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The Royal New Zealand Ballet wowed crowds who braved the inclement wintery weather last night with a trifecta of diverse works linked via the artistic genius of two of the twentieth century’s great ballet maestros: the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, and his great collaborator, the choreographer and impresario Serge Diaghilev.
The evening began with the young Spanish choreographer, Javier De Frutos’ interpretation of Stravinsky’s notorious The Rite of Spring, which caused riots in Paris when Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes first performed it in 1913. This was another riotous performance; twelve dancers, male and female, dressed alike in sacrificial white, reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s interpretation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, playing out a Greek tragedy using balletic and contemporary dance language. It was violent, visceral, beautiful – a real showcase of the talent of the company in telling a story using the vocabulary of dance.
The second piece formed a respite from the confrontational immediacy of its predecessor. Satisfied with Great Success, with choreography by Cameron McMillan set to Stravinsky’s Scènes de Ballet, and beautifully costumed by New Zealand design legend Karen Walker, was a lushly romantic, cinematic work, framed by the inclusion of film footage of Stravinsky in New Zealand. Lit from the side, the dancers’ bodies were framed by Walker’s simple hues and Commedia dell’Arte-inspired shapes, allowing the traditional idioms of ballet to be reworked for a 21st century audience.
The evening ended with a celebration of one of the world’s great ballets – Petrouchka – which debuted with Nijinksy in the eponymous role in Paris in 1911. An essentially 20th century work, Petrouchka is an artistic response to the human dilemma – what is freedom? – on a par with Picasso’s 1911 explorations of form which resulted in Cubism, or TS Eliot’s ‘there will be time, there will be time/To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet’, from ‘The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock’, first drafted in 1911.
Like Eliot’s Prufrock, Petrouchka wears a mask – one that indicates his imprisonment and entrapment. This tragedy of human life plays out within the artistic context of Russian nostalgia for a time lost – a post-1905 revolution longing for an imagined past filled with dancing Cossacks and the happy coexistence of the many nationalities of Russia. Russell Kerr, using Fokine’s choreography from the original staging, and Raymond Boyce, again inspired by Alexandre Benois’ original design, provided a renewed insight into the universal language of dance, allowing a new audience to laugh, cry and triumph with Petrouchka, whose soul escapes its man-made prison.
By Kate Hannah 25 May 2011.
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