Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, London, UK, November 17-21, 2015
Royal New Zealand Ballet returned in November to the UK for the first time in four years with a mixed programme celebrating New Zealand’s heritage and culture. The four works switch effortlessly between contemporary and classical dance showcasing the versatility of this young and energetic company of dancers.
Javier de Frutos first created a work for RNZB in 2003. His latest piece for the company, “The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud,” draws inspiration from New Zealand’s geographical location, and the Pacific cultures and history the country is rooted in. The ambiguity of its title, according to London-based Venezuelan Frutos, is intentional and the work itself is equally abstract in its ideas. Frutos conjures an atmospheric portrayal of Pacific culture through his movement, music and colourful, tropical-print costumes.
As the dancers enter they gather around a large white circle. At its edge they are spectators, when they step into its space they dance. It’s a set-up which, when accompanied by the rhythmic drumming of the music, gives their gathering a tribal feel. It’s perhaps a nod towards indigenous Maori culture, but the overriding sense of this work is one of joyful celebration.
The dancers’ light, springy steps transfer to deep plies with apparent ease and Frutos’ choreography abounds with leaps and kicks, which the dancers attack with flair. His swinging port de bras and fleeting arabesque lines dispel the traditionally strict placement of classical work and this style fills the dancers’ movements with a light-hearted feel. They look as if they truly enjoy Frutos’ choreography and a series of trios, passing a girl between two men, add a flirtatious edge.
The music flits between Pasifika songs, drumming and speech. As the songs change the movement changes too, each track a new episode in the work, a ‘passing cloud’ if you like. A static crackling marks this switch, the repetitive interruption giving the work a disjointed effect. Still, “The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud” has such a lively, colourful feel that each time the movement begins the crackling change is soon forgotten. It’s a warm and spirited work, and an enjoyable opening to the programme.
The middle of the bill takes a more sombre note. Two works, first performed by the company in “Salute,” a bill commemorating the centenary of the WWI Gallipoli landings, reflect on the divided experience of war; the men who fought and the women who loved them.
A metal structure rises from the stage and reaches overhead, flags and poppies caught amongst its haphazard branches. A set-design by Tracy Grant Lord, its looming presence gives Andrew Simmons’ “Dear Horizon” an immediately oppressive atmosphere.
There’s a distinct separation between the male and female dancers. The men dance together in an image of comradeship, the women are figures that join them then disappear, like passing memories. It’s a piece that focuses on the emotions of war, most clearly the longing for absent loved ones.
Fittingly, both works are choreographed to music performed by the New Zealand Army Band. As the clashing tones of Gareth Farr’s score rise dramatically, the dancers keep pace with grand jetés and athletic movement, before their work returns to quietude. This is the only work in the bill where the female dancers are en pointe and it lends grace and delicacy to the picturesque images “Dear Horizon” presents, even when some of those images are overdone.
“Passchendaele,” the second of these two pieces; an 11-minute homage to the battle that claimed the lives of more New Zealander soldiers than any other. Gone is the calm grace of “Dear Horizon.” The male dancers rush onto the stage in a powerful burst of movement, then one by one they fall. The women enter in mournful lines, hands joined, in a manner reminiscent of the Romantic ballets, yet here they are bare foot, not gliding en pointe. Their slow, lyrical work lies in contrast to the high-energy choreography of the men at war.
Set to Warrant Officer Dwayne Bloomfield’s epic tone poem Passchendaele, the piece focuses on the separate griefs of men and women in wartime, yet highlight the sacrifices of both. The scenes of parting, couples clasped for a few moments together then left alone, are particularly poignant. It’s a brief, and simply staged work but Neil Ieremia’s movement speaks with elegance and feeling.
The final work changes the tone of the programme yet again. “Selon désir” is an explosion of movement and colour. The dancers are dressed alike in loose, bright coloured skirts and tops. The company adopt choreographer Andonis Foniadakis’ weightier, released style of movement with assurance and relentless energy. There’s a great freedom in their movement as they drop in and out of the floor, the loose hair of the female dancers flying around their bodies.
“Selon désir” starts and ends with a solo of crawling, scrabbling movements set to Bach’s dramatic choral music, St Matthew and St John Passions. The dancer’s movements have an uncontrolled effect as if her body is being dragged by the music, and this style continues throughout the piece as the company join her on stage. While the supposed themes of heaven and earth, faith and ecstasy remain abstract notions, if existent at all, “Selon Désir” embraces the drama of its music and the company commit to it full heartedly, delivering Foniadakis’ mad rush of choreography with due abandon.
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