Auckland Arts Festival: OrphEus – brilliant dancing in a flawed dance work.

Auckland Arts Festival: OrphEus – a dance opera
Michael Parmenter with the New Zealand Dance Company
Civic Theatre, Auckland, then Opera House, Wellington, March 16-17

The Orpheus myth has attracted numerous interpretations including the Balanchine/Stravinsky version and Pina Bausch's setting of Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice. The mythic account of ancient Greece is a love story, an epic journey and a tale of man's encounter with the gods and the underworld.

The programme for Michael Parmenter’s new version notes the work was years in the making, vast in its scale, epic in its narrative arc, complex in its artistic elements and daring in its choices. Parmenter and others writing in the programme also make it apparent that there are a number of political, philosophical, social, political mythological issues being addressed in the work.

Parmenter has created a multi-layered version, with several Greek myths that can be linked to Polynesian voyaging as well creating a parallel contemporary story of migrant journeys.

The work traces the life of Orpheus (Carl Tolentino), from his birth to Calliope (Lucy Marinkovich) through till his death including his voyages with Jason and the Argonauts and his journey into the Underworld to rescue Eurydice.

The two-hour work has some of the most inventive choreography of recent New Zealand contemporary dance. Both the principal dancers and the company combine movement, dance and gesture in breathtaking ways. At times the dancers create waves of movement across the stage, providing a sense of the movement of water or air while their massed ranks of frightened, queueing migrants gave an impression of danger and fear.

Carl Torentino as Orpheus and Chrissy Kokirias as Eurydice were extraordinary in their dancing, especially in their pas de deux, where real energy and emotional connection was displayed.

While the concepts behind the work, the dancing, set design and music were outstanding and many sequences were mesmerising, the ballet itself was not satisfying. There was a lack of narrative thread and the emotional core of the work was sucked out by an emphasis on the technical aspects of the dance.

Much of the drama of the work revolved around the soundscape, comprised of baroque music by Rameau and Charpentier music, along with contemporary sounds by David Downs, and a group of singers, notably Nicholas Tolputt and Jane Tankersley, who provided some of the emotional depth to the work. However, as in many opera productions, there was a failure to provide surtitles, either in French or English of the arias being sung. They may have provided a guide to the narrative or the characters but withholding this information only served to distance the audience from the power of the work.

This is supplied content and not commissioned or paid for by NBR.