Excerpts from reviews of the New Zealand School of Dance 45th Anniversary Graduation Season in 2012.
Flying to New Zealand from Europe can seem like arriving at the last stop on the planet, but this time was different. Thanks to Peter Jackson’s Hobbit film, premiering in Wellington, I arrived in Wellington to find I was in the ‘Middle of Middle Earth’ – where apart from hobbits and various elfin folk, there was some fine dance to be seen.
The 45th anniversary graduation season of the New Zealand School of Dance, under the direction of Garry Trinder, made the trip worthwhile. I can’t think of another school able to present in one programme, works by George Balanchine, Garry Stewart, Parrish Maynard and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and all performed to a professional standard. The unique balance of classical and contemporary training attracts top international students (two have just joined from the Beijing Academy) and is turning out dancers whose movement quality is thrilling.
An unexpected visit from Cherkaoui led to Australian James O’Hara staging the opening solo from Faun, the role he created for Cherkaoui. Gareth Okan was remarkably good in this work, which requires exceptional fluidity and for the dancer to be absolutely in touch with his instincts. It requires natural movement: difficult for the professional and even more so for students, who often prefer to shelter behind their well-polished technique, so all credit to Okan, who achieved this in spite of years of good training.
The very physical nature of the contemporary training prepares the students well for Garry Stewart’s choreography and a number of graduates are already working in his company. Birdbrain is a wild and witty take on Swan Lake. Moments of lyrical ‘swan’ ports de bras are interrupted by dancers flying horizontally through the air or across the stage. The four cygnets are briefly identified by their hand-locked configuration before tangling in wildly inventive patterns. Kate Baring-Gould managed, interestingly, to combine both the lyrical and the acrobatic in her short solo, while Andrew Miller added fearsome movement and dry humour in his. And I loved Brydie Colquhoun and Francesca Sampson, who seemed able to propel their bodies with the velocity of ricocheting bullets.
The younger contemporary choreographers had their work cut out in this exalted company. Picnic Party Prison Pack by graduate Claire O’Neill used a cleverly interwoven mix of text, sound score and pop music for her large ensemble piece. She managed the dynamics well in this party piece, although it stretched beyond its natural length, and if it offered fewer challenges to the dancers, there was no doubting the enjoyment factor. Brunhilde Observing Gunther was a teasing playful duet on a boy meets girl theme. Choreographer Mia Mason showed an inventive use of movement while giving the dancers a chance to develop a dramatic, if low key, theme. Odem by Ivica Novakovic was a serious, well-intentioned piece that spelt out its message of release from bondage graphically as the dancers divested themselves of their fantasy costumes to search out a new life.
The classical repertoire gave the opportunity to see the training and potential of the students. Balanchine’s Valse-Fantaisie is a light-hearted, unsophisticated work set on neatly defined choreographic patterns imbued with a feeling of perpetual motion. It was refreshing to see the dancers move with such speed and vigour. They showed keen sensitivity to the musical phrasing, while the freedom of ports de bras and upper body heightened the joyous quality. Maynard’s Fractals updates the classical vocabulary with a cut-and-thrust style somewhat in the manner of William Forsythe. Although less complex in structure, it offered challenges, not least in partnering skills, in which they demonstrated the confidence and timing of professionals. It was encouraging to see the students tackling both the traditional and modern ballet techniques, as so many companies need dancers able to bridge this range. Working in a modern style can encourage an overplay of tough and aggressive movement, with dancers riding rough-shod over the subtleties, but in the two strong casts Chloe Einicke and Wiliam Fitzgerald best maintained the sharp edge while looking thoroughly at ease with the presentation. Einicke, a tall, well-proportioned dancer gifted with long, beautifully placed feet, complemented a strong technique with natural charm, while Fitzgerald matched up well, proving a very able partner. Verse, written for Luis Piva Junior, was [created] by former graduate Loughlan Prior. The subtle ‘physical calligraphy’ said it all, the choreography embroidering on Junior’s fluid torso and arms while stretching his steely legs to the limit.
Edmund Stripe’s Symphony No 1, Opus 25 set to Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony and written for Singapore Dance Theatre closed the programme in exhilarating mood. It has a distinctive style with very good use of the ensemble and, although set on demi-pointe, it is classically rooted with a freedom of movement that encompassed the whole stage. The school has had another good year for student employment and they will be joining the other NZSD graduates who are making their mark in companies all over the world.
Maggie Foyer, Dance Europe
This 45th anniversary programme is a fitting tribute to the NZ School of Dance's achievements. It showcases choreography by local and international choreographers and includes three world premieres.
Ann Hunt, The Dominion Post
With polish and panache, the full time training students graduate with a fine display in an evening of joie de vivre. To mark this milestone of producing dancers for not only a national but an international market over the past 45 years, this Graduation Season definitely shows where their strengths lie.
Carefully selected pieces from globally recognised choreographers not so often seen in New Zealand, such as George Balanchine, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Garry Stewart, are presented. What a delight for the dancers to get their teeth into such well reputed pieces, honing and performing their carefully learned skills of up to 3 years of artistic sweat and labour.
Greer Robertson, Theatreview
Next up was a duet, Brunhilde Observing Gunther, by alumni Mia Mason, in which Simone Lapka and Andrew Miller circled each other tentatively, with moments of contact quickly undercut by withdrawal, mimicking the oscillations between trust and suspicion at the heart of relationships. Parrish Maynard’s Fractals was then given a sassy performance by eight of the classical trainees. Clearly influenced by the Forsythe’s In the Middle Somewhat Elevated, the work's skewed classicism and sexy moodiness was caught well by the young dancers...
This season gave the classical students greater opportunity to shine compared to previous programs I’ve seen, but both streams undisputedly performed at a professional level. Indeed, many of the graduates have already been offered contracts from companies as wide a field as ADT, the Houston Ballet, QBT, and the San Francisco Ballet. On the strength of this program, it’s not surprising that the school is fast achieving the reputation of being one of the best training institutions in Australasia.
Maggie Tonkin, Dance Australia