The Royal New Zealand Ballet's new story performance The Piano: the ballet is inspired by and adapted from Jane Campion's much awarded 1993 movie.

It follows the same nastily twisted and entirely fictional narrative of the movie but lacks the clear point of view and narrative subtleties of the original.

Ada, a mute woman sold into marriage in far off New Zealand, is delivered by boat with her pre-teen daughter Flora and her piano.

The ballet is the story of the two men who come to rule Ada's life and her dependency on the music she plays on her piano.


Alistair, her cold and repressed husband, is jealous and cruel. He trades Ada's piano to his music-loving neighbour George and she follows it to his house. George craves sensuality and satisfaction and, making Ada his muse, eventually seduces her.

When Flora inadvertently reveals George and Ada's relationship to Alistair, he vents his rage on the lovers and forces them to move on.

Choreography, by visiting Czech artist Jiri Bubenicek, is most effective in the intense pas de deux sequences which trace the development of the relationships between Ada and each of the two men. As Ada, Abigail Boyle is supple, sensitive and strong; yielding and melting into softer sequences and standing her ground until beaten into submission in others.

As they toss and turn and lift and spin and embrace her, Alistair (Paul Mathews) and George (Alex Ferreira) are convincing in communicating the intensity of their feelings for Ada. As Flora, Hazel Couper is confident and delightful.

The ballet's events are played out against beautiful video footage compiled by Otto Bubenicek which recalls scenes from the movie and contrasts with the ugly human interactions. Projected onto curving, mobile screens, windswept wild and restless ocean, regenerating west coast bush, rocks and waterfalls and panels of black and white art nouveau wallpaper are vivid scene-setters.

Bubenicek also provides an overtly emotional musical soundtrack to increase the drama, a complex collage of wide ranging sources. Costumes by Elsa Pavanel match the social status of the characters.

Audiences seem to have a mixed response to this new work. Some love the beauty of the film and the lush musical pastiche; others admire the way Ada fights to retain her sanity and dignity despite her maltreatment at the hands of George and Alistair.

There's a feeling that the community representatives could be more roundly developed but nobody faults the dancing and there's interest to see new RNZB company members in the next season.


What: The Piano: the ballet
Where: The Royal New Zealand Ballet, ASB Theatre at the Aotea Centre; now touring NZ
Reviewed by Raewyn Whyte