Two tough acts for poor Petrouchka to follow

By Bernadette Rae

What: Stravinsky Selection, with the Royal New Zealand Ballet.
Where: Aotea Centre.
When: To tomorrow.

Petrouchka has good sets and costumes, but the characterisations are generally shallow. Photo / Supplied
Petrouchka has good sets and costumes, but the characterisations are generally shallow. Photo / Supplied

Triple bills are the best - and another innovation of choreographer Diaghilev and composer Stravinsky, in the Ballet Russes. The Royal New Zealand Ballet's celebration of Stravinsky's music, including Diaghilev's short ballet Petrouchka, again celebrates the form in an intense and explorative programme.

First up is the primal and confronting Milagros, by Javier De Frutos, in the company's repertoire for eight years and still as riveting a Rite of Spring as ever. Pagan Russia is suggested in riffs of Cossack-style moves, but the costumes are unisex swirlings of white, the dancers curiously labelled by number patches on their backs.

The riotous score is presented in recorded pianola form at breakneck speed and a "rage of emotion".

And the dancers in this version deliver in full measure, with the phenomenal Abigail Boyle presenting both a heart-wrenchingly vulnerable and transcendent sacrificial virgin, perfectly matched by Number One man, Brendan Bradshaw.

Lucy Balfour's duet with Dimitri Kleioris is another mesmerising moment of evil portent, all the more powerful for its dark control amid the tsunami of passion that crashes around it.

Cameron McMillan's Satisfied With Great Success propels Stravinsky's Scenes de Ballet score into the 21st century with great success. His choreography is razor-sharp and amazing in an abstract panorama of beautifully executed moves which nevertheless have much to say about relationships, coming together, bursting apart and reforming, in kaleidoscopic detail.

Karen Walker's costumes are perfectly matched to the action and retro crisp, in a range of neutral colours slashed with orange and lime green: men in classic polo shirts and flare-legged sports shorts, girls in a range of leotards, briefly skirted, curiously frilled or left revealingly unadorned.

It is a clever collaboration, temporally linking with the filmed backdrop of Stravinsky's visit to New Zealand 50 years ago and to MacMillan's vision for the future.

Russell Kerr's restaging of Petrouchka with choreography after Fokine's original faces an insurmountable task in matching the contemporary blast of energy that has gone before. Douglas Wright was the company's last Petrouchka - another hard act to follow.

While the classic tale unfolds in authentic style, with pretty costumes and sets and dancers doing their technical best, characterisations are generally shallow, and poor Petrouchka's cry for liberation in the end is more a whimper than the stuff of revolution.

- NZ Herald

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