RNZB's 2019 Choreographic Season

by Nadine Armiger


At the beginning of March, so so long ago, before we all as a nation got the shock of our lives, in a different & more innocent & naive era . . I wrote this:


It’s not always simple, straightforward & easy being a passionate devotee (‘fangirl’) of both the Royal New Zealand Ballet AND New Zealand choreography . .

Dancers: Caroline Wiley, Fabio Lo Giudice, Kihiro Kusukami. Photo Credit: Ross Brown

Dancers: Caroline Wiley, Fabio Lo Giudice, Kihiro Kusukami. Photo Credit: Ross Brown

The choreographic season (what a utilitarian name, lacking in pizazz) doesn’t tour to Auckland, so I had to travel to Wellington to get my fix. Sadly the ballet-fangirl life continues to be a rich-person’s game as it takes a considerable investment of funds, not to mention getting up at 5 am to travel to the airport.

Was it worth it? Happy to confirm that yes it was! FINALLY some mind-blowing choreography embodied by the RNZB performers (I LOVE DANCERS. PROTECT THEM AT ALL COSTS!)

It was SO GOOD & my number one question has to be - why aren’t we seeing this kind of thing all the time, on all the tours, to all the centres? I have no interest at all in seeing last-century’s choreography from overseas, honestly sitting through ONE work by Balanchine or Forsythe is enough for a lifetime, it reminds me of why people who think “ballet is boring” think ballet is boring. 

Nadia Yanowsky & Alexandre Ferreira - Photo credit: Stephen A'Court.

Nadia Yanowsky & Alexandre Ferreira - Photo credit: Stephen A'Court.

Hine choreographed by Moss Te Ururangi Patterson

Tuturu whakamaua kia tina - TINA!  Haumi e, hui e, TAIKI E! How perfect is this karakia-concluison for dancers? It references embodying ideas to make them come true, joining together as a group . . & that’s exactly what dancers do.

I love watching Moss’ work (eg ‘One’ & ‘Pango’), I always find it so easy to connect with, it’s full of recognition & familiarity. I don’t have to search for meaning, it’s so comforting the whole way through to be thinking ‘I get that reference’.  Hine was resonant, moving, & relevant to my lived experiences as a New Zealander. I was so proud of Luke leading the haka & channelling nga tupuna into the Opera House space. It was so beautiful to see the dancers recreating shapes of wharenui, embodying the masculine/feminine dynamic through light & darkness, highlighting the connectedness of the two sides with the connected sleeves. It was so clever, & Nadia & Alex were stunning. Visually I loved the use of floor, levels, canon & circles (I am all about that porohita choreography - so pleasing!). The use of Alien Weaponry music just made me so happy, it was an unexpected choice for ballet, but again the familiarity of it just further cemented my belief that ballet IS real life, it’s not some ‘other’ thing that exists overseas/in the olden days.

Caroline Wiley - Photo credit: Stephen A'Court.

Caroline Wiley - Photo credit: Stephen A'Court.

The Sky Is Not So Different From Us, Perhaps choreographed by James O’Hara

Watching dancing to live music is always the best way to experience it, & having the musician on stage & part of the visual performance is even better! I was really interested by the programme notes & the processes that went into producing this choreography, however the zero-waste costumes (such a great idea!) were ill-fitting with bulky bunching & slouching in all the wrong places. 

This work was danced as 6 separate solos at the same time. When a group of performers (not just dancers - actors or musicians well) are onstage & not interacting with each other or with the audience, it’s really hard to engage with, & I struggled hard to keep my attention focused.

Paul Mathews & Maddy Graham - Photo credit: Stephen A'Court.

Paul Mathews & Maddy Graham - Photo credit: Stephen A'Court.

The Ground Beneath Our Feet choreographed by Shaun James Kelly

In the interval straight after this piece, a little girl yelled out MY FAVOURITE WAS THE RAINBOW ONE.  (Everyone else: SAME, little girl, SAME.) I loved the energy & fun & joy & the casting & the rainbow-coloured costumes. The stunts & tricks were spectacular but still dancey, & fitted in perfectly with the musicality. I was jaw-dropped like WHAAAAT?!? a lot of the time when I wasn’t grinning from ear to ear. The music was brilliant, Massimo’s collab with Bach was stunning. I loved the fresh non-traditional partnering work, such Maddy & Paul with their significant height difference, or seeing boys partnering boys, & also Mayu & Alex when she spun around with her foot up & it went under his hand! This work was an absolute joy to watch & I’m so grateful I got to see it. 

Abigail Boyle - Photo credit: Stephen A'Court.

Abigail Boyle - Photo credit: Stephen A'Court.

Artemis Rising choreographed by Sarah Foster-Sproull for Abigail Boyle

Well. What can anyone really say about this? Abi’s work is always filled with power, beauty & charisma. She is a legend, an icon & a much-adored queen among her multitudes of fans. How perfect that Sarah chose to portray her as the goddess archetype for her final performances with the RNZB. I love Sarah’s work (eg ‘Orchids’ & Unitec’s 2018 graduation piece which MESSED ME UP), it’s always strongly communal, powerfully symbolic & deeply cathartic. It was so special to see Abi’s connection with the company’s newest/youngest dancers, honouring them by having them honour her. A truly magical experience that I’m so thankful to have witnessed.

Luke Cooper (Te Arawa) leading the ‘Hine’ haka - Photo credit: Stephen A'Court.

Luke Cooper (Te Arawa) leading the ‘Hine’ haka - Photo credit: Stephen A'Court.

I don’t watch dance with my brain, I watch it with my body, because that’s where my emotions live. I don’t want to get involved in intellectual analysis, I want to be jumping out of my skin with excitement. These performers are not a theoretical construct or mindless dolls to be played with, they are making magic with the light of their souls, & it is a gift to be able to witness it. Nga mihi nui ki a koutou katoa.