Michael Parmenter's epic OrphEus — a dance opera, produced by The New Zealand Dance Company, is sublime and deeply satisfying; a rich fusion of dance and song, narrative and design, music and deep emotion.

Inspired by the legendary feats of Orpheus, his love for and loss of wife Eurydice, and scholarly writings exploring the Orphic world, the production has been long dreamed of by Parmenter. The opera immerses us in the life of Orpheus (Carl Tolentino), from his birth to Calliope (Lucy Marinkovich) to his death at the hands of the Bacchantes (Katie Rudd, Bree Timms and Marinkovich), his adventuring with the Argonauts (Eddie Elliott, Toa Paranihi, Oliver Carruthers and Sean MacDonald) and his plunge into the Underworld to rescue Eurydice (Chrissy Kokiri) .

The movement is eloquent, beautifully wrought, finely detailed and deeply expressive throughout the work's two hours. The pace and flow of action is dynamically varied, with little respite for the dancers throughout. Members of a 28-person movement chorus appear for massed scenes; Latitude 37 baroque ensemble and guest artists play serene and quietly elegant music from the French Court of Louis XIV.

Singing by Nicholas Tolputt, William King, and Jayne Tankersley, led by American tenor Aaron Sheehan, subtly shifts the mood and focus of the action. A subtle electronic sound score by David Downes provides environmental continuity.


John Verryt's design plunges the stage into darkness with use of haze and gauze to create variegated zones within it. The orchestra glides around on a moving platform and four oversized inflated cushions become everything from reclining couches to the Argonauts' raft and railway freight cars, Reflective surfaces are, at times, used as a screen for projections. Lighting by Nik Janiurek is subtle and minimalist, often with handheld torches revealing the action. The darkness aids our immersion into the story.

As Orpheus and Eurydice, Tolentino and Kokiri are riveting and totally believable. Their dancing is soulful and deeply moving; their love lighting up the stage during the wedding celebrations and his grief and despair at discovering her death sends ripples through the audience.

Co-commissioning by Auckland Arts Festival and the New Zealand Festival brought us this marvellous production which will long be remembered. Those in Wellington will get to experience the magic when OrphEus- a dance opera plays at the Wellington Opera House this Friday and Saturday.

What: Auckland Arts Festival & NZ Festival — OrphEus — a dance opera by Michael Parmenter with The New Zealand Dance Company
Where: Civic Theatre
Reviewer: Raewyn Whyte