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SUPERB LEVEL OF CHOREOGRAPHIC CRAFTING

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Made to Move - The Royal NZ Ballet
See www.nzballet.org.nz

at St James Theatre, Wellington
From 27 Feb 2013 to 2 Mar 2013
[2 hours]

Reviewed by Lyne Pringle, 28 Feb 2013


The Royal New Zealand Ballet continues to blaze a trail of successes with the Triple Bill evening Made to Move  to celebrate 60 years of existence; no small feat in a country of this size.  Many great people have contributed to make the company the lean flexible and classy machine it is today. We celebrate them all.

The commonality of the evening is the superb level of choreographic crafting in the works and the stellar international careers of the creators:  but there are 3 distinctive artistic voices presented.

Javier De Frutos, a Venezuelan by birth, has been coming to New Zealand for 10 years now to create 2 previous works for the company.

With his latest offering, Anatomy of a Cloud, he feels it is time to capture the diaspora that is NZ as the ‘largest Pacific nation' and to, some would say, ‘plunder', ‘appropriate' or perhaps just borrow the sounds, aesthetics and ‘dances' of the region to forge a unique take on life in the oceanic idyll. * (Please see endnote)

The work is dynamic, bright – a moving tivaevae design with the music sourced from the Cook Islands and Hawaii, mixed with sounds from Aotearoa. Sometimes tracks stop suddenly with static as the channel is switched and we move on.

Beginning with a circle ritual around a ‘chief' the vocabulary is gentle soft and rippling, this morphs into deconstructed angular gestures propelled by drumming; taut intricate and compelling.  The women are tossed by the men, legs akimbo; love stories are played out to the soothing sounds of the Yandell Sisters. A fast solo by Madeleine Graham is exhilarating in its intensity as this interesting angular choreography is taken up by the entire company.

On one level celebratory, with uniformly stunning dancing from the cast, there is an undertone of disquiet played out by an overbearing ‘chief', wonderfully danced by Dimiitri Kleioris, who at times takes a heavy hand to his woman, the ever gorgeous  Abigail Boyle. Later the same power dynamic is played out between men. One reading could be about the exploitation of Pacific Nations by wealthier neighbours - it is a seam of discontent that is subtle enough to leave room for the watcher's interpretation, and meaty enough for the performers to shine dramatically. Like a slight tear in the corner of a postcard from a gorgeous atoll, in some ways it is disconcerting to watch balletic choreography that is so clearly situated in our part of the world, because it is so rare.

The work finishes in an unexpected way, with Boyle looking out to the audience in an enigmatic way then melting into a gorgeous solo – taking charge of a future – perhaps?

I was spellbound by Andrew Simmons Of Days; every fibre of every muscle of the dancers alert in the work to create the most exquisite poetry. The costumes  are masterful -  grey leotards with ruched chiffon tops for the woman and unitards for the men. The choreography is spacious and elegant, set to spare but beautiful music by Olafur Arnalds, Dustin o'Halloran and Ludovico Einaudi and the lighting by Jason Morphet is breathtaking in the way that it caresses the dancer's bodies to make them shimmer.

Often the dancers move in silence, limbs like tendrils in the space or walking simply – there is an overlying theme of yearning and searching as words flicker above the stage.  We are given the chance to drink at the cup of classical form and come away nourished by the ‘lines of living' that these wonderful dance artists create in partnership with their choreographer. It is deeply moving as we find then lose each other.

In the center of the work there is a shift of dynamic as Simmons executes splendid patterning with the group.  He makes poems; the wings of starting over; concords of willowy figures as delicate as gray warblers on a misty Canterbury day.

The work finishes with a sublime duet danced by Antonia Hewitt and Brendan Bradshaw  – a threnody of the body – perfect in its structure and marriage with the music. Then we all breathe out.

Bier Halle, the first original choreography by company director Ethan Stiefel, delivers the promise of a good time - beer and lederhosen. A little slow to begin, with boggy mime as the characters are introduced, by the end it is rollicking along to the great sounds of the Orchestra Wellington playing fantastic renditions of Johann Strauss II and Josef Strauss.

From the start there are gags aplenty to open up the laughter muscles. A kooky cuckoo clock (Kohei Iwamoto) and nerd (Paul Matthews) set the tone: later they are romantically paired, causing mayhem and ruffled feathers - great characters and dancing from these two.

Everybody in the cast is having a ball - butchers, beer distributors, bakers, flirts, barkeepers, and townsfolk come together for a good old session of binge drinking leading to evermore outrageous shenanigans.  Jacob Chown and Dimitiri Kleioris make fantastic studs with dynamic dancing.

Qi Huan as the Hunter and Gillian Murphy as the Beer Maiden do what they are supposed to do and fall in love. The choreography is great here, and at times quite unexpected - such as the slow beginning to their dance with tiny steps and the extended gesture by the beer maiden to her lover's face before placing her cheek on his hands. There is a lovely ‘tongue in cheek' aspect to this love which brings a smile.

Both lovers get to share their fabulous technique, stunning turns a la second from Qi Huan, and incredible control and lightness from Gillian Murphy in her solos.  A hush falls over the theatre when she is dancing. She is lovely, then just when we thought she has finished, she sets off in a whirl of turns in second en pointe around the stage.

Ethan Stiefel creates a masterful ‘story ballet' with fantastic spirited dancing from the cast and happy smiles from the traditionalists in the audience. As the director of the company he continues to make ‘good calls' and even shares a photo of himself as a child in lederhosen.

 

End note:  De Frutos states that he treats using this music with the “same level of seriousness” that he treats classical greats, also that “It's complex”. This is true and I guess we have to trust that he has done his homework. Would a NZ Pakeha (as in non Maori) choreographer get away with juxtaposing abstract movement to a recitation of whakapapa without causing a furore? Good question.  In the choreographer's words, “This work is very important to me and reverential. I didn't get on a plane and fly 36 hours to piss people off,  that is not what I am about.”


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See also reviews by:
 Jan Bolwell
 Ann Hunt (The Dominion Post);
 Rosemary Martin
 Bernadette Rae (NZ Herald);
 Hannah Molloy