Superb show for ballet's birthday

Vodafone season of Swan Lake

Royal New Zealand Ballet

St James Theatre, until July 27

A more fitting tribute to the Royal New Zealand Ballet's 60th anniversary than this stunning Swan Lake would be hard to imagine. It is choreographer Russell Kerr's fourth production and they get better every time.

What would be the feather in the company's cap if it were not the jewel in its crown, is the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra which accompanies the Wellington season. Nigel Gaynor conducts with flair and great sensitivity. Together they capture all the sweeping richness of Tchaikovsky's wonderful score.

Add to this splendour sumptuous costumes and sets by the late Kristian Fredrikson, atmospheric lighting by John Buswell, the ballet in top form and two superb principal dancers and you have an unforgettable evening.

In the dual role of Odette/Odile, Gillian Murphy is magnificent. Her every movement supports the role. Prodigious technique never overpowers her beautiful characterisation of the sorrowing Swan Queen. The Act Two pas de deux with its flowing porte de bras, superb extended arabesques will be hard to forget.

As Odile, she glitters, diamond- hard. The ubiquitous 32 fouettes were tossed off effortlessly.

As Siegfried, the guest artist from Pacific Northwest Ballet, Karel Cruz, has regal bearing and command. Technically extremely strong, with soaring elevation, excellent batterie and neat placement, he is also a sensitive and caring partner. He is stronger in Act Three, his infatuation with Odile as powerfully conveyed. But in Act Two's great pas de deux, he seemed emotionally disconnected. This may well improve as the season develops.

As Von Rothbart, Paul Matthews was hampered by the only weak costume in the production and lacked real menace.

His Act Three was stronger but he still needs to turn up the evil volume.

Rory Fairweather-Neylan made light work of the Jester's technical fireworks and interacted well with Siegfried.

Act One with its old tapestry colours and bubbly Peasant Pas de Trois was a delight. Arata Miyagawa impressed.

Act Three delivered three very stylish character dances, a tight quartet of cygnets and a beautifully unified Corps de Ballet.

But it will be Murphy's achingly beautiful Odette in Act Two that we will remember.

The RNZB dedicates the Wellington season to the memory of New Zealand's late theatre icon, Richard Campion. His name is among those on the original trust deed (1960) of the New Zealand Ballet Company.

The Dominion Post