The RNZB’s ‘Salute’ mixed bill commemorates WW1. I always enjoy the mixed-bill programmes, there’s always a range of styles, there’s always some new work (I LOVE new work, gosh even looking at the Instagram photos of ABT’s revival of the ancient version of Sleeping Beaty made me cringe - what a waste of time!), and the dancers are all busy with plenty to do! I mean, I’m paying good money for my primo front-row seat to watch highly trained professionals at the top of their game, I’m not here to see my faves standing around in the background like exquisite props . . Of course it can be risky too - two pieces I would love NEVER to be performed again were presented in mixed-bill programmes. (How is Petrushka still a thing? It’s embarrassingly racist.)
I don’t know a lot about art, I just like it to look pretty. But people in my family are way into art and they know stuff and understand things that sail right over my head (my sister-in-law aka ‘Dr Aunty’ has a PhD in Fine Art, and she is incredibly knowledgable about techniques and narratives and layers of meaning). But I do know dance, and I love watching it closely and analysing the performance and the choreography and the technique and the musicality and the costumes. I definitely prefer something with layers of meaning over something that just looks pretty.
What a stroke of brilliance to have the NZ Army Band instead of an orchestra! They were of course utterly fantastic, and they all looked so excited to be there! (The orchestra always sound gorgeous, but they never really seem to be diggin’ the vibe the way the Army personnel were.) Captain Graham Hickman stood on his conductor’s podium and chatted away during the breaks with all of us front-row fans in a charmingly laid-back and friendly way.
Andrew Simmons is a fave of mine, I love the beauty and musicality of his choreography. ‘Dear Horizon’ was something a bit different in that it had a clear and specific theme, shown through some impressive imagery and metaphor. I really liked the costumes for this one, and there was some beautiful canon work and gorgeous partnering. Abigail Boyle and Paul Mathews are two such incredibly committed and reliable dancers, who always deliver convincing performances whether funny or serious (Mercedes and Gamache, yay!), and it’s always a treat to see them partnered together. Tonia Looker always has such a lovely quality of youthfulness, freshness, simplicity and openness to her dancing, and in this context of loss and grief it was heartbreakingly beautiful. I loved her partner work with featured soloist (and very busy man) Shaun Kelly.
‘Soldier’s Mass’ by Jiri Kylian was really interesting - you could tell it was such a big deal for the dancers to perform in a men’s ensemble. It was really well put together, with stunning formation work and so many different elements all coming together in a fascinating way.
‘Salute’ by Johan Kobborg was funny and cute - and ballet is just perfect when it comes to funniness and cuteness! (It reminded me of ‘Bier Halle’.) It was so nice in the entire programme to see all the dancers all performing as young characters for a change, with the single exception in this piece of Oscar Hoelscher as the General. The costumes were pretty (I’m a sucker for red & blue), the flirtatious humour was a delight, and Harry Skinner is comedy GOLD. (Plus he will bust out turns all day long, no problem at all . . ) Although I don’t think there is ever an excuse for double buns. It takes a special kind of person to transcend that mouse-ears vibe. (Adriana Harper I am looking at you. Coz you’re so beautiful.) ;)
And then . . ‘Passchendaele’ by Neil Ieremia came along and smacked me around good and proper. Have you ever seen a haka performed a a funeral? Or do you know what it’s like when you get dumped by a wave in the surf? THAT. The energy, commitment, intensity and emotion just poured out of the dancers. I didn’t watch carefully, I didn’t analyse, I didn’t even notice the costumes!! I think my brain might have gone ‘Kohei! Jake! Alayna! Lucy!’ but beyond that I was way too busy having all the feels. The energy was like ‘Megalopolis’, the commitment was like ‘Final Dress’ and the emotion was like nothing else I’ve ever seen. My heart raced and my tears flowed and afterwards I walked out of the theatre shaking. This came from a real place - the dancers weren’t acting and they were not mucking around! Onstage they may have to pretend to be in love, or be frightened, or be hurt, or be evil. They didn’t need to pretend to honour the dead. They honoured them for real. What a gift to have seen this performance. What a huge, precious gift. All I can say is thank you.