Theatre review: Three Short Ballets from the Big Apple, Bruce Mason Centre

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A scene from Final Dress, one of three short ballets from Royal New Zealand's Ballet NYC production. Photo / Supplied
A scene from Final Dress, one of three short ballets from Royal New Zealand's Ballet NYC production. Photo / Supplied

The Royal New Zealand Ballet's triple bills have traditionally been an opportunity to serve up something meaty, new, avant garde, something to chew on, to take time to digest.

Think Javier De Frutos' Milagros, David Dawson's A Million Kisses To My Skin, Jorma Elo's Plan To A, Adrian Burnett's Abhisheka, to John Psathas, all delivered gut-wrenchingly over the last four years.

By comparison Ethan Stiefel's first programme delivers a big, bright and exquisitely danced dollop of instant gratification.

First up is Benjamin Millepied's 28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini, a study of young love for 10 dancers in swirling cycles of solos, duets, trios, quartets and more.

Baby ballerina Lucy Green leads out and stays out for the whole evening, every inch of her a stunning new star on the rise.

Neither Green nor Tonia Looker are overshadowed by the first appearance of guest artist and pre-Raphaelite beauty Gillian Murphy, principal Ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre and the future Mrs Stiefel.

Costumes match Millepied's choreography, the girls in soft puffs of candyfloss colours, the boys handsome in white tights and black boleros, the whole as charming, sentimental and moorish as any chocolate box.

Balanchine's iconic New York work Who Cares? comes last on the programme but would be better buried in the middle. We all love Gershwin's songs - Strike Up The Band, S'Wonderful, Fascinating Rhythm, Embraceable You and more - but this version fails to fire.

A dull backdrop of the New York skyline and tacky little pink skirts for the opening number do not help, though Abigail Boyle, Lucy Balfour and Miss Green again, in the solo spots, certainly nail Balanchine's sassy style and Murphy shows exactly how it is done. Paul Mathews is The Man!

But Who Cares? is dated, at best an interesting period piece.

Then there is Larry Keigwin's new commission, Final Dress to Adam Crystal's rip-snorting score.

The stage is stripped back to its working bones of ballet barres, lighting beams and other back stage machinations and the dancers fill it completely, leaping out of their clothes - and almost their skins - in a dangerous display of pulsating energy, at once ritualist and romantic, animalistic and tender, a devastatingly danced exposition of the chase, in performance and relationship.

The girls en pointe form a lascivious line. Testosterone flows. Wow!

What: NYC: Three Short Ballets From The Big Apple
Where and when: Civic Theatre, to March 3; Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna, March 6-7

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