Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Auckland Arts Festival: Raise your stein to Strauss

Colour and noise will greet the audience as the ballet company sets up in a beer hall

Antonia Hewitt and Dimitri Kleioris dance in the in  The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud , part of the triple bill on show for the first time.  Photo / Supplied
Antonia Hewitt and Dimitri Kleioris dance in the in The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud , part of the triple bill on show for the first time. Photo / Supplied

Those heading to tonight's performance by the Royal New Zealand Ballet should expect the rowdiness of a beer hall and a touch of Hollywood action mixed in with the more traditional fare.

The triple bill production of Made to Move, playing this weekend as part of the Auckland Arts Festival, features three world premiere pieces.

In one, artistic director Ethan Stiefel shows off his first choreography for the company, Bier Halle, an ambitious comedy set in a Bavarian beer hall, which sees the whole company take up their steins and whirl away to the waltzes and polkas of Johann Strauss II.

During his prime the American was considered one of the world greats, and his appointment last year was a major coup for the RNZB, even more so for the fact his fiancee and leading ballerina, Gillian Murphy, who plays the lead role in Bier Halle, would also join the company.

Stiefel told the Herald that the idea for the piece sprang from music.

"Where I grew up in Wisconsin, polka bands were quite popular and travelled around, so I thought that might be fun. But after listening to the music, I thought to have only polka music for an entire ballet was probably not going to be sustainable.

"It led me though to the music of Johann Strauss II ... and from there the waltzes, the marches, as well as the polkas. So I put together a pool of music, and ... just started envisioning characters and different dances, and thought, hey, it might be cool to set it in a beer hall."

Unusually, a stuntman was brought in to prepare the dancers for one particular scene.

"I won't let the character out of the bag, but we had to bring a stunt man in and basically train and certify all of our dancers that were playing [a role]. And it seems to be a pretty exciting surprise, and the audience does kind of gasp and lose their breath.

"It's mixing a bit of musical theatre, stunts, and classical dancing to hopefully put on a good show."

In the other pieces, choreographer Javier de Frutos, of Milagros fame, presents The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud, his fourth work for the company, and former company dancer Andrew Simmons, now based in Dresden, contributes another lyrical abstract work, Of Days.

Stiefel said a strength of the performance was how different all three pieces were.

"We have a group of dancers that are very versatile and can immerse themselves in any different style ... ultimately that's the cool thing about the evening, each piece has its own point of view, its own story and stands alone."

Made to move

Tonight 7.30pm, tomorrow 1.30pm and 7.30pm, Sunday 6.30pm, Aotea Centre.

March 13, 14 at Bruce Mason Centre.

- NZ Herald

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