Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London
November 17, 2015

Royal New Zealand Ballet in Neil Ieremia's Passchendaele Photo Ellie Richards

Royal New Zealand Ballet in Neil Ieremia’s Passchendaele
Photo Ellie Richards

Maggie Foyer

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s ‘Mixed Bill’ was certainly that. Works by European choreographers, Javier de Frutos and Adonis Foniadakis, were wrapped around a kernel of home grown choreographies, extracted from the company’s World War 1 memorial programme. This filling in the sandwich gave a promising glimpse into the current New Zealand dance scene: talented, versatile dancers performing quality original works.

Andrew Simmons’, Dear Horizon, a lyrical work of loss and longing is set in dappled light backgrounded by a tower of netting. Batons of timber and flowers are caught in the tangles suggesting the mess and confusion of the trenches. The dancers rise from the floor where they have been lying in rows like cemetery crosses to link and separate in subdued dance. Simmons’ choreography has a sad and gentle voice with emotions subtly revealed in bodies that stretch, fold and wrap. However, he provides contrast in the men’s ensemble where the regimented movement conveyed stronger expression.

It was Neil Ieremia’s, Passchendaele, commemorating NZ’s darkest hour of loss, that had the strongest impact. He tackles this almost impossible task through strong, down-to-earth movement: leaping, falling or simply kneeling in squares of light. Effective structure heightenes the emotions as fear, ferocity and despair flood the stage. The large cast of both men and women, plainly dressed in neutral tones, gave their all in eleven moving minutes.

Foniadakis’ Selon désir which closed the programme is a vortex of passionate movement, relentless to the point of madness. Set to religious choral music of J.S. Bach, it has the fervour of the dance plagues which spread across Europe in the Middle Ages. The dancers, hair flailing, threw themselves into a maelstrom of ecstasy. The piece certainly tests their stamina, although an occasional pause would have been welcome.

Royal New Zealand Ballet in The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud Photo Evan Li

Royal New Zealand Ballet in The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud
Photo Evan Li

Javier de Frutos’ The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud, which gave the programme its title, is a strange fish: an unconvincing mix of ethnic and ballet. The warm Polynesian rhythms never rise to the surface remaining imprisoned on the sound track as the dancers move through formally structured choreography. The men, dressed in high-buttoned shirts rather like ‘posh boys going native’, were however able to prove their masculine strength by throwing the women around with much vigour. I felt the female dancers got the better deal with several impressive solos and movement that relate more strongly to the mixed bag of music.

This programme together with their classical offering, Giselle, have given the company a very impressive profile in their European tour.