GRADUATION SEASON 2021
New Zealand School of Dance
Te Whaea: National Dance & Drama Centre, Wellington
20 November 2021
Reviewed by Brigitte Knight
Choreography: Jeremy Beck, Tabitha Dombroski, Shaun James Kelly, Russell Kerr, Lucy Marinkovich, Michael Parmenter, Loughlan Prior, Matte Roffe, Eliza Sanders
Lighting Design: Wendy Clease
Costume Support: Elishia Ward
Disrupted by pandemic restrictions and uncertainty, The New Zealand School of Dance held an informal studio showing to mark the graduation season in 2020. This year, however, the School is able to produce a fully-realised performance season once again; a credit to the resilience and adaptability of its staff and students. An extended, two-venue run (Kapiti and Te Whaea) is a creative solution to social distancing and maximising performance opportunities for students. Graduation Season 2021 is a singular mixed programme with nine works by Aotearoa New Zealand choreographers, covering classical ballet, contemporary ballet and contemporary dance. The production is perfectly balanced; three sections of three works, divided by two ten-minute intervals. Each section offers diverse choreographies, and the breaks give space to appreciate and contemplate each of them. Performances showcase the second and third year students, but for the first time include assessment works performed by the first year dancers.
Graduation Season 2021 opens with Waltz from Swan Lake – Act I by Russell Kerr, an assessed repertoire study that forms part of the first year qualification. Staged skilfully by Turid Revfeim, Kerr’s choreography is a masterclass in musicality, detail and vibrant staging. The dancers are thoughtful and considered in their presentation and technique, providing an entertaining and tidy performance. Third year students fill the roles of Prince and Jester; Huw Pritchard sparkles with stage presence and strength in the latter. Contemporary ballet work Reset Run by Tabitha Dombrowski builds outwards from a stylish and impressive solo danced by Danier Laganzo. The solo moments speak clearly with the choreographer’s voice, as the piece moves from classical to reworked electronic music and back again. Androgynous costumes and warm, dark lighting lend this youthful work a restful quality. Matte Roffe’s delightful Dust Bunny, an excerpt from his full-length work Cotton Tail, is danced by third year contemporary stream students. While the opening and closing sections of the excerpt are fractionally long for this format, Roffe’s choreography is resoundingly successful; witty, humourous, energetic and accomplished. Airu Matsuda is a knockout in Dust Bunny’s movement vocabulary – controlled, lightning-fast, and expressive.
Lucy Marinkovich’s contemporary work Lost + Found opens the second section of Graduation Season 2021, the unaccompanied first movement comprised of accumulative choreography from an elementary walking pattern, reminiscent of Emma Murray’s Participation (for Footnote New Zealand Dance, 2018). Providing squeaky percussion, the Converse trainers worn by the dancers created challenges with turning, and may have contributed to some slippages of unison and alignment. As Lost + Found shifts into its second half, fluidity of movement, ambient musical accompaniment, and dark costuming create a relaxing and non-demanding watch for the audience. Time Weaver, Loughlan Prior’s latest contemporary ballet pas de deux, is clear-cut, technically demanding and rigorously choreographically nuanced. Third year classical stream dancers Rosie Owles and Elijah Holmes are both showcased and challenged in Prior’s work, moving fearlessly and fluidly through moments of suspension, stillness, counterbalance and torque. Set to Philip Glass’ beautiful Metamorphosis: Metamorphosis Two, Flowing, the ephemeral Time Weaver contrasts extension and length with confidently-manipulated fractured line, tension and risk. Equally choreographically assured and yet contrastingly bombastic is the final work of the second section; Jeremy Beck’s Somewhat Physical. Set to a magnificent and evocative score (Rossini, Vivaldi, Purcell, Mozart), Beck’s vision is bold, athletic, determined, vital. Amongst the joy, grit and subtle humour, Samara Reweti is razor-sharp and immersed in the world of the work, her deft pop-locking skills facilitating her embodiment of the movement material with mesmerising acuity.
The final section of Graduation Season 2021 opens with Michael Parmenter’s The Bach – Excerpt, with comprehensive and detailed staging by Paula Steeds- Huston. Another assessed repertoire study that forms part of the first year qualification, Parmenter’s choreographic voice is familiar and reassuring. The work is a flattering choice for the dancers, who, aside from some very minor challenges with maintaining their spacing, perform with confidence and warmth. So You’ll Never Have to Wear a Concrete Dressing Gown by Eliza Sanders feels like a softened but unsubdued celebration of the large ensemble of dancers; a joyous valuing of them as artists and individuals. Fittingly they are costumed in white, featuring professional headshots of one another. Sanders’ choreography is unhurried and initially unaccompanied. A thoughtfully crafted crescendo of movement emerges naturally over time, buoyed by Scottish fiddler and composer Alasdair Fraser’s The Sailor’s Wife/The Lads of the Duns. The final work of the evening, Shaun James Kelly’s Nexus set to excerpts of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, is both lively and technical. Featuring Kelly’s signature glides and demanding partnering, the eight classical stream dancers find plenty to challenge them, and aside from small losses of control which mostly occur in pas de deux transitions, succeed in realising his choreography.
The New Zealand School of Dance Graduation Season 2021 is a rich and satisfying production, from a remarkable and invaluable tertiary institution.
Images: 'Reset Run'. Choreography by Tabitha Dombroski; 'Somewhat Physical'. Choreography by Jeremy Beck; 'So You'll Never Have To Wear A Concrete Dressing Gown'. Choreography by Eliza Sanders; Photos by Stephen A'Court.