The Piano: The Ballet
Royal New Zealand Ballet
Napier Municipal Theatre
Friday, March 2
Reviewed by Astrid Austin

The white-washed water turned to red, all colour left the face of a young daughter, a mother realised she was trapped at the hands of an older man seeking revenge.

It was as though time stood still.

Rewind an hour earlier and a black and white image of rolling waves crashing on a New Zealand beach, along with the sound of wind and spraying foam greeted the audience.

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The powerful chanting echoed through the crowd, as five dancers gracefully performed the haka.

As the image slowly divided, Ada and her daughter Flora arrived through it by boat, their possessions loaded around them, including her treasured piano.

Based on Jane Campion's film The Piano, and originally conceived as a shorter work, it has been re-imagined and expanded for the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

All aspects of the production - choreography, performance, music, set, video projections and costume design - are in sync, making for an extraordinarily compelling evening at the theatre.

Seamless design and choreography, by Jiri Bubeníček, combined effortlessly to bring the acclaimed New Zealand film of love and tragedy to the stage.

From the beginning, Otto Bubeníček's musical arrangement underpinned the drama and emotion of the ballet, working in harmony with the usually subtle, and at times harsh, movements of the dancers.

The musical director, designer and producer does not disappoint in his interpretation, with stunning set and video design, music arrangement, composition and staging.

Other composers whose works bring the story to life are Schumann, Stravinsky, Arensky, Debussy, Schumann, Shostakovich, and Pēteris Vasks.

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The production is interspersed with traditional and contemporary Maori dance and song, sensitively contributed by RNZB Maori adviser, Moss Patterson.

Sara Garbowski's performance of Ada grounds the production, with her passionate and deeply felt characterisation.

Playing her daughter, Bianca Lungu brings the character of Flora to life, showcasing the raw emotions of a young child.

At times, some scenes can be quite confronting, including a scene in which Ada's husband Alister rapes her after finding her with another man, George.

Scenes like this left the audience shocked and sitting on the edge of their seats.

The ending is left up to the audience's interpretation - was Ada set free?

With the final bow and a rapturous applause, two hours of top-class ballet came to an end.

The Piano: The Ballet will showcase for a final time at the Napier Municipal Theatre tonight (Saturday), before travelling to Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch and Palmerston North until March 28.