New Zealand School of Dance: “Graduation Season 2014” -
Te Whaea Theatre, Wellington, New Zealand, 28 November -
Warm anticipation filled the auditorium of the New Zealand School of Dance’s Te Whaea Theatre for the ninth performance of their graduation season, an evening showcasing their classical and contemporary streams in seven diverse and challenging works by international choreographers.
The evening opened with George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco set to Bach’s “Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins”. This work asks as much of its corps of eight female dancers as it does of the two female leads, and the corps danced it admirably. Their performance showed an extraordinary accuracy of line, rhythm and style for a group of (mainly) first year students.
The leads were second year students, Law Lok Huen, who was partnered by third year’s Jack Bannerman, and Megan Wright. Wright’s fluidity, technical prowess and artistry played perfectly into the hands of the choreography and she was radiant in the third movement. Law Lok Huen worked well beside her and Bannerman partnered her gracefully through the long and difficult second movement pas de deux, though occasionally fatigue was evident in her lines.
The Speech, by Dutch choreographer Wessel Oostrum, interpreted by second year student, William Keohavong, followed. This beautifully crafted work asks the interpreter for careful degrees of emotion, tension and release. The mainly gestural movement is clean and clear, and is set to text from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, which speaks of young men going to war. The work requires maturity and theatrical understanding – the performer must play on the edge of meaning, not over-interpret the words. Keohavong did this superbly. For me, this was the star performance of the evening.
Malia Johnston’s Trigger II involved a mix of first and second year students in a contemporary work that pieces together the dancers’ own phrases in a variety of explosive and delightful crossings. They moved with confidence and joy. Their jumps and tricks exploded. Their falls dropped seamlessly revealing an ensemble of technically proficient contemporary movers. Johnston’s expertise is evident in the spatial arrangement of dancers – the use geometry and juxtaposition; unexpected and satisfying patterns and pops.
Double Stop, American choreographer Val Caniparoli’s neo-classical pas de deux, was performed by third year students Samantha Vottari and Tynan Wood. The pulled, limb-extending and bending style of the piece is reminiscent of late 1980s William Forsythe. It plays with counter balance and physical extremity. Wood caught and manipulated Vottari’s strong, wiry body with dexterity, alluding to the solo cellist in Philip Glass’s “Song II” to which the piece is set. Although my eye was drawn mostly to Vottari, there were moments where Wood’s lithe physicality shone.
Excerpts from Douglas Wright’s RAPT, concluded the middle section of the program. NZSD graduate Craig Barry, an original cast member, taught the work to the students before Wright and his assistant, NZSD graduate Megan Adams, rehearsed its finer nuances. In RAPT, a cast of second and third year dancers displayed an impressive depth of movement understanding, play, and dynamics. This style of work, in less sensitive hands, could appear flung and random, but the students held back from that indulgence. They delivered the work with finely balanced abandon, discipline and integrity.
The evening concluded with Nils Christie’s 1997 work Purcell Pieces, set to the music of Henry Purcell. This contemporary ballet style (of the likes of Jiri Kylian), which demands precision in shape and form brought together a cast from both the NZSD’s classical and contemporary streams. This genre calls for uniformity. That the two streams could deliver this work as a whole, highlights the roundedness and calibre of their training.
Watching this piece I was reminded that these dancers are students, not professionals. While they executed the work with clarity, this challenging genre is particularly revealing of a dancer’s maturity and experience. It requires a profound degree of nuance to lift it above purely form and exactitude.
I saw the show a second time on the final night, and want to highlight the performances of two first cast members. In Concerto Barocco, third year student Samantha Vottari, danced in Law Lok’s place. Vottari and Wright complemented each other in a way that truly allowed us to see the music – a quality often remarked on with Balanchine’s choreography. In two solos, Jeremy Beck was quite outstanding. He was inspirational in his solo moment in Purcell Pieces; in The Speech he was taut and exacting, and his extraordinary physical and theatrical balance grounded the whole piece in a truth which trembled.
- Emma Sandall