• 'Serenade'. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
    'Serenade'. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
  • 'Te Ao Marama'. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
    'Te Ao Marama'. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
  • 'Requiem for a Rose'. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
    'Requiem for a Rose'. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
  • 'Logos'. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
    'Logos'. Photo by Stephen A'Court.

St James Theatre, Wellington
Reviewed: July 28

How to begin to describe the incredible diversity and excitement of Lightscapes, presented in this, the Royal New Zealand Ballet's 70th anniversary year? The bill featured four separate pieces, imagined by choreographers from George Balanchine, widely regarded as the foremost choreographer of contemporary ballet, to Alice Topp, Resident Choreographer of the Australian Ballet and former RNZB alumnus.

 The program is eclectic but perhaps over-stuffed, with two intervals of 20 minutes between the four sizable pieces of choreography, summing up to nearly three hours. There is a mixture of old, new, homegrown and international talent in the choreographic pool, and this makes for an exciting and mercurial performance.

 The scarlet velvet curtains of the St James Theatre rise to reveal a backdrop of cloudless sky blue, as the female corps de ballet rush into place. They create a perfectly spaced tableau, with their palms outstretched like small satellites. Tchaikovsky’s Serenade in C Major for Strings swells over them as their turned in feet open in unison to first position and their port des bras methodically follow the swells of music. There are moments when the tight synchronisation of Serenade, which premiered in 1935 in New York, feels old-fashioned. It harks back to a cinematic, mid-century aesthetic of aerial shots, foreshadowing Balanchine’s connections to Broadway and old Hollywood. This is a nostalgic trademark of his choreography and a reason he is widely popular in ballet repertoire.

 The famous elegance and aestheticism of his choreographic lines are abundant in Serenade; it is just so…pretty, and expertly danced by RNZB. Perhaps, however, in such an otherwise forward-looking bill, the choice of Balanchine as the opening act is a little idiosyncratic, especially in light of recent criticism of his sexist practices and patriarchal influence in the ballet realm. It is great to see female-led staging and direction by Rebecca Metzger. If we’re talking beauty, the ensemble and solos of cloud-skirted dancers have an undeniable sublimity that would appeal to any ballet-goer. On this night, stand-out moments were when Kate Kadow executed a perfect arabesque while turning en pointe, and Mayu Tangiato performed breathlessly beautiful meandering pirouettes between the corps.

 The second choreography on the program is by Moss Te Ururangi Patterson, Director of New Zealand Dance Company. Te Ao Māori is an electrifying melange of floor work and haka with the male ensemble, to live electric guitar and Taonga pūoro by Shayne Carter and Ariana Tikao respectively. The stage is overwhelmingly dark, the dancers’ bodies highlighted with piercing white light, accentuating their forms and giving them an other-worldy property. In this work, Patterson wants audiences to connect with the personification of Tanerore, masculine energy of the sun. It is a stark and impressive contrast with Serenade. To witness such a stunning piece of artistic excellence, a collaboration between one of Aoteroa’s most eminent choreographers, melding ballet and Māori world view, is an important moment in dance history.

 Requiem for a Rose by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is a sensuous foray into Latin culture as the dancers embody a bouquet of red roses, challenging gender roles, both the men and women in crimson skirts, whirling around a central protagonist, the rose, danced gorgeously by Kirby Selchow. She embodies the rose with sinuous arm movements and a rose between her teeth in a figure-hugging nude leotard. The pluckiness of the Schubert score matches perfectly with the angular movements and swishing of skirts. This choreography is rawness and sensuality personified and it is a charming watch.

 The final piece of the night, LOGOS, by Alice Topp, is the most visually stunning and cutting-edge staging on the program. The choreography consists of small groups and duos, dancing romantically in front of a mirror-like surface. The movements are intimate and innovative, while remaining innately balletic: Topp’s trademark. Dancer Mayu Tangiato wrapped her legs around Levi Teachout’s neck as he swayed her, gently transitioning to cradle her tenderly, like a baby. The score by Ludovico Einaudi is intensely dreamy, with piano synthesiser and keyboard guitar echoing over the dancing.

LOGOS explores the themes of finding love and therefore meaning in life; intimacy as the most human thing we possess. The set and lighting design (Jon Buswell) is stunning, such as the moment that the scaffolding drops from above the dancers’ heads, sending a mist of vapour over the audience and simulated rain for the final dance, adding drama reminiscent of Pina Bausch’s Vollmond. LOGOS is the climax of the program and a staggering moment where we remember the beauty of dance, for how we can feel the proximity of beauty even in the sad moments.

'Lightscapes' continues until August 12 in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland.


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