Speed of Light, until Sunday

Where: RNZB at SkyCity

Reviewer: Bernadette Rae


William Forsythe's iconic work In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated, the centrepiece of new artistic director Francesco Ventriglia's first mixed bill programme for the RNZB, is said to have changed ballet forever.

The company's pitch-perfect performance of the piece in this festival season will certainly change its benchmark of success forever - and the expectations of a smitten audience.

Costumed in the traditional emerald green tops and black tights, which leave the dancers' bodies as undisguised as the bare stage on which they perform, Abigail Boyle, Mayu Tanigaito, Tonia Looker, Yang Liu, Alayna Ng, Clytie Campbell, William Fitzgerald, Massimo Margaria and Shaun James Kelly slay the audacious choreography with aplomb, whisking through its series of solos, duets and ensembles without missing a beat of Thom Willems' fiercely percussive score.

It is a hard act to follow but Alexander Ekman's Cacti is up to the challenge with the cast clad in unisex ensemble; this time black pants, white tops and impish beanies, on a moveable set of Scrabble-like tiles. Cacti takes more than a sly poke at haughtily verbose dance critics and analysts: a voiceover booms out preposterous pronouncements; a breakout duet, again accompanied by a voiceover gives a funny, stream-of-consciousness insight into the dancers' process and those tiles seem to hold their dancers captive.

Ekman, despite the hilarity and superficial charm, is no light-weight choreographer and the piece is visually dramatic and complex.

The New Zealand String Quartet plays live, weaving among the set pieces and dancers on stage. Then there is the mysterious awarding of the cacti. But a cheeky effervescence, an irrepressible energy and a beguiling wit prevails.

The programme opens with Greek choreographer Andonis Foniadakis' Selon Desir, which takes its cue from the opening choruses of both the St Matthew and St John Passions and the emotional and colour palettes of Renaissance paintings.

Both the men and women of the cast wear modern-looking skirts in those rich and vibrant hues and there is much leaping and rolling, writhing and grasping.

But for this viewer at least, what promised a purple passion of ecclesiastical proportion seemed choreographically limited and somewhat beige.