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Allegro – another triumph for the Royal NZ Ballet


Five Short Ballets

Royal New Zealand Ballet

Aotea Centre July 30, then Napier August 8, Palmerston North August 12, Wellington August 15-17, Invercargill August 20, Dunedin August 23

With its latest set of contemporary dancers, the Royal New Zealand Ballet has confirmed it can easily straddle the worlds of classical and contemporary dance.

The company is awash with dancers who are developing techniques and temperaments that capture and cope with the demands of interpretation and expression.

The five works on their current touring show allows the dancers to demonstrate a range of skills in dances that range across the frivolous, the fantastic and the cerebral. The opening work, George Balanchine’s “Allegro Brilliante,” set to the music of Tchaikovsky, allows the dancers to mix classical ballet with Broadway, formality with freedom using a style which combines grandeur and frivolity. Passages of intense momentum are interrupted with elegant duos and solos combining grandeur and frivolity. 

Gillian Murphy, in her last season with the company, gives an explosive performance which enlivens the stage with dramatic gesture and an almost ethereal presence. In the sequence in which she rejects the aid of her male counterpart Kohei Iwamoto, she makes a clever statement about the independence of the female dancer. But then she later becomes enraptured by him, with some remarkably limpid dancing.

The corps de ballet danced with elaborate semaphore-like gestures in which shapes and movements captured the music of Tchaikovsky.

Les Lutins featured three dancers and a violin soloist with interactions involving dance, mime and music. It is particularly clever in the way that the dancers don’t just follow the music but rather respond to it in ways that are comic and sensitive …

Rory Fairweather-Neylan gave a bravura display of sinuous movement as a cocky street dancer, engaging in some energetic and sprightly competitive dancing with Arata Miyagawa while Lucy Green provided a brilliant foil to both of them.

The programme notes for the third work, Daniel Belton’s Satellites notes the influence of German artist Oscar Schlemmer but the visuals looked as though they also owed much to New Zealand artists Len Lye along and Geoff Tune with the notions of planetary and kinetic movement. It’s a work that attempts to capture the power, the magic and the unknown of the cosmos as well as the drama and invention of the man made satellites.

This was achieved through using the dancers as though they were both actual satellites as well as seeing them as humans caught in the various force fields of human interaction Responding to the electronic music of Jan-Van Bollen, the dancers, some carrying reflecting discs, created the ideas of action and reaction of planets and satellites as well as conjuring up notions of black holes, meteorite showers and comets.

Dressed in Grecian slips, the dancers also appear to be creating the myths of the creation story, enacting a precursor to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

Larry Keigwin’s Mattress Suite is a collection of six dances in which music, operatic aria and mime combine in a reflection on bedroom activities. The dances allow the four performers to develop beautifully choreographed short sequences of tight shapes and movements all based around a mattress It’s a work which combines humour, sensuality and social commentary which exposes the dancers physicality and emotionally.

Keigwin’s Megalopolis was the final work on the programme, with the dancers responding to the competing sounds of the city, using the minimalist music of Steve Reichs along with examples of dance and club music. The dark stage with fluorescent tubes again linked to the work of Len Lye and the visual imagery refer back to the early silent film Metropolis with the ordered masses and abstract architecture of the contemporary city.

The dancers morphed through a range of dance styles; the militaristic, marching girls, conga lines, club dances and darting pedestrians. There were passages that are refreshing in their novelty and ways of developing casual movement into complex dance sequences.

The success of the programme which is dependent on the ability of the dancers is also a result of the inspiration of the departing artistic director, Ethan Stiefel. Under his direction over the past three years the company has produced some very successful and innovative productions along with tours to China and North America, which have raised the status of the company both here and internationally.

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