When Jane Campion's Palme d'Or winning film The Piano premiered in 1993, a teen Czech dancer watching it in Europe was so swept away by it he decided to one day make it into a ballet.

Now, some 25 years later, Jiri Bubenicek is a world-renowned dancer and choreographer whose The Piano: The Ballet has its world premiere at the 2018 New Zealand Festival in Wellington and the Auckland Arts Festival. It will also be the first production staged by the Royal NZ Ballet in 2018, the company's 65th anniversary year.

Speaking to the NZ Herald from the Czech Republic, Bubenicek says imagery he saw in The Piano as a 19-year-old never left him: "I was almost crying with the intensity of the story and the incredible landscapes in the film."

After successfully choreographing The Soldiers Tale, Bubenicek was asked by German Theater Dortmund to make a new ballet. Feeling older and wiser, he turned to his dream of bringing The Piano to stage even though he had never visited New Zealand.


In 2014, it was staged as a one-act ballet and went so well Bubenicek decided to turn it into a full-length production and speak with fellow European dancer Francesco Ventriglia, then artistic director at the Royal NZ Ballet, about bringing it home to NZ.

Accompanied by his twin brother and fellow dancer, Otto, Bubenicek visited NZ in 2015 spending just 10 days here including visits to Karekare Beach where large chunks of the film were shot.

"It was incredible! The sky was grey; the sea was stormy so it was as it had been in the film."

The Piano: The Ballet features music from Michael Nyman's award-winning film score as well as video to create the feeling of being outside and in nature, says Bubenicek. It opens the RNZB's 2018 season which also includes Dancing with Mozart, Strength and Grace: Women and The Nutcracker.

Strength and Grace: Women marks the 125th anniversary of women's suffrage in NZ and the RNZB's own 65th birthday. It will feature new commissions from female choreographers curated by the company's new artistic director Patricia Barker.

Just the second female AD in its history, Barker wants the RNZB to celebrated for commissioning work by the brightest young choreographers around: "We are a cultural ambassador and an important artistic export, sharing the spirit and creativity of our country at home and beyond our borders."