• Yayoi Matches in Solitaire by Sir Kenneth MacMillan.  Photo: Stephen A’Court.
    Yayoi Matches in Solitaire by Sir Kenneth MacMillan. Photo: Stephen A’Court.
  • Tynan Wood in Val Caniparoli’s Aria.  Photo: Stephen A’Court.
    Tynan Wood in Val Caniparoli’s Aria. Photo: Stephen A’Court.

New Zealand School of Dance:  Graduation Season -
Te Whaea Theatre, Wellington, 22, 23 November -

An invitation to experience the work of young dancers at the New Zealand School of Dance revealed rigorous training and a fresh crop of talented, industry-prepared dancers.  Alternate casts impressed with their range and flexibility, mature stagecraft and emergent artistry. This was facilitated by the scope and diversity of choreography that was packed into this extremely
enjoyable program.

Most importantly, the dancers seemed to be relishing their experience.  Amongst the stand-out works was Elie Tass's Ivory. This is a quirky piece for six dancers that makes strong use of sculptural forms, individualistic, spasmodic episodes and an opportunity for the dancers to engage with their wider theatrical skills. A bluegrass vocal track accompanies the movement and seems to drive a narrative, although the fragments presented have their own spatial logic and the soloists act to link elements of the visual 'story', especially the first female soloist whose dancing weaves through the early section. This is really wonderful choreography made on the students and carried off beautifully.

Another absolute highlight, for its audacity and aplomb, was Antony Hamilton's Pattern Study II.  Hamilton's genius is his ability to give the illusion of looseness and chaos that quickly resolves into a study in intense precision and a tightly constructed, almost obsessively deliberate whole.  Dancers chant in a cluster, creating their own, at first indeterminate soundscape. This quickly transitions to what is akin to a series of vocal exercises, developing into a sound wave that ultimately defeats the circle of participants. They dissipate and their vocal scores change to deliberate strings or repetitions of numbers. Hamilton also evokes a gestural precision that is often mesmerising and the dancers work physically and vocally along various score lines to produce coherence out of what could have been visually and vocally untidy.

In complete contrast, Kenneth MacMillan's 1956 work, Solitaire allowed the classical students to approach a more traditional work. This was not my favourite amongst the program's richness but revealed some exquisite dancing. In the first cast Yayoi Matches, whose solo role carries the short ballet, shone. She is a stunning sprite with a light and airy quality to her interpretation of the role which was originally performed by NZSD founding director, Sara Neil. The second cast saw Tirion Law as the Polka girl, and she displayed a finessed crispness in her footwork and a good feeling for the coquettish character she was dancing. Alternative casts (Megan Wright as the Girl and Mana Ogawa as Polka Girl) brought their own qualities to the roles and it was rewarding to see the individualism within a tight choreographic language. The male soloists displayed strength and conviction. Having said that, the ballet itself felt rather dated and it would have been nice to see the boys attacking something a little more gritty in the classical idiom.

The contemporary male dancers, however, got to show off their discipline and adaptability in No Lost Islands, choreographed by Michael Parmenter.  Dancers form into orderly lines or jostle for a place within the group. They challenge the order or comply with it. Again, this work was made on the dancers with their input and it was good to see a physically understated and nuanced work from this cohort.

Dancer, Tynan Wood (pictured above) was showcased in a number of works and showed strong technique and presence. Jeffrey Tan's Façade was especially beautiful and delicate. A duet, it also featured Jarrah McArthur, who was poised and beautiful and showed elements of fragility. In an alternative program, First Light, by Loughlan Prior, was made for and performed by Tirion Law and Stephaan Morrow. Here Law showed real strength of technique and elegance.  William Fitzgerald and Tynan Wood danced Val Caniparoli's Aria on alternate nights and brought distinct qualities to this solo.

I was impressed by the dynamism and precise technical skills shown in Rise by Jo Funaki. This was accompanied by a wonderful drive and performance quality, displayed by all dancers but the first female soloist was especially captivating in her enactment of the swirling, ballistic choreography. The male dancers were also very powerful and accomplished. Extracts from Rafael Bonachela's The Land of Yes and the Land of No, were also beautifully handled. Ritualised phrases lead into sculpturally evocative duets and a lovely exchange between a girl and boy.  

Indeed, the programming for this season was supremely good, sensitive to the strengths of the dancers and allowing them to experience the range of choreographic demands they will meet as professionals.


Susan Bendall was a guest of the New Zealand School of Dance. 

New Zealand School of Dance's "Graduation Season" runs until 30 November.

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