. Great stuff if you are interested.

I found the way the management staff of the Company deal with injuries much more interesting.

There is a reason why there are two – maybe three casts for any piece. That way, if someone in the first cast gets injured, someone can step in – very sensible succession planning. Abigail Boyle sprained her ankle in episode #2 and it is still healing. Yet, against the advise of the Company’s physio and doctor, she will perform. The only mitigation is that she will dance in one piece of the Triple Bill -not all three!

In the rehersals at the Regent Theatre, in Dunedin, the same male principle dancer is involved in two separate ballerinas getting head and other injuries. Though there was first aid, there did not seem to be any medical follow-up to check for concussion. Nor was there an investigation to see if the incidents were preventable in future. It seems to be the accepted that people occassionally get dropped or kneed in the head!

The show this week, centred around: Abigail Boyle, Jaered Glavin, Katie Hurst-Saxton and to a lessor extent Lucy Green.

The Secret Lives of Dancers #3

September 15, 2010 at 1:41 am | Posted in TV Review | 1 Comment
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Having watched episodes 1 and 2, made sure to be home to watch episode 3.

We are now into the second week of the 2010 Company year. We get: more gossip; Gary Harris giving sound bites – “thats the cast … get over it and get on with it!”; tears and joy with the cast lists; and dancers getting injured (Abigail Boyle and Pierre Doncq).

It is looking more and more like a reality TV show.

On the plus side, at least four of the dancers live in nice apartments – not the slightly grotty garrets sterotypes of old.

And it is not just about dancing – there are photo shoots for women’s magazines. Jaered Glavin is particularly pleased with his pictures! I wonder if the dancers get paid extra, or does their contract with the RNZB cover it?

The Secret Lives of Dancers #1 & #2

September 10, 2010 at 1:49 am | Posted in TV Review | 1 Comment
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Having watched episode one of this last week, I managed to catch episode two this week. The half-hour-long episodes take you for behind the scenes look at the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Episode one was centred on the annual open auditions, and Gary Harris -the Artistic Director, who has the final say on who is in, and who is out. There are the usual interviews with the candidates before and after the day-long audition. The format is pretty standard for a behind the scene look at any enterprise that holds selections for a limited number of places – the candidates could have been models or circus artists or rugby players.

What I really wanted to know was how the candidates heard about the audition.

It is a bit brutal; as they say: Many are called, but few a chosen. Gary is quite blunt with his on air assessments of dancers – I hope the candidates signed waivers! This year ‘The Company’ accepts two: Lucy Green and Yang Liu. Lucy is from Australia and Yang is from China. It is pretty obvious that these two will be selected: Lucy is shown doing some killer fouetttes and Yang is shown doing some lovely leaps, while Gary can be heard say “what lovely lines”. Also, we are told that, Yang was hand picked by the chinese ballet system at an early age, trained at the Beijing ballet, and danced is a member of the National Ballet of China. I also could not resist looking up the company in the Carmen programme on my shelf!

Episode two is centred on the first day back from holidays – established Company members return and the new members turn up with some trepidation.

Greg Horsman, the ballet master, takes class and, he claims, works them real hard. Which I found a concern, if it was true. He and company management expect the dancers to be ready to work; yet they know that the members of the company have been resting and that the only way to be ready to train at the level he claims to be putting them through is if they did not have a rest (for their bodies to recover from last year), but found somewhere to train (hard) in the off-season! Professional sports teams would not do this – maybe professional sportman are harder to come by than professional ballet dancers!

Then it was some interviews with members of the company – Abigail Boyle and Lucy Balfour seem to get the most air time. There is some nice gossip.

We also reconnect with Lucy Green and Yang Liu; both of whom have relocated to Wellington. For Lucy it is her first time away from home (Melbourne). Yang, has come accompanied by her fiance – good man!

There is lots of human interest – direct interviews, gossip and filming of people walking around.

Carmen – The ballet

June 10, 2010 at 1:37 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review | 1 Comment
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I went to the opening night of the Royal New Zealand Ballet‘s 2010 production of Carmen, at the St James Theatre in Wellington.Warning: plot revealed.

I grew up listening to Carmen; its seemed like whenever dad had a moment he would put on a vinyl record of Bizet‘s opera. Being in a foreign language, it was years later that I found out what all of the drama and emotion was about. I watched: Carmen Jones many years ago; a DVD with Julia Migenes and Plácido Domingo singing the lead roles some years ago; and Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man a few years ago. So I was curious to see how it would all turn out.

Setting: definitely not Spain! a little bit of Havana and sports-bar blended together.

Main roles: Carmen – Abigail Boyle; Jose – Christopher Hinton-Lewis; Michaela – Katie Hurst-Saxton; and Escamillo – Jaered Glavin. Abigail Boyle was wonderful as Carmen: dangerously attractive, confident, strong, and very much her own women. Katie Hurst-Saxton in a very unflattering frock and hair-do, was every inch the homely jilted fiance.

The Ballet was in three short Acts. The First Act was a little slow, but sets the foundation for the other two Acts: Michaela, Jose (a factory guard), and Carmen (a worker in the factory) are introduced. Michaela’s devotion to Jose is obvious; equally, Jose’s is not so clear.

In the Second Act, Jose’s ordered world is turned upside down. He is led by Carmen off the straight an narrow path that he seemed destined for – corporal of the guard, destined for higher things; marriage and children. Jose has a wonderful sequence with Carmen in the bar where she gradually creates a connection with him, that sees him forsake his duty in favour of spending time with Carmen. The Second Act ends with a great love scene between Jose and Carmen, when he is hiding in the latter’s digs – having accidentally killed the Chief of Police (Paul Mathews).

In the Third Act, Jose’s world falls apart completely: he burns his bridges with the unfortunate Michaela, and finds that he has lost Carmen to Escamillo – a rock star! The end is very tradgic – as always; maybe a modern feminist ending would see a slightly different result.

The re-mix of Escamillo (looking like Billy Idol) as a rock star (a modern day toreador) is an inspired adaption by Didy Veldman. All of the traditional toredor scenes are set to an electric rock rendition of the traditional music. Jaered Glavin’s hip swinging portrayl drew many warm responses from the crowd.

All-in-all quite good: really enjoyed the second and third acts.

I went on opening night and found that Pieter Symonds was not dancing; so that was a little disappointing. What was also disappointing were the seats: the sets have a definite house-right bias, and I ended up in seats that favoured a house-left bias. Consequently, I missed some of Carmen’s entrances in the First Act, and the (clever) video clip at the beginning of the Second Act – showing Carmen’s flight and subsequent re-capture.

Oh yes; or rather no; no pointe work, and no singing or vocals.

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