Leaps and bounds
The energy and vigour of one of the world's great cities and its people is captured in the Royal New Zealand Ballet's new season of three contemporary danceworks. Christopher Moore reports.
New Yorkers are a resilient breed used to moving at speed through life. But New York son Larry Keigwin defied the odds in his new dancework created for the Royal New Zealand Ballet.
Final Dress took five weeks to complete from the first studio session to the first onstage rehearsal - a compressed creative time-frame that left a choreographer used to working under pressure breathless but unbowed.
"I'm currently excited and nervous about the end result but I suspect that it'll be fine," Keigwin says.
Final Dress is one of a trilogy of short pieces, NYC, to be performed by the RNZB during its first season of 2012.
In Keigwin's new work, the ritual of performance mirrors the ritual of the chase. The result, according to those who have seen it, is dramatic, athletic and rigorous.
"It hints at the anticipation before showtime and the romance which is unfolding," Keigwin says.
"The music came first. It anchors and moulds the work. When we moved into the studio, I shared my ideas with the dancers. We worked together to ensure that they were comfortable in creating the work. There is a certain 'New York' style at play here; a slightly Mad Men quality which emerges with other influences ranging from Andy Warhol to Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. These are fairy tales for the contemporary world."
The work joins Benjamin Millepied's 28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini and George Balanchine's iconic Who Cares?, in a dance collation inspired by the spirit of the Big Apple. The brainchild of RNZB artistic director, Ethan Stiefel, the season opened in Auckland last night before beginning the national tour which sees it performing at the Ashburton Trust Event Centre on March 14 and 15.
"New York city is a truly exceptional place," Stiefel says, "Its energy, pulse and creative spirit are palpable."
Larry Keigwin is a graduate from Hofstra University. He founded Keigwin + Company in 2003 and remains as its artistic director. He has completed commissions for the Guggenheim, The Juilliard School, The New York Choreographic Institute, and The Martha Graham Dance Company.
In 2010, Keigwin became the Vail International Dance Festival's first artist in residence. In 2011, he choreographed the new musical Tales of the City, at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, as well as the new off- Broadway production of Rent.
Keigwin has also created Keigwin Kabaret, a fusion of dance, vaudeville, and burlesque. Throughout all his work, the affable but highly charged and focused Keigwin continually attempts to de- mystify what happens on stage through a informality which underpins the choreography. In Final Dress, the dancers move to the music of Adam Crystal in an interpretation of that moment in time before the curtain rises.
Keigwin's creations have been described by one critic as "embodying a sensibility of wit, style and heart." His own company reflects this attitude - after seven years Keigwin + Company now has "legs," he says.
With a company of 12 ("and there will never be more than that"), it is gaining recognition throughout the United States with its performances of 16 works choreographed by its founder. The early years also opened his eyes to the mechanics of running a contemporary dance company.
"I quickly learnt that there is much more to a dance company than putting on a show. For the first four years we had no lead administrator - we now have two full time."
With choreography by George Balanchine to music by George Gershwin Who Cares? is more than a tribute to a friend. It emerges as a hymn of praise to Manhattan and the spirit of New York.
The third work in CYC, 28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini is an intricate and dynamic piece created by Benjamin Millepied, choreographer of the film Black Swan. Taking Brahms' piano music Millepied has created a classically inspired work for 10 dancers.
The RNZB season of NYC features as its principal guest artist - and fiance of its artistic director - Gillian Murphy. On leave from the American Ballet Theatre where she has danced for 15 years. Currently she is a principal ballerina with American Ballet Theatre.
Murphy's repertoire includes leading roles in all of ABT's current full-length classics and in shorter works by a spectrum of 20th century choreographers including George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Jiri Kylian and Martha Graham.
"Coming to New Zealand to join Ethan is an adventure which I'm enjoying one day at a time. Ballet is a tightly knit world and people here have been very supportive," she says.
She agrees with Keigwin - an old friend - that New York has evolved a different style of dance.
"It's been unquestionably influenced by Balanchine, New York's cultural melting pot and musical theatre. There's a loose-limbed, flirtatious quality alongside the technical demands. Balanchine created masterworks which are still being performed and which still have a huge influence on today's dancers."
The Royal New Zealand Ballet presents NYC: Three Short Ballets from the Big Apple, Ashburton Trust Event Centre, March 14 and 15. Book at TicketDirect.