Dance Review: Royal New Zealand Ballet, Three by Ekman

The Royal New Zealand ballet dancers were in fine form in Wellington on Thursday night
STEPHEN A'COURT

The Royal New Zealand ballet dancers were in fine form in Wellington on Thursday night

Three by Ekman
Royal New Zealand Ballet
St James Theatre, Wellington, until May 20.
Reviewed by Ann Hunt

This exhilarating programme by young Swedish choreographer, Alexander Ekman is a tour de force of energy and rhythm made visible. This is sophisticated and aggressively contemporary dance that is thoroughly entertaining.

There is great emphasis on complex rhythms, particularly in two works where the dancers use their bodies like percussive instruments. Design is immaculately stylish, the humour wittily satirical, and the staging is confident with beautiful spacing.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Some back story to The Royal New Zealand Ballet's production of Three by Ekman.

 

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Tuplet, created in 2012, is a fast-paced 18 minutes of explosive energy. Overall tightly choreographed, it meanders slightly towards the finish.

Music by Michael Karlsson has additions from Bart Howard and the stunning lighting is by Amith Chandrashaker.

Six dancers use their breaths, voices and bodies to beat out propulsive rhythms, which at times resemble improvised jazz.

Episode 31 (2011) is a longer work prefaced with an amusing four-minute short film by Ekman. The eclectic costumes are by Luke Simcock and the stunning lighting by Nicole Pearce. Music is again by Karlsson, with interpolations from Eric Satie.

It is in three distinctly different parts, and is beautifully bookended, with a dancer quietly turning on a light at the side of the stage at the beginning, then turning it off again at the end.

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The dancers surge on stage with enormous vigour and the curtain intriguingly rises and falls throughout. It conveys all the strength and audacity needed to survive in a large contemporary city.

In part two, the dancers pose as if in a group photo. An irritating and condescending woman's voice-over reads poems by various authors, as a strong duet is danced by Alexandre Ferreira and Massimo Margaria.

The final section is performed to Satie's plaintive Gymnopedie No 1 and Ane Brun's Do You Remember. It is slowly paced and softly melancholy. A man quietly crosses the stage holding a placard with the word "beautiful" written on it. The intense feeling of connection among the dancers here is extremely moving.

The very amusing and satirical Cacti, first shown in New Zealand at the 2016 New Zealand Festival, is the strongest and most cohesive work of the three.

The superb set and costume design by Ekman is aided by exceptional lighting by Tom Visser. Thanks to Hayden, Schubert and Beethoven for the wonderful music, played with great fierceness and tonal beauty by the brilliant New Zealand String Quartet live on stage.

A highlight is the outstanding duet from Veronika Maritati and Shi-Huai Liang.

Ekman's biting voice-over stabs critical pretension to its bitter core with intimidating precision. This clever, enjoyable work is splendidly danced by its cast of 16 at the top of their form. Bravo!

 - Stuff

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