The Piano: the ballet - Royal New Zealand Ballet
23 February, St James Theatre, Wellington
New Zealand Festival
Reviewed by Summer Aykroyd
The theatre was packed and buzzing on the Friday night premiere as the audience waited in anticipation to see how Jane Campion's classic New Zealand film, The Piano, had been brought to life as a full length ballet. The premiere was held at the St James, home of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and shown in association with the New Zealand Arts Festival.
The choreography is by Jiří Bubeníček, set and design by Otto Bubeníček and Māori consultation by Moss Te Ururangi Patterson. It’s a big season for the company, to perform a brand new ballet and introduce new dancers to their loyal audiences.
The scene opens with moody black and white footage of the ocean rising and falling. Shots of the ocean and forest are used throughout as background projections, bringing the audience into the beautiful New Zealand wilderness. Layered upon this scene were the welcoming cries of Māori expression and a neoclassical infused haka. Ada (Abigail Boyle) and her daughter, Flora (Hazel Cooper), enter on a boat and in that moment the audience is brought into the compelling story.
The slow pace allows the story to build and become clear without much mime or any vocal narrative. The choreography becomes more turbulent as it reaches a dramatic climax. While the choreography is beautiful and fluid, I found it a bit repetitive at times. However, I enjoyed the balance between contemporary and classical dance.
A poignant moment arises in Act One where the cast are dancing in a church while Ada and her betrothed, Alistair (Paul Matthews), are standing still, staring at each other. This builds the tension of their relationship as we see Alistair’s suspicion growing. The emotive pas de deux, in Act Two, between Ada and George (Alex Ferreira) at the crescendo of their relationship was also a standout. The use of the film’s original music by Michael Nyman with the incorporation of Māori contemporary music and classical scores from Schnittke, Brahams, and Shostakovich successfully carried the emotion. The combination of Māori culture, shots of real scenery and bird noises enabled New Zealand culture to shine through the ballet.
The standout performer of the evening was Abigail Boyle. The quality of her performance was incomparable and her movement was fluid and expressive. Throughout, her character was believable, authentic and honest. I was particularly moved by the performance which followed Alistair’s act of violence upon catching her with George. Her eyes were haunting as the backdrop literally closed in around her and she became trapped in her marital house.
Hazel Cooper stood out as a very talented up and coming star whose character developed consistently throughout the ballet. Alex Ferreira is compelling to watch with expressive and cohesive movement. The corps de ballet were emotive and enthralling throughout - on occasion not in time, but still comprised of talented and versatile dancers.
Devoted fans of the movie will enjoy the fresh yet true adaptation of the heart-breaking story. Watching the film beforehand is not necessary as the ballet successfully brings the story to life for a modern audience to appreciate.
This original ballet is not to be missed.
The Piano: the ballet is touring the country until March 28
Visit rnzb.org.nz/shows/the-piano-the-ballet/ for more information
Read Theatreview review (Lyne Pringle)