Dancers performing Aurum, one of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s triple bill Venus Rising – Three Celestial Ballets
Venus Rising, Royal New Zealand Ballet, Choreography: Alice Topp, Sarah Foster-Sproull, Twyla Tharp. Lighting Design: Jon Buswell, Daniel Wilson, Jennifer Tipton. Costume Design: Alice Topp, Donna Jefferis, Santo Loquasto. St James Theatre, Wellington, November 24. Reviewed by Brigitte Knight.
After an unenviable four postponements due to Covid-19 Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Venus Rising – Three Celestial Ballets finally has its opening night thanks to the company’s determination to bring this triple bill to the stage.
Australian choreographer Alice Topp’s Aurum (gold in Latin) opens the show, with its four movements set to a beautiful selection of music by Ludovico Einaudi. Kintsugi (Japanese golden joinery) inspires the choreography and Jon Buswell’s refined, symbiotic set and lighting design.
Premiered in Melbourne in 2018 Aurum is fresh, intelligent ballet and Topp considers an alternative to masking our own fractures and flaws; repairing with gold ensures the finished product becomes more beautiful, more precious.
Topp’s choreography is extremely effective in utilising angular shapes to feature and reveal elongated extensions in rich and original partnering. On opening night there are some slippages of unison, however, performances rich in strength from Mayu Tanigaito, Madeleine Graham, Kirby Selchow, Matthew Slattery and Levi Teachout ensure Aurum’s elegance and emotional integrity remain long after the work’s closing moments.
Premiered at the Wānaka Festival of Colour in 2021, Sarah Foster-Sproull’s The Autumn Ball is a dense and energetic work, reflecting the cycle of life, the creative process and the vibrancy of working amongst friends.
Packed with movement material and performed at furious speed mastered especially well by Ana Gallardo Lobaina and Madeleine Graham, The Autumn Ball’s two-week creation period is reflected in the intensity of the work.
Apart from motif chaînés and relevés, pointe is somewhat underutilised and there is incongruity between sections of contemporary and classical technique.
Eden Mulholland’s score is characteristically well-paired with Foster-Sproull’s choreography, although the electronic beat will become too monotonous for some.
An autumnal colour palette across the costumes, cyclorama and beautiful falling leaves brings cohesion and helps to make The Autumn Ball an audience favourite on opening night.
Venus Rising closes with the Aotearoa premiere of celebrated American choreographer Twyla Tharp’s Waterbaby Bagatelles, a charismatic, superbly confident, and joyously funny modern ballet in seven movements.
With a varied score Waterbaby Bagatelles is lit (at times divided) by rows of fluorescent lights and plays with an aqueous colour palette, formation, locomotion, grouping, voice, and genre.
Schools of fish on ocean currents, the 27 dancers deliver snippets or segments of feeling, and Tharp delights in accessible humour, celebration of ballet virtuosity, and creating an exchange with the audience that is light-hearted yet deeply respectful.
Laurynas Vėjalis is adored by everyone in the theatre during Waterbaby Bagatelles, as is Mayu Tanigaito who darts through the choreography with lightning speed.
Shaun James Kelly, Kate Kadow, Tessa Karle and Cadence Barrack stand out for their effervescent characterisation in Tharp’s work, as Waterbaby Bagatelles leaves the audience smiling.