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.

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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.

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.

Tutus on Tour – 2009

March 4, 2009 at 2:14 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Show Review | 1 Comment
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I went to the last performance in Wellington of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 2009 season of Tutus on Tour at the Opera House. Warning: plot revealed.

February 28, 2009 by Show_Hanger

Every other year, the Company divides itself onto two troupes; each half tours one of the two main islands of New Zealand. Each tutus tour is different – typically a number of short works that will work in some of New Zealand’s smaller theatres. Wellington, as well as being the capital, is at the southern tip of the North Island. So this night was danced by the North Island troupe.

Play bill:

I found Saltarello and Holberg Suite just a bit intellectual; I was unable to engage with the works emotionally. I admired the dancing, but I found my mind wander off to think about the events of my day etc.

At times Saltarello seemed like an exhibition piece to show case the skills of the male dancers – 5 dancers take off at once, complete a turn and land at once, smoothly transitioning into the next sequence. Saltarello featured an unusual move in a pas de deux, where the lady leaps past her partner and grasps his outstretched arm with both her hands and glides along with her toes above the floor, and just before she would kip to avoid touching the floor, with some unseen assistance from her partner, she pikes around her partner’s torso and ends up cradled in his arms, against his chest! They did this several times with effortless ease.

I found the choreography in the Holberg Suite very similar to that in Saltarello and so found my attention wandering. Still well executed and enjoyed by al, at times, vocal audience – members of the South Island Troupe.

In Through to You, I found the pas de duex between Michael Braun and Katie Hurst-Saxton captivating. It was like watching the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliette

I had previously seen Currently Under Investigation a few years ago at the New Zealand School of Dance’s Graduation Season. I preferred the Company’s execution – it seemed slightly more polished and graceful. True this took the hard emotional edge off the work – especially when compared to the Graduation Season (where I think the majority of dancers were contemporary specialist). Another member of my party preferred the edgier graduates version. Still – for me – it partially settles the question around classically trained dancers verses dancers trained with a strong classical base – the classical dancers are ‘smoother’.

Catherine Eddy and Brendan Bradshaw are current members of the Company. Their use of Beatles music, for Koo Koo ka Choo, was inspired, and the audience was taken along for a wonderful journey – made perhaps more enjoyable by the fact that they were at a subconcious level familiar with it – such has the influence of the Beatles on contemporary music. This was a very accessible work – the re-recorded music (so that it could be danced to) retained the original lyrics. Rory Fairweather-Neylan (I think – at times it is hard to identify individual dancers) did a superb job of dancing what was effectively the overture to the work.

A nice innovation was to project short film clips in between some of the pieces. Most of the clips were of the Company and its support crew (without which it would not be possible) giving the audience a glimpse behind the scenes. Then the tilt to Abbey Road – projection of a pedestrian crossing – at the end of Koo Koo Ka Choo was just on the right side of corny. It did set up the march/walk-off by the dancers.

Overall, a well executed production with something for everyone.

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Two annoying points: the sound system – at times it could not cope; and the heat – the Opera House still has not solved the heat build-up issue up in the Gallery (aka ‘The Gods’) that caused people so much discomfort during Tutandot in the mid-90’s.

Romeo and Juliet – 2008

August 27, 2008 at 7:18 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I was originally not going to see this ballet, a trial viewing of a DVD recording of a more classic version, resulted in a decision not to go. But I at the end of the show I was glad I went.

Aug 24, 2008 by Show_Hanger

This ballet was originally choreographed by Christopher Hampson in 2003 for the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 50th Anniversary. The setting and costumes are not the classic 17th century setting; instead the setting is more contemporary – post 19th century. Hampson has recast the story somewhat and given it some deeper nuances. The work is one that one might have expected from Matthew Bourne – with the greatest repect to both choreographers; it is a throroughly modern ballet.

The Capulets and Montagues have been cast onto two sides of a class divide. The Capulets are shown in wealthy circumstances – all be it with some serious street muscle on-call. The Montagues are hardly shown at all; they may have money, but Romeo (Qi Huan) seems to have the run of the streets – maybe he just feels more comfortable away from the more confining surrounds of his unseen family. The clash between the Caplulets and the Montagues is subtly subverted into a clash between the free spirits of the streets and the constricted family setting of honour and duty.

Tybalt is portrayed brilliantly, by Paul Mathews, as an angry young man consumed by the need to protect his family honor. As such he is very much the force driving the conflict, and is the catalyst of much of the violence. He was the one who supplied the forboding menace on the streets and at the Capulet family ball. So it comes a bit of a surprise to see him killed by Romeo.

Romeo and his two companions (Mercutio and Benvolio) come across as a set of self absorbed young men looking for diversion and some fun mischief – fairly harmless and annoying. Baiting Tybalt and his street heavies; siding with the people who can’t really stand up to them, seems like a bit of heroic fun, that eventually leads to Mercutio’s accidental slaying.

Romeo is not really interested in revenge, but Tybalt drives him into a frenzy and he is killed.

Juliet (Katie Hurst-Saxon) has the hardest role: she is still young, but expected to take on some of the duties of an adult – her family expect her to marry Paris, perhaps to cement a wider family alliance; she is loyal to her family; she marries against her family’s wishes – in secret; Romeo kills Tybalt – her older cousin, and a favourite; she loves Romeo, on and on and on. Juliet and her two friends are the innocents in this story. They have a nurse (Turid Revfeim) who’s job is to look after and protect them. Nurse is probably the one human figure in the household. Juliet’s parents seem to be duty bound figures.

Juliet is ultimately torn by duty and love, and seeks a third way out – she will fake her suicide. And so the young lovers kill themselves due to that fateful mis-delivered message. (Surely, a phone company or courir company will us this as the basis for an advertisement – ‘use X when that message has to get there on time’!)

Hampson injects a new sub-plot: Lady Capulet and Tybalt are secretly lovers! Here we see a facet of the adult world that Juliet tragically never discovers. Juliet’s own mother shows that duty can be worn like a suit of clothes – put on in public and taken off in private. Juliet should have married Paris and met very discretely with Romeo!

Hampson cleverly puts Juliet and her friends on point, and no one else, to emphasize their innocent nature.

Sir Jon Trimmer (Friar Lawrence) and Turid Revfeim turn in wonderful performances to give their characters some depth. Gary Harris and Greg Horsman even put charming cameo roles – as monks. Jo Funaki got the biggest round of applause – for his portrayal of the mischevious Mercutio – during the curtain call.

Tracy Grant Lord’s set was clever and created the right atmosphere – well up to meeting the challenge of creating: street scenes, a grand ball, Juliet’s bedroom, a church, and a tomb. A stair case does wonderful quadruple duty. Verona must be truly a magical place because it was just massive.

Christopher Hampson’s Romeo and Juliet is accessible, without being shallow.

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My only disappointment was that I did not get to see Amy Hollingsworth and Cameron McMillan dance in the lead roles. So much of the production publicity had been crafted around them. Given my DVD fueled misgivings of Romeo and Juliet, I went because I wanted to see them dance.

I went on the last night of the season, so if you missed it, catch it in 3-4 years when it comes around again.

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