Bernadette Rae: In leaps and bounds

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Douglas Wright's Rapt meditates on the loss of identity and madness, while offering rays of hope.
Photo / Supplied
Douglas Wright's Rapt meditates on the loss of identity and madness, while offering rays of hope. Photo / Supplied

Bernadette Rae applauds the year in dance, starting with Douglas Wright's Rapt and ending with the RNZB making the British National Dance Award finals

The dance highlight of the year has to be Douglas Wright's Rapt, performed at the Civic in March. It opened with a filmed image of a naked baby boy, serene as a Buddha, gently peeing into the cloud-like cushion supporting him, before blossoming into a masterly rumination, in incomparable Wright style, on the loss of identity, madness and the inevitability of death - but shot through with sharp rays of hope, explosive and lyrical. Hope has not always been a subject of Wright's attention. A troupe of divine and devoted-to-Wright dancers did both him and the work extremely proud.

The greatest mystery of Wright's dance - the most bizarre aspect of all - is how the premiere dance theatres and festivals of the world have failed to raise it on high, where it belongs. Yet.

Also in March, for the Auckland Arts Festival, came a dance delegation from France and its territories, including Maguy Marin's landmark work May B.

May B is still feted after three decades of continuous performance; still challenging our definitions of what dance might be, still a riveting spectacle of the most precise choreography.

Jerome Bel's The Show Must Go On, with its cast predominantly of newbies plucked from the streets and with only a sprinkling of experienced performers of any kind, was another interesting and highly entertaining redefinition of dance.

Gregory Maqoma's Beautiful Me was aptly named for its magnificent solo dancer, but also dealt with issues of self-identification and culture.

Tempo Dance Festival, in a newly abbreviated season and new venue, Q Theatre, in October, was the last for retiring artistic director Mary Jane O'Reilly.

Celia Walmsley, CEO and programme director of the St James Theatre and Opera House in Wellington, has been appointed to take over Tempo from next February.

O'Reilly signalled a new interest and possibly new career as manager of a burlesque troupe, making a somewhat saucy debut in Tempo with her show In Flagrante.

At the other end of Tempo's scale this year, and with a very different celebration of the feminine, was Ann Dewey's gorgeous Shine Lady. This work began as an exploration of purely abstract movement related to the movement of tectonic plates and that of microscopic life, but evolved into a poem of praise to the female divine.

The winds of change have also been blowing through the Royal New Zealand Ballet company, with Matz Skoog at the helm through much of the year, awaiting the arrival of new artistic director Ethan Stiefel.

The RNZB's year began with a different-looking Tutus on Tour season, presenting an hour-long version of Pinocchio, choreographed by Toby Behan, alongside a classical Verdi Variations arranged by ballet master Greg Horsman. Its triple-bill programme, Stravinsky Selections, featured Javier de Frutos' magnificent rite of spring Milagros, a new commission for former company dancer Cameron McMillan, Satisfied With Great Success - named for a famous Stravinsky quote - and Russell Kerr's restaging of Petrouchka.

The company's greatest success of the year, however, came with the announcement in November that the RNZB is a finalist for "Outstanding Company" in the prestigious British National Dance Awards 2011, following its two-week tour to Britain and France in July with a triple bill consisting of Jorma Elo's Plan to A, Javier de Frutos' Bandarillero and the beautiful A Song in the Dark, by former company dancer and rising choreographer on the international stage, Andrew Simmons.

Simmons is also a finalist in the Best Classical Choreography section of the same awards, for Song in the Dark, an RNZB commission in 2009. The awards will be held in London in January.

- NZ Herald

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