New Zealand School of Dance 50 Years
Author: Turid Revfeim
Reviewed by Janet Colson
Turid Revfeim’s book captures the essence of each decade in the development of the New Zealand School of Dance from its inception as a ballet school to the mature training institution for professional dancers it is today. The book is stylishly produced in soft back format. Design is by Neil Pardington, featuring Stephen A’Court’s accomplished photography.
The joy of this book is in the deft intertwining of images and words. Pictures from the early years are period curiosities, including production shots and behind the scenes moments such as Richard Campion smoking a pipe in the ballet studio. A visual highlight is Pure Line, Perfect Moment, 2003-2017 – a gallery of dance images by Stephen A’Court. Another nice touch is the recording of graduates by name since the School was established.
The growing body of alumni is a tribute to the determination of the School’s founders, subsequent directors and staff. A vision for a ‘New Zealand Academy of Ballet’ gained impetus in the mid-sixties some ten years after the New Zealand Ballet came into being. A group of committed experts formed an Artistic Directorate to put a plan of action in place. The group included the ballet company’s founder Poul Gnatt alongside internationally acclaimed dancer Rowena Jackson, her husband Philip Chatfield and others. Their stated purpose was to create a centre of excellence in Wellington ‘where young talent can develop, where experimental work is nourished, and where indigenous ballet can take shape’.
When the school took in its first students in November 1966, the sole focus was on ballet. Ten students were selected from around the country. They would benefit from the expertise of the inaugural director Sara Neil, a former ballet dancer of international standing and one of the visionaries behind the project. From the outset, great care was given to the depth and range of the curriculum to ensure students were equipped for ‘the demands of the life of professional dancers.’
The book shows us how closely the work of the School reflects this original purpose with its current teaching streams in ballet and contemporary dance. Extraordinary individual talents and respected dance companies have emerged, reflecting the high quality of training across diverse forms of expression.
The author gives a fascinating inside view of the workings of a dance school – she was a soloist with the Royal New Zealand Ballet and later became the company’s Ballet Mistress. An emphasis on dancers as respected professionals is a strong thread. The School’s founders are pioneers, determined to establish opportunity in New Zealand for professional dance training. Students are respected and given well-rounded preparation for their chosen career.
Raising the game for the art-form hasn’t been easy. Turid Revfeim’s history offers insight into the challenges of finding studio space, paying rent and finally, in 1998, securing funds for the purpose-built home, Te Whaea, out of which the New Zealand School of Dance operates today.
Janet Colson is a Wellington-based writer and strategic consultant who helped establish Sadler’s Wells Theatre as a home for dance in London.