Versatility and stamina (2005)

The Royal NZ Ballet – A Million Kisses to My Skin,  Milagros, Concerto
ASB Theatre 18-21 May 2005
Review originally published in NZ Herald 19 May 2005
by Raewyn Whyte

Versatility and stamina are the watchword in this demanding triple bill from the Royal New Zealand ballet, and the dancers rise to the occasion.

Sir Kenneth McMillan’s popular neoclassical Concerto (1966) opens the evening. Set to Piano Concerto No.2 by Dimitri Shostakovich, the choreography echoes the structure and moods of the music, mostly framing solos, duos and trios against a unison corps de ballet. The first and third movements set a brisk pace, bathed in buttery-yellow light, but despite the rollicking music, there’s a palpable aura of concentration from the corps who aren’t quite there yet when it comes to unison perfection.

The second movement is the main feature, the mood soulful and lyrical, the pace much quieter, and the stage bathed in lavender light. Chantelle Kerr and Michael Braun were sublime here, sure and sensitive partners throughout the extended pas de deux, and well able to master the classical proprieties.

The award-winning Milagros is next, a hypnotic contemporary work with a strongly ritual form created on the company in 2003 by Javier de Frutos. Set to a pianola recording of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and following the music’s division into 14 segments, the ensemble dancing is beautifully arrayed in space, marking repeated pathways which curve and cut through the dark. The movement is satisfyingly intricate and full, even luscious, with deep plies and strongly curving lines, ecstatically raised arms, repeated lifts and falls, and sprinkled with highly individual solos and duets.

Dressed like Sufi dervishes, all in white with voluminous skirts which billow satisfyingly as they move, the dancers appear to be united in purpose, sure of their mission. Their sequence is fragmented, difficult to piece together in any coherent way, and suddenly one man dies after a deep kiss from his partner. Maybe it is a deconstructed murder mystery, to be puzzled over.

And last, the exuberant post-classical A Million Kisses to My Skin by David Dawson, set to Bach’s Concerto No 1 in D minor. Clearly influenced by the master choreographer William Forsythe, the choreography is expansive, extravagantly free-flowing movement which sets aside the classical proprieties. Arms and legs are hyper-extended by both men and women, and asymmetry, off-centre turns, and broken line are emphasised. Bodies are flung on the air and swept into lifts, and the dancers clearly relish this opportunity to dance full-out in a continuously changing torrent.

Dawson’s costumes are also free flowing, animated by the movement, with full-length layers of gold cloth creating billowing pants for the men, and almost full length skirt panels of sinuous, floating fabric for the women which clung to one surface or another unpredictably. Fabric clinging to the toe of her pointe shoe appeared to cause a serious injury sustained by Yu Takayama on opening night, bringing Kisses to an unexpected close.

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