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AN ABSTRACT WORK BETWEEN CULTURALLY REFERENCED BOOKENDS

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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 Jan Bolwell, 28 Feb 2013


To curate a triple bill can be a tricky business especially if it consists of newly commissioned dances.  Will they hang together in a single programme? There must be a certain element of serendipity at work. In the case of the Royal New Zealand Ballet's Made to Move programme that opened in Wellington last night, the mix was a strange one with vastly different choreographic visions on display.  One purely abstract work was book ended by two culturally referenced ballets requiring a large mind shift by the audience.

Javier De Frutos is no stranger to New Zealand having worked with the RNZB over the past decade creating such strong and inspirational works as Milagros in 2003. Influenced by the writings and philosophy of the late Jonathan Dennis, founder of the New Zealand Film Archive, De Frutos felt ready to turn his attention to the culture of the Pacific. ‘I can now create my own response to the Pacific, albeit with a great deal of care.'  And therein lies the problem with The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud. De Frutos has taken so much care; his references to the Pacific in the movement vocabulary are so oblique that he has removed the essence of the Pacific - its energy, motion, sensuality and earthiness. 

The smell and taste of the Pacific are largely absent in what is otherwise an interesting and accomplished piece of choreography. His skills are everywhere in evidence in the spatial patterning and grouping of the dancers, partnering and varying dynamics, and innovative gestural movement. Relationships are hinted at and moments of potential menace briefly alluded to. The dancers give their all, with Abigail Boyle and Dimitri Kleioris in particular anchoring the work in strong portrayals. However the dancers are not helped in their evocation of the Pacific by costumes, which though in attractively bright tivaevae patterns, give no sense of flow and movement.

Whereas De Frutos largely steers clear of Pacific movements in his choreography, he shows no such constraints in his use of music. He has put together a pastiche of sound from Cook Island drumming, ancestral song, excerpts from the Bible (Genesis) spoken in Maori with a deliberately scratched recording, to The Yandell Sisters. The most successful partnership between music and dance are the sections in which he uses Cook Island drumming and where we begin to get a sense of where the dance comes from. But overall, this reviewer found the music a distraction, because the relationship to the choreography are so tenuous.  In the end I wanted to look at the dance in silence.

Of Days by ex-RNZB dancer Andrew Simmons displays none of the risk taking evident in De Frutos's work. Of Days is a quiet, introspective, abstract work beautifully designed by Simmons himself with understated costuming by Kate Venables. The dancers move serenely from foreground to background to the music of three different composers all stylistically similar.  Wordplay occurs as projected images, but the relationship of words to movement is not obvious, and in the end these become an unwanted distraction. Lighting, stage design and costuming are the strongest elements in Of Days, none of which is sufficient compensation for pedestrian and predictable choreography that leaves a soporific residue in the air.

The evening ended with RNZB director Ethan Stiefel trying his hand at some original choreography. Paying homage to his German roots, Stiefel takes the audience on an exuberant romp through a Bavarian beer hall. On a monumental set which threatens at times to dwarf the dancing, Bier Halle spills out a series of eccentric characters – nerd, flirts, studs, baker, butcher, bird, among others – who communicate appropriate joie de vivre and clearly relish the opportunity to deliver such full throated dancing.

Kohei Iwamoto is delicious as Bird, ably matched by the natural comic talents of Paul Mathews, the Nerd. As Beer Distributor, Sir Jon Trimmer gives everyone a lesson in how to command the stage, and Studs Jacob Chown and Dimitri Kleioris sparkle with show-off athleticism and some sharp Schuhplattler. Gillian Murphy and Qi Huan are given room to demonstrate their consummate dance abilities as Beer Maiden and Hunter, and the whole enterprise is wrapped up in the inimitable music of the Strauss brothers, Josef and Johann II played beautifully by Orchestra Wellington under conductor Nigel Gaynor. By the end the audience are clapping along happily to the dance, and go out of the theatre into the warm summer night humming various polkas, waltzes and marches.    


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