Thursday, 5 November 2015

Kia Ora! The Royal New Zealand Ballet in Leeds

Royal New Zealand Ballet: "A Passing Cloud", Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, 4 Nov 2015

The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa which means the Land of the Long White Cloud which perhaps explains why the name of the Royal New Zealand Ballet's mixed bill was A Passing Cloud. I saw it last night at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds. The company played to a packed house which included one of this country's best choreographers as well as a fair number of dancers and dance students. Judging by the whoops and ululations with which each curtain call was greeted I would say that this visit to the UK by New Zealand's dancers is every bit as successful as last month's visit by its rugby players.

The show consisted of four works by the following choreographers:
These are four very different pieces with very different moods each of which tugged on a different emotion in a different way.

Before I saw Aotearoa-New Zealand for myself in 1996 I imagined it as a parallel Britain on the other side of the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. They speak our language, play our sports (often much better than we do), live by similar laws and there are odd bits of architecture in Christchurch and Dunedin which reminded me of home but their seasons, climate, terrain and vegetation could not be more different. If you want a crash course in what makes New Zealand special and distinctive you could do worse than attend this ballet.

The first ballet paid tribute to the people who first settled New Zealand. They were Polynesians whose achievements in exploration and navigation were comparable to the Vikings. They settled in Hawaii and Easter Island as well as New Zealand and just about every island in between.  They have a beautiful rhythmic language and haunting music all of which was used by de Frutos in his ballet. But although the music and verse was  Polynesian every jump, step and turn was classical.  Petipa would have recognized it all. Well almost all. This was a happy piece. Lots of primary colours. A great deal of jumping and plenty of joy. The audience loved it and none more than me.  Anatomy formed part of Made to Move when it was first performed two years ago and you can get a taste of it in the first frames of this YouTube video.

The next two works were drawn from Salute which were the company's contribution to New Zealand's World War I commemoration. As the first work drew smiles the next two drew tears, particularly Passchendale  which was about fighting, gas and death. In both ballets the music was provided by the New Zealand Army band who showed tremendous musicality. I wish we could have seen them as we did the works and colliery bands in Mark Baldwin's Dark Arteries last week (see Cock a Doodle Doo - Rambert's Rooster 27 Oct 2015).  Now that I think of it Mark Baldwin comes from the Antipodes, doesn't he.

I was reminded of another Rambert work momentarily in Selon désir in that Foniadakis like Jeyasingh in Terra Incognita had dressed his boys in kilts but that was where the similarity ended.  Selon désir was an explosion of energy. Thrilling to watch it must have been exhausting to dance. This work will form part of the company's Speed of Light  programme in the new year. All I can say is that the folks back home in New Zealand are in for a treat.  Set to Bach's St John's and St Matthew Passions, this work soars. As I had been stranded in Geneva by fog on Monday night I was amused to see that this work like Bruce's Rooster was first shown at the city's Grand Theatre (see Geneva Nutcracker 26 Oct 2015).

The Royal New Zealand Ballet has left Leeds for High Wycombe where I plan to see its Giselle on Saturday. Then Canterbury, the Linbury and Italy. If you get the chance to see these wonderful dancers grab it with both hands.

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