East to west, coast to coast

Tutus on Tour gives younger members of the ballet company a chance to get to grips with new and challenging dances.
Tutus on Tour gives younger members of the ballet company a chance to get to grips with new and challenging dances.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet's "smalls tour" - referring to its content of a variety of small works or excerpts, and properly titled Tutus on Tour - has a special significance this time, as the ballet celebrates its 60th anniversary.

Of all its activities, this biennial trek from north to south and coast to coast, this year in a 47-centre tour of heartland New Zealand, most captures the spirit of the RNZB in its earliest days when the company bundled up on a bus and hit the road, performing in whatever venue a community could offer - mainly unsophisticated village halls with precariously raked stages, and even the occasional cowshed.

In those days everyone was billeted and all played a part in the back-breaking task of packing in and out of new places on an almost daily basis.

Conditions are much easier today, but there is still no way to prepare newcomers for the experience, says Brendan Bradshaw, a veteran of several tours and still dancing - and also choreographing, with former dancer Cat Eddy, a significant new piece on the programme: a brand new version of Peter and the Wolf.

"There is always an element of disbelief that we are going to do the show in some of the venues," he says of dancers new to the tradition. "But it is a really good tour to do, it gives the younger ones a chance to tackle bigger roles and show their stuff."

Turid Revfeim, who completed two "smalls" tours as a dancer in the company during the 80s, and six more since she became ballet mistress in 2003, adores the experience.

"I love them," she says, "for the feeling of company history but mostly for the way people in the smaller centres appreciate us coming so much.

"They get dressed up and the husbands come along and then everyone, especially the husbands, has such a big smile on their face at the end because they have enjoyed it so much.

"We are always made so welcome and the younger dancers all get a chance to show what they can do - and get treated like big stars. And we all get to see the country. I think it is great."

Tutus on Tour kicks off on October 23 in Wellington with the company split in two and this year criss-crossing the country from east to west rather than splitting up between the North and South Islands, as has been the previous pattern.

The programme offers six items this year: Peter and the Wolf in its premiere outing; Flower Festival at Genzano, a joyful and playful love duet by Danish choreographer August Bournonville and one of his most celebrated compositions; the Grande Pas de Deux from Don Quixote, with choreography after Marius Petipa, music by Ludwig Minkus, and design by Gary Harris that gives the traditional a colourful twist; New Zealand choreographer Andrew Simmons' lyrical Through To You, to music by Arvo Part; the Charlie duet from Mark Baldwin's FrENZy to Split Enz in dark mood; and Antony Tudor's Little Improvisations, another duet, with music by Robert Schumann. With a number of casts preparing each piece, Revfeim has been busy.

"The Don Q duet comes with great audience expectation," she says. "They know what it is and they want to see all the steps, the big lifts and catches. It has been a big challenge for the younger ones but they are loving it."

Split Enz's Charlie was originally made for very accomplished dancers and is a serious work that has presented another set of challenges, with its ambiguous portrayal of a couple who are no longer so close.

The second piece, totally new to the company, is Little Variations and, although not too technically demanding, is in a totally different style.

Peter and the Wolf was commissioned at the end of last year, so Bradshaw and Eddy came well prepared at the start of the six-week rehearsal period and quickly had their four casts of 10 up and running, leaving plenty of time to put a final polish on the work.

They describe it as traditional in form and classical in technique, but set in the modern day and a very metropolitan environment, where Peter suffers a few father issues, has a sister who wants to fly Jean Batten-style, and a grandmother who wears Chanel.

Peter also has an active dream life, in which family members, pets and toys all present in new guise. The whole is narrated by Te Radar, live in some centres, and in special recordings with Orchestra Wellington, elsewhere.

Music is also live in Wellington.

Bradshaw and Eddy, who now runs a successful Pilates studio in central Wellington, have worked together before, making the successful Koo Koo Ka Choo, to Beatles tunes, in 2009 and choreographing a section in WOW in 2011.

- NZ Herald

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