Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

From Here to There

Royal New Zealand Ballet
Barbican and touring
(2011)

From Here to There: photo of Banderillero

Royal New Zealand Ballet was last in the UK in 2004, and I have to confess I missed them then, so this is a first for me, and a very interesting first it is. A finely structured intelligent programme of three short ballets for heart and head, mixing modern classical with contemporary, and an excellent showcase for the small company of dancers, who give it their all with a direct gaze as if to say, take that, see what we can do.

The first, Plan to A, for three couples and a single male, dressed in deep red and in soft shoes, all propeller arms, wonderful spins, unusual lifts, demonstrates a resolute effortful choreography, somewhat indebted to Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe, from Jorma Elo (Finnish choreographer now resident at the Boston Ballet).

On a plain stage under the dramatic focus of Joke Visser's splendid minimalist mesh canopy wave casting patterns on the floor (lighting by Jordan Tuinman), to Heinrich Biber's Baroque Sonata No 84 in E Major, one of his Mystery or Rosary Sonatas, movements unfold and repeat to the music's mathematical tensions and ecclesiastical precision. It does not move the heart.

After this crisp opening, Andrew Simmons' classical A Song in the Dark, to Philip Glass' wonderfully propulsive music, comes as a passionate revelation - an overabundance, a glut of choreography. Perhaps too beholden to the tempo of Glass' Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Songs and Poems for Solo Cello, Simmons and his sixteen dancers exhibit classical empathy and poise.

In green costumes on a plain stage (design by Kate Venables, lighting by Jordan Tuinman) offset by a white screen on which their shadows lengthen and multiply, they are Ovidian creatures, liquid, fluid, in a flurry, in a hurry. Wayne McGregor's frantic quicksilver moves come to mind, as, paradoxically, does Russell Maliphant's stillness in the finish - a gentle spinning in silence.

The second couple (I'm guessing Ginny Gan and Qi Huan) are outstanding in their pas de deux. A little overextended in arabesque (trying too hard, perhaps, but there's no need, for her talent is evident), she is lovely in her lyrical grace.

The final piece is, surely, Javier De Frutos at his best. The choreography and design are all his, the ten dancers clad in soft ivory stand out against the deep black background and shimmer in the brightly lit square of light (Paul Jackson) - a village square where the men and women flaunt their moves and charms in competitive compulsion. No wonder he has titled it Banderillero - the bullfighter that taunts the bull.

And Yim Hok-Man's percussive music (Poems of Thunder) drives the dancers to bigger and better with its strong tribal rhythms. It has a flamenco dynamic, in bare feet and loose hair, feisty arms and sway backs, huge leaps and flouncing challenges, this could be Carmen multiplied.

Yet, with its Chinese overtones it is also a martial arts contest played out to the punctuation of Oriental cymbals. Temple dancers carved in sandstone come to life in sinuous moves from resting profile poses.

With so many ideas, Banderillero is exhausting in its length, but one has to admire the prolix Javier De Frutos, and the dancers who dance as if possessed - some workout and some memory feat this is.

Antonia Hewitt and Abigail Boyle (I think - there are no photos in the free handout sheet) are remarkable, as is Paul Mathews with his long rippling body. The vernacular word is hot. When ABT dancer Ethan Stiefel comes to take over from interim artistic director Matz Skoog next year he will find a company in robust health.

Till 16th July 2011
Touring to Nottingham Playhouse 19th July, Bradford Alhambra Theatre 20th July, France, Sisteron, Provence, Nuits de la Citadelle 22nd July

Reviewer: Vera Liber