Peter Pan

November 2, 2009 at 2:57 am | Posted in Ballet Review | Leave a comment
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I went to a performance of Peter Pan put on by the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Warning: plot revealed.

October 31, 2009 by Show_Hanger

I went to see the the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 2009 production of Peter Pan, at the St James, in Wellington; they have made some changes since I last saw it in 2004.

There were lots of children in the audience, and one little girl even gave a big cheer part way through! There were even boys in the audience.

Alessia Lugoboni, was wonderful in the part of Wendy; she was by turns a light little girl; and a girl on the verge of womanhood (she mothers the Lost Boys and unknowlingly gets into a three way tustle for Peter’s affection).

Sir Jon Trimmer seems to have found a fifth or sixth wind; his portrayl of Captain Hook was brilliant – better than when he last danced it. He even did a little Michael Flattery sequence when he thinks he has won – poisoned Peter, and about to make the Lost Boys, Wendy and her Brothers, walk the plank

Rory Fairweather-Neylan danced Peter, bringing energy and boyish charm to the part.

The fly-out-the-window sequences have rally come along since 2004; it really does seem like they are flyiong out the window and climbling up towards the “Star on the right.” In terms of flying, the additional use of projection really gives a sense of flying to and from Neverland.
But, the Company should ditch the dummies on poles. This is the 21st century, and they should either be bold enough and put in aerial dance trained dancers; or just let the dancers dance – afterall Swan Lake is able to carry off the swans swimming on a lake without recourse to painted decoy ducks pulled by ropes.

I really liked the end of the Second Act, when Peter and Tinkerbell danced together. It wasn’t quite a pas de deux, but the nature of their relationship is explored and exposed.

Catherine Eddy took on the challenging role of Tinkerbell; Tink, must be light (she is a fairy after all), fun loving (that is why she is jealous of Wendy – because she sees that Peter will ave fun with the latter rather than with her), impulsive (short the girl-monster boys!), and given to displays of emotion (fist pummeling empty air and the odd swipe at the Lost Boys and Peter). The displays of anger and frustration seemed out of place in a fairy; aren’t they
suppose to be happy creatures – isn’t that why clapping revives them? Hopefully the choreograper gives Tink some other motif next time.

Lucy Balfour made the most of her Tiger Lily role.

Abigail Boyle gave a delightful protrayal of the Neverbird, who rescues Peter from the rock; her wonderful costume was very eye catching.

The costumes were great. The pirates have been spruced down, and now look like the crew from “Pirates of the Caribean” – I swear that there is a Johnny Depp look-a-like! The Lost Boys look like playful squirrils – lots of rolling around on the ground in their furry costumes!!

Paul Matthews makes the most of sequences as Mr Darling: with some funny ‘do as I say, and not what do as I do’ parenting at the beginning of Act I.

All-in-all quite enjoyable.

The music was clever; each group got a separate tune; the Darlings/Family got the best – it sounded like a variation of the Kermit-the-frog’s dream song.

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Roll on 2010 and Carmen!

La Sylphide: revenge of the witch

August 4, 2009 at 1:09 am | Posted in Ballet Review | Leave a comment
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I went to a performance of La Sylphide put on by the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Warning: plot revealed.

August 1, 2009 by Show_Hanger

Having read about the Danish style of ballet, I looked forward to seeing a quitissential Danish ballet work. (Actually, the Royal New Zealand Ballet was founded by a proponent of the Danish style, so I should have noticed the jumps and active male partnering long before this!)

The programme:

  • Dances from Napoli
    • Pas de Six
    • Flower Festival
    • Tarantella
  • La Sylphide

– originally choreographed by August Bournonville.

I was struck by Flower Festival – Michael Braun brought lift and a sense of (his) enjoyment.

Then it was onto the main fare: a man – James – about to get married falls in love with a Sylph (a spirit). Who said the Scots were a dour lot! So off he goes – following his heart – leaving his own wedding celebration. It all ends badly: not the least because he humiliates the village hag (‘Madge’ – played by Sir Jon Trimmer, with a real feeling for the part). Michael Braun is James, and the Sylph is danced by Antonia Hewitt. Braun is powerful and controlled, and yet able to project the emotions going through the James character.

I liked the wedding – people enjoying themselves – with the Sylph fluttering in and out when only James could see her. The Sylph is very much the marriage wrecker – James trys to resist her, but he is just a foolish man. The wedding is made much more 3-dimensional by the prescence Effie’s little sister – danced wonderfully in character by Emma Brown. The Company is precise as ever, but a ‘little’ girl has shorter legs, so must occassionally run to keep up with the dancers in the reel – wonderfull.

Rory Fairweather-Neylan, as Gurn, was at times quite funny: “I saw a fairy – right there!”. In fact there is quite a bit of humour in the ballet; it is a pity that it turns out to be more along the lines of a Greek tragedy.

Antonia Hewitt and the other sylphs are light and ethereal. It cannot be easy dancing the sylphs, as Marie Taglioni was considered by Bournonville as the quitessential sylph, and it cannot be easy living up to such a legendary ideal. Effie the jilted bride is ably danced by Adriana Harper; the plot does not have very much for her to do, which is a pity.

The two sets – castle and woods – were very good.

I found the two intervals – one after Dances from Naploli, and the second between the two acts from La Sylphide – had the effect of making the evening very ‘bitty’. The very traditional choreography also added to the sense that this was a series of dances – unlike ‘newer’ ballets which have smoother transitions between dances. It seemed a little 2-dimensional.

But I did get to see an example of the Danish style. There were a many jumps – particularly by the men – and in the pas de deux‘s the women were unsupported and their male partners had equal time.

Being a softy, I wish James and the sylph had not died. But he was a most ungenerous soul on his wedding day – casting out the village hag into the cold. And he did break his oath, so he certainly got his come uppance.

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I did not like the fact that the cast list is no longer handed out. The cast list from the web site differed from the cast list shown on the monitors in the foyer spaces.

Roll on the Company’s Peter Pan in October!

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.

Cinderella – RNZB September 2007

August 31, 2007 at 7:30 pm | Posted in Ballet Review | Leave a comment
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Aug 31, 2007 by Show_Hanger

I went to the opening night, Friday the 31 of August, of the Royal New Zealand Ballet‘s new production of Cinderella. This is a new work from choreographer Christopher Hampson.

The ballet is in 3 Acts, and opens with a funeral. Actually, the funeral takes place before the beginning of Act I – like the opening scenes in a modern movie, where there is an attention grabbing sequence before the opening credits. The funeral sets the scene and mood for Act I, and takes place behind a black muslin curtain. Anyone who is not familiar with the Cinderella story is left in no doubt that she is an orphan, about to be cast into an uncertain future. Act I is dark and the step-mother and step-sisters cruel and nasty to Cinderella.

Act II takes place at the ball, and here we see the Prince in search of a soul mate. Even at the ball, surrounded by beautiful women – many invited there to meet him – he seems alone. Just when you think the ball is over and the ballet is going to take an unexpected direction, Cinderella appears. the prince comes to life and the rest is history.

Act III is also introduced by a tableau – this time by the corp of Royal shoemakers trying to duplicate the slipper left behind by Cinderella – taking place infront of the curtain. They fail and the Prince has to use the real one on his search for the women who will fit the shoe. The curtain rises and the Prince and his companions search for the Prince. Of course, the Prince finds Cinderella and all is well. One of the step-sisters even ends up with one of the Prince’s companions!

I have never been to a pantomime, but having seen the step-sisters, I have some feel for what a pantomime might be like. I am not saying that the ballet went too far, though some may say it did. For me, the portrayal was just right, it introduced a lighter note to some very dark material. In fact the dancing and acting of Alessia Lugoboni threatened to steal the show – her portrayal of the chirpy airhead step-sister gained this character the sympathy of the audience.

For me the choice of Yu Takayama, Qi Huan and Vivencio Samblaceno as Cinderella, the Prince and the Father, had what must have been an unexpected result. The dark elements were all danced by European looking dancers and the ‘good’ elements of the ballet were played by Asian looking dancers. This provided a visual contrast. There was another more subtle contrast: the Prince and Cinderella danced traditional ballet steps; whereas the step-sisters danced a very character steps. The result was to emphasis the gulf between the dark and the light elements at work. At times it was almost as if there were two ballets going on at once – the new characterisation around the step-sisters and the ball, interleaved with the very traditional stylized Prince and Cinderella. I would really like to see this production on another night with different dancers in the roles of the Prince and Cinderella – to see and experience what it would be like.

I really enjoyed this production: the re-worked story offered those who were familiar with the basic story-line something to hang out for; the costumes, sets and lighting very nice and the dancing was great. The step-sisters were larger than life and you could sense the love-hate relationship building up with the audience. The Prince and Cinderella were picture perfect – to my man-in-the-street-eye they exhibited strong tradition technique: Yu Takayama was light and her split-leaps were effortless and level while, Qi Huan’s fouettes pinpoint.

Some other impressions: guys with wings and a roses sub-theme. Three of the characters who supplied Cinderella with the where withall to get to the ball are insects with wings ! I have not seen men in parts with wings – this is generally reserved for female dancers. The recurring use of the rose motif was also very clever: Cinderella plants a rose on her mother’s grave – which turns into a giant rose bush; under which she is given her ball gown; of a red rose motif as the full moon 3 days after a partial eclipse that produced a ‘blood moon’; and the vital silver rose.

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This performance inspired me to start this blog, and write about art and culture (and maybe other things).

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