US designer joins ballet's creative team

22:23, Oct 31 2012
Remote control design: Royal New Zealand Ballet guest set designer Howard C Jones overlooks the team setting up the forthcoming production of Giselle.

Tucked away in a Trentham back street in an unprepossessing workshop, a small team is building a ballet set that will tour internationally.

That is where the Royal New Zealand Ballet's sets, props and costumes are made.

For its production of Giselle, the ballet's backstage creative team has collaborated with a guest designer, Howard C Jones, from the United States.

Mr Jones was in town last week to oversee the final construction of his set.

Jones had worked with New Zealand Ballet artistic director Ethan Stiefel before, when they taught at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

"We did a couple of projects together there and he offered me this opportunity to come over and work with him again," Jones said.


"I was delighted. I enjoy working with the man."

Jones visited New Zealand in May to kick off the project then worked remotely with the New Zealand team.

Although the design and construction processes in New Zealand were similar to the US, measurements and language were not, he said.

"There was a challenge for me because, being from the States we do feet and inches and this is all metric."

Some of the terminology was also different.

"I have to be careful we are talking about the same thing. Here what you would call gauze, we would call muslin, and what you call serge, we would call velour."

To overcome the language barrier, Jones and his local counterparts treated catalogues they were both familiar with as a kind of New Zealand-United States dictionary.

"I would say, 'Turn to page 14'."

Jones said he began every project by familiarising himself with the text and the music, then started some sketches to begin a dialogue with the director.

"It's a conversation, a continuing conversation. I'll do a sketch and he will say, 'Well, I like that part, and I like this'."

For Giselle, which is set in Germany's Rhineland, Jones said he was mainly inspired by the work of Aubrey Beardsley.

In the course of visualising the concept, he produced about 15 sketches, then made models, first a very small one, and then a 1:25 scale one for the set builders and painters to work from.

Jones said he was looking forward to seeing the set on the St James stage.

After a nationwide tour the production will be taken to China and, Jones hoped, to the US.

"A whole lot of people will see this, which is great."

While in New Zealand, Jones has found time to indulge a personal hobby - painting landscapes.

"I found it is a fun way to send my mom personalised postcards and it's turned into a travelling habit now.

"It allows me to sit down and really look at a country I'm in, which has been a pleasure. You have a beautiful country.

"If I have an afternoon off, I find a bench and sit down and paint a nice postcard - Arthur's Pass, Oriental Bay, the highway coming up to Upper Hutt - whatever takes my fancy.

"It's for me, so it doesn't really matter.

"As you grow older you don't always remember where you have been, so it's nice to have a record."

Giselle will be choreographed by Johan Kobborg and Ethan Stiefel and conducted by Michael Lloyd. Giselle, St James Theatre, November 7 until 11. Book at Ticketek or ph 384 3840.

The Wellingtonian