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Royal New Zealand Ballet - Triple Bill

'Saltarello', 'Milagros', 'FrENZy'

by Cassandra

April 27, 2004 - Sadler's Wells, London

Seeing a company hitherto unknown to me is usually a special pleasure but on Tuesday evening as I made my way to Sadler's Wells Theatre I got caught in the mother of all rainstorms which had transformed nearby Upper Street into a virtual river. There was no option but to wade across and as a consequence I was forced to sit through the evening in sodden trousers and squelching shoes, so it was very much to the credit of the Royal New Zealand Ballet that I very soon forgot about my considerable discomfort.

The three choreographers making up the triple bill are all familiar names and two of them are British, but it was the Venezuelan Javier De Frutos who contributed the outstanding work of the evening. “Milagros” is Spanish for "miracles" and the music is that choreographer-magnet, "The Rite of Spring", presented here rather unusually in the form of a piano roll played by Stravinsky himself.

This is a ballet of profound beauty with images of humanity that touch the heart. Dressed in unusual costumes of filmy long sleeved tops with faint numbers on the back and long voluminous skirts (worn by both sexes) designed by De Frutos himself, the dancers are able to glide effortlessly across the stage as if on rollers, their feet hidden under layers of petticoats.  The dancers form circles to become a ring of limping cripples and then form a group of ancients, bent with age. They split from the collective to form smaller more intimate groups.  They become sick in the body and in the mind -- one couple dances racked with pain and a man expresses indifference as a girl lays at his feet and lifts her skirts. There is even a reference to Nijinska’s "Les Noces" as the girls form a pyramid of heads. Subtle Spanish touches occur in the tilt of a chin and the sweep of an arm, the skirts are caught up at the waist like a flamenco dancers and feet come down in a stamp.

This is a magnificent work that captures the energy and drive of one of the greatest pieces of music in existence. The young dancers are totally convincing as they portray the troubled souls dancing out their anxieties to Stravinsky’s compelling rhythms and De Frutos proves yet again that he is developing into a choreographic master.

The first item of the evening was lightweight by comparison, but I still liked very much Christopher Hampson’s attractive “Saltarello” which is apparently inspired by the Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio. The fourteenth century music was very striking, with something of a Greek flavour and the men’s costumes reminded me of Robert North’s “Troy Game”, a similarly energetic work. The atmospheric lighting gave the piece a sense of mystery as the dancers performed a series of ensemble dances peppered with humour here and there. Not one of Hampson’s best but enjoyable none the less.

Definitely not enjoyable was the closing work of an otherwise impressive programme. Mark Baldwin’s FrENZy (no, that’s not a typing error) danced to music of “New Zealand’s most celebrated rock band”, Split Enz. It was a hectic piece with the dancers frenetically performing to 70’s and 80’s pop. More like a variety show number than anything else I found it pretty hard going and started to become aware of how wet my feet still were after my earlier soaking. My companion loved it though and he plans to buy some Split Enz CD’s at the weekend. What’s that saying about one mans meat being another man’s poison?

The Royal New Zealand Ballet is currently in the middle of a UK tour and is appearing in both Glasgow and Edinburgh with this programme. I know we have some keen ballet fans in Scotland and look forward to reading their views too, as I really recommend a visit to this vibrant young company.


Edited by Jeff.

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