Royal New Zealand Ballet’s opening season of 2016 is an exciting triple bill featuring three international contemporary classics. Speed of Light is the first programme Artistic Director Francesco Ventriglia has created since taking the reins in 2014, and it demonstrates a revitalised direction for the company. The title, Speed of Light, references, in part, Ventriglia’s own passion for moving fast. All three works share speed, precision, and vitality, although they strongly contrast one another in theme and movement vocabulary.
Alayna Ng opens the show to a full house in Andonis Foniadakis’ Selon désir (according to desire) with voracious energy and passion. Her performance is relentless in attack and commanding in terms of presence. First premiered in 2004 by the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, the work is intertwined with a multi-track mix of Bach’s St Matthew and St John Passions. Sixteen speakers suspended above the dancers move up and down during the work. Motifs of head rolling, intertwined partnering and tense suspension, create a fluid and darkly-undertoned work. The costumes are initially distracting, but make sense as the work develops. The skirts create layers of expression and fluidity that are echoed in the women’s hair; loose and used to full dramatic effect, as an extension of the movements. Selon désir pulses with unceasing energy and power. Abigail Boyle dances this work with technical mastery and strength. Ever-changing groupings feature a stunning pas de deux, and follow restlessly on the heels of preceding sections.
In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated is an iconic classical contemporary work, commissioned by Rudolf Nureyev from William Forsyth on dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet. Nearly thirty years later, it continues to be an aspirational work for both dancers and companies alike. In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated’s theme and variation structure plays on the technical precision of the dancers, working with extended and accelerated positions. The ballet is edged with moments of naturalism by the dancers; pauses onstage, a casual adjustment of a costume, a stroll travelling away from the audience without extending the feet. Yang Liu and Abigail Boyle show particular control and power in this performance, and Maya Tanigaito is an absolute knockout; snappy, strong, superb.
The final work of the evening, Alexander Ekman’s award-winning Cacti is a light-hearted parody of its own dance/theatre form, and draws plenty of chuckles from the audience. Originally created for the Netherlands Dance Theatre 2, the work premiered in 2010. Live music onstage for this performance is provided by the New Zealand String Quartet, and contrasted with both live and recorded sound/voice. The staging of Cacti is beautifully theatrical; the dancers perform most of the work on large, white tiles, creating percussive and rhythmic sounds through often stylised movement. Lighting by Tom Visser is integral to the impact of the piece, and keeps the work refreshing and varied. The Duet, performed to a stream of consciousness duologue, is a clear favourite of the audience, to say nothing of the supremely symbolic cacti.
Speed of Light tours two more centres; don’t miss it.
ROYAL NEW ZEALAND BALLET
NEW ZEALAND STRING QUARTET
March 2nd, SkyCity Theatre