Three new ballets in Made to Move made to entertain

With their latest triple bill, Made To Move the Royal New Zealand Ballet have premiered three new works which have a balance between the classical and contemporary and between the challenging and the dependable

Made to Move
Royal New Zealand Ballet
St James Theatre
February 27th


Auckland - ASB Theatre
8 - 10 March 2013

Takapuna - Bruce Mason Centre
13 - 14 March 2013

Palmerston North - Regent on Broadway
17 March 2013

Dunedin - Regent Theatre
20 March 2013

Ashburton - Ashburton Trust Event Centre
23 - 24 March 2013

With their latest triple bill, Made To Move the Royal New Zealand Ballet have premiered three new works which have a balance between the classical and contemporary and between the challenging and the dependable.

Javier de Frutos’s work The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud is the one work which has the most obvious local connection. It is danced to the music of the Pacific and the costumes are strongly influenced by Pacific designs. While de Frutos has been inspired by his growing interest and love of Pacific music he is also aware of the political dimensions of colonization as they have affected both New Zealand and the Pacific. But he does not look at these aspects as some sort of social anthropologist, there is a personal dimension for him. “I was born in a former Spanish colony and Venezuelans have the habit of turning their backs on the indigenous and local and looking to Europe where they think things are better”

In many ways he is dealing with issues arising out of his own culture as much as the issues of the Pacific and its past “I have not thought of my interest in the Pacific as being some sort of ethnographic story, I just wanted to hear new music and sounds and see new landscapes and let that influence how I thought and out of that I created the new work.”

Like his previous two works for the RNZB (Milagros and Banderillero) there is a strong element of ritual to the work and like Milagros there is more than a passing reference to The Rite of Spring.

The work initially seems to be celebratory but then takes on a more  unsettling quality with the intense physicality leading to the men and women striking and abusing each other. At times their actions are a physical manifestation of the relentless drumming and then there are more tender responses to some of the sweet  music of the Yandall Sisters.

The dancers work within a large circle of light, like the searing blast from a Pacific nuclear explosion or a clockwork mechanism or even a radio dial around which the dancers engage in fluid and elegant movement in which arms and legs are like fern fronds and falling leaves. At other times the work is suggestive of atomic particles colliding and ricocheting around the stage creating chain reactions of intricate movement.

The dancers respond to the music but there is also spoken word and the dancers respond with a primitive form of semaphore or signing.

While the music is of the Pacific the movements and gestures are universal. At times the dancers seem to be responding in a Pacific style but at other times the dance could be traditional Indian dance or flamenco.

The final dance sequence is brilliant with a display by Abigail Boyle and Dimitri Kleioris who demonstrate an electrifying mixture of aggression and tenderness capped off with a profound backward contemplative glance by Boyle as she leaves the stage.

Andrew Simmons’ work Of Days is a dance which focuses on the way dancers relate physically and emotionally to each other.

He has said that “When I planned it there were small recurring motifs started to appear – there is a man, a woman passes by and falls out of his arms. The four women, each saying goodbye, something has happened in their lives, but there is no story”

Instead of a narrative Simmons has created an emotional environment which is calm, subdued and minimal. The body language of the dancers determine the emotional connections whether it people passing in the street or two lovers.

It can also be seen as a balletic essay on the nature of intimacy in dance. For an art form which has all the components of sensuality and physicality the display of intense intimacy is often conveyed with a sense of detachment. It is this ambivalence which the dance captures.

The work is much enhanced by some atmospheric lighting which highlights the dancer’s limbs, capturing the flex of muscles and the shapes made by arms and legs. This creates elegant patterns, at times the dancers seem to be on different trajectories and then at other times attracted by the gravitational pull of another dancer mirroring and reflecting their steps and movements.

Any contemporary choreographer who suggested using the music of Johan and Josef Strauss for a ballet would be taking a big risk. The saccharine tunes and obvious rhythms of the waltzes and polkas could easily make for an underwhelming ballet.

But, Ethan Stiefel is a brave choreographer and his Bier Halle using the music of the Strauss brothers is a clever and delightful ballet.
He manages to make the work a homage to the Viennese music of the late 18th century, a classical appropriation, a kitsch work which is a pastiche of the sentimental and stereotypes as well as a crowd pleaser.

How the Royal New Zealand Ballet ends up with a Germanic beer hall dance on its programme is a mixture of influences. There is Stiefel's interest in the parallels between the beer hall culture and New Zealand’s own pub culture, there is his fascination with the polkas and waltzes of Vienna and there is his own German heritage.

The beer hall is peopled by a host of characters who provide their own individual character dancers, the flirts, the studs, the baker , the butcher, the local dignitary the huntsman and the beer maiden.

Gillian Murphy is the Beer Maiden and the ballet could have been designed merely to show off her extraordinary talents.

In the middle of the piece she takes to the stage to dance to the music of the well known Pizzicato Polka.

The music with its lively rhythms has her performing a Coppelia-like clockwork dance which morphs into magical display of dancing worthy of any ballet princess, ending with her providing a majestic turn around the stage en pointe.

Her dancing with Qui Huan (The Hunter) is impeccable and his solo work show him to be a dancer of remarkable skill.

The comedic dancing of Kohei Iwamoto (The Bird) and Paul Mathews (The Nerd) were rumbustuous and entertaining while Laura Jones (The Baker) and Harry Skinner (The Butcher) gave some inspired dancing.

Antonia Hewitt and Clytie Campbell as the two Flirts were nicely paired with the two Studs (Jacob Chown and Dimitri Kleiois) who provided great displays of athletic ability.
These three dances are a worthy trio to open this sixtieth year of the Royal New Zealand Ballet.