Stravinsky Selection: Exhilarating Ballet

Stravinsky Collection
Royal New Zealand Ballet
St James Wellington
May 21st

Then Auckland May 25 – 28
Napier May 31 – June 1
Invercargill June 8 - 9

With their latest tour The Royal New Zealand Ballet has created an all Stravinsky programme which provides an exhilarating evenings entertainment.

Of the three works two have been performed before - Milagros and Petrouchka while “Satisfied With Great Success” is a newly commissioned piece by Cameron McMillan,

Milagros was the highlight of the evening. It seems to have greatly improved since its previous performance and is more thoughtful and integrated, with a strong internal dynamism.

Danced to the ragged music of old piano roll recording of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring the six men and six women swathed in white gowns were reminiscent of the recent French dance work May B which was at the Auckland Arts Festival.

It is a disturbing work which combines dance with a sense of primitive ritual, the dancers like Whirling Dervishes, as though they were automatons or high on drugs.

There in an intense physicality to the work with the men and women striking and abusing each other as they respond to the frantic music. Throughout the dance however the brutal is tempered with tenderness.

The various pairs of dancers engage in some extraordinary spinning, spiraling and intersecting routines which have the fluidity and elegance of a flock of birds or complex arcane geometry.

At other times the work is suggestive of atomic particles colliding and ricocheting around the stage creating chain reactions of intricate movement.

Abigail Boyle and Brendan Bradshaw were particularly fine, engaging in some earthy primitive dancing in which he uses her alternately as a sexual partner and a limp doll. Their gritty savage interchanges tinged with sensitivity.

Lucy Balfour’s solo was a taut display of the exotic, the sensual and menacing

This thought-provoking work has a strong narrative line about the aspects of vileness in society that emerge in tribal, religious and other sectarian social groups reinforcing the idea of institutionalism and oppression.

Some of these same ideas are at the heart of Petrouchka which was the other main dance on the programme. Stravinsky composed the music for this work bringing together old Russian folk music and contemporary sounds in a fable about power and love.

The ballet opens in a town square with an excited crowd creating a carnival atmosphere with a variety of performers. The Charlatan (well realised by Sir Jon Trimmer) enters bringing three puppets - Petrouchka (Christopher Hinton-Lewis), the Ballerina (Adriana Harper) and the Moor (Paul Mathews) who dance for the crowd.

The costumes for the crowd scene designed by Raymond Boyce along with the set designs give the opening and closing scenes a vibrancy and colour looking as though they came for the pages of children’s storybook. The dancers themselves seem to revel in the range of folk dance and other entertainments’ they offer us.

Petrouchka is confined to a cell and Christopher Hinton-Lewis manages to convey the puppets frustration of being held captive as well as the strange inner stirrings of love. His gangling dance with disjointed limbs and lolling head is transformed when for a brief few minutes the Ballerina is thrown in and his body takes on some human qualities.

We then encounter the Moor puppet in his lush cell. Again the Charlatan introduces the Ballerina who falls in love with the Moor. Their dance is stiff and superficial with Paul Mathews providing a crude erotic dance complemented by the Adriane Harper’s flirtatious clockwork doll style dancing

The two males begin to fight and the Moor chases Petrouchka into the square where he kills him. The fears of the crowd are allayed when the Charlatan holds up Petrouchka's floppy puppet body showing them it is full of straw.

However as the Charlatan leaves the square he is startled by Petrouchka’s ghost appearing above his theatre.

The other work “Satisfied With Great Success” choreographed by Cameron McMillan with costumes designed by Karen Walker paled beside the other two works seeming to lack context and unity. It was however an opportunity for the dancers to show off their amazing technical skills.

The Vector Wellington orchestra under Marc Taddei gave an inspired performance with a careful balance of sound, marred only by some errant brass in Petrouchka. 

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