New Zealand School of Dance
Te Whaea | November 21-December 1
The New Zealand School of Dance has an enviable penchant for producing much of our greatest dancing talent. Students are trained to an international standard via a challenging combination of intense technical skill and exposure to contemporary innovation; a reputation all the more manifest in this year’s enticing Graduation season, as students tackle works of international modern choreography.
Bakanchine’s Valse-Fantaisie begins the evening, a swift and intricate ballet segment that demands plenty from chorus and leads alike. This is complex work, especially for an opening, yet the dancers performed with a charisma and energy that resonated easily throughout the remainder of the evening. This is immediately followed by Faun to which Gareth Okan brings deceptive ease and commendable gravitas; his is certainly one of the most vivid performances of the night, a very mature work that requires an intimate knowledge of one’s physical limitations. Verse, a second solo presented later in the programme, achieves a similar power via an immensely lyrical structure that is controlled yet intensely consuming.
Birdbrain, a re-interpretation of Swan Lake, whilst banking on the cast’s seemingly endless energy and skill, unfortunately suffered from an inability to live up to its premise—as my companion noted, the roles retained gender associations, and character-branded t shirts removed potential ambiguities between good and evil, fantasy and humanity. The choreography, however, is a potent amalgamation of styles that leaves one gasping for breath.
In particular the production’s overall strength lay in paired performances, both within larger cast structures or the simple duet. Each pairing displays a mature co-dependency that intensifies relationships and ultimately testifies to their professionalism. Fractals, a rigorous ballet routine that at times reminds one of an hour spent at the gym, and Odem, an entrancing conceptual work that oscillates somewhere between imprisonment and freedom, both rely on formations of pairs.
Design elements were generally uninspired throughout the evening, a minor criticism that held little effect on my enjoyment.
The performance set to Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, Opus 25 is an appropriate conclusion for the night, and artfully embodies all the energy, verve and skill the chorus has to offer. Like its predecessors it is a demanding technical piece, and leaves us exhilarated by virtue of its dramatic vitality.