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Ballet You've Never Heard

By Leah Maclean

RNZB dancers Madeleine Graham and Joseph Skelton / Photo by Ross Brown

The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) are about to launch their nationwide tour of Romeo and Juliet by Francesco Ventriglia. The work premieres in Wellington on August 16 and makes its way around the country until September 24. August 31 is when the company will trial its first audio described school matinee in Auckland , followed by a public show on September 3.

This is the first time a full ballet has been audio described in New Zealand and is part of an ongoing series of initiatives intended to make dance accessible to all New Zealanders.

An audio description is a service developed for the blind and people with low vision needs. Individuals affected by these impairments are able to wear a headset and have a narrator describe what is happening on the stage or screen in front of them. Integrating this service is all part of the RNZB’s strategy to make the ballet accessible for wider audiences with varying needs. RNZB Education and Community Manager Pascale Parenteau, who has worked to implement the programme, says the aim is to give everyone an equal opportunity to experience the arts and to begin removing barriers which hinder some New Zealanders from attending performances.   

Last May, to celebrate New Zealand Sign Language Week, the RNZB offered a free sign-interpreted tour of their home in collaboration with Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand. In June, as part of their Ballet in a Box series, they collaborated with the Manukau Vodafone Events Centre to offer a sensory-friendly performance for patrons with autistic spectrum conditions, sensory and communication disorders or a learning disability. Now, in partnership with Auckland Live, they are working on the audio described version of their Romeo & Juliet performance. 

Of the 2017 RNZB programme, Parenteau explains that Romeo & Juliet seemed the most fitting for an audio described piece due to its strong and well known storyline. The company have enlisted the services of Nicola Owen to tell the story; Owen is one of the first New Zealand trained audio describers. Owen has worked as an audio describer since 2011 and has described musicals, operas, award ceremonies, guided walks and museum/art gallery tours.

RNZB dancer Kirby Selchow with children from Rosehill School.

This new project is an exciting and challenging one for Parenteau and her team at the RNZB, she notes that it certainly isn’t something that happens overnight. “One of the main challenges for this project is that the ballet is a brand new creation, so there’s no existing footage of the choreography  [for Owen] to work with!”

Owen will be attending the premiere and school matinee in Wellington to get a feel for the show and will be working closely with RNZB dance educator Pagan Dorgan to gain knowledge on the ballet terminology. Dorgan is excited to be able to utilise her ballet knowledge in an entirely different way and is keen to see this become a regular part of theatre. “Programmes like this are important because everyone should have the opportunity to be a part of live theatre. Going to a live performance is such a wonderful thing, the exchange between audience and performer is really special.”

This is only the beginning for accessibility in the ballet world and Parenteau and Dorgan hope that the idea will snowball and other venues around the country will replicate the movement. “We [RNZB] have a duty to all New Zealanders, not just the privileged ones. This is about making the ballet accessible to as many New Zealanders as we can,” says Parenteau. By removing the barriers which may hinder some people from attending ballet, she hopes that this venture will give them the courage to try something new and help grow opportunities for them in the future.

Prior to the public show on Sunday 3 September in Auckland, there will be a free Touch Tour and introduction to the ballet terms with Dorgan’s aid. Patrons will be allowed to walk through the set, touch set pieces, feel costume fabrics, handle key props and learn more about the production, and the movements that construct it.

There are seats reserved for Audio Described patrons. 
Tickets for these seats range from $38.00 to $48.00 / Child is $25
A free companion ticket is available if required. Guide dogs are welcome.
Tickets and headsets can be collected from the Air NZ Foyer on level 5 at 3.15pm.

How to book
To book your tickets for this performance call the Ticketmaster Group Booking line on 09 970 9745 or email $5 service fee applies if booking over the phone. When booking please ensure that you tell staff how many headsets you will need, if you plan on attending the free Touch Tour and Dance Workshop before the show, and if you are bringing a guide dog.

RNZB: Ballet You've Never Heard

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