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The Royal New Zealand Ballet celebrates its platinum anniversary this month with Lightscapes. Over the decades, Christchurch’s community of studios and teachers has produced many a company member. One of these is former principal dancer Abigail Boyle.
After a false start to her dancing career and some time off, Abigail came to Christchurch to study under Sherilyn Kennedy at the city’s acclaimed International Ballet Company. Through that, in 2006, she was part of a group of South Island dancers invited to spend a week in Wellington at the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s rehearsal studios. That’s when she was spotted by then Artistic Director Gary Harris and invited to join the national company.
Looking back on her 13 years with the company, Abigail remembers the family feel, the lack of hierarchy and the camaraderie. Everyone had their own superpower or speciality.
Others were better at this or that – leaps, fluidity, artistry. But there was no jealousy. “We all just wanted to put on a good show. And we also learned from each other.”
Christchurch has been part of the Royal New Zealand Ballet story since at least 1978, when dance pioneer Russell Kerr took up the reins as director at Southern Ballet Theatre.
Russell returned to New Zealand in 1957 from establishing a dance career in Europe and teamed up with Danish dancer Poul Gnatt, considered the founding father of ballet in New Zealand. Since 1953, Poul had been working with a group of dancers in Auckland to establish a ballet company.
The thriving Christchurch ballet community of studios and teachers has been turning raw talent into members of the Royal New Zealand Ballet throughout those decades.
From 2006 to 2019, Abigail danced soloist and principal roles for the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Principal roles included Carmen in Didy Veldman’s Carmen, Odette/Odile in Russell Kerr’s Swan Lake, Aurora in Greg Horsman’s The Sleeping Beauty, Myrtha in Ethan Stiefel and Ada in Jiří Bubeníček’s The Piano: The Ballet. She also starred in the TV series The Secret Lives of Dancers.
When the company toured overseas, its multi-talented versatility was on show for all to see. Choreographers loved the freedom that came from working with a company where they could choose the dancers they felt would deliver on their vision.
“We were like a box of chocolates that choreographers could choose from, depending on what they were trying to do. And no one was upset by that.”
For Abigail, the mix of dances in the Lightscapes programme – classical, neo-classical and contemporary – will be the perfect platform to display that versatility.
Lightscapes includes the world premiere of Whenua, by Moss Te Ururangi Patterson, inspired by haka and powered by the strength of the men of the company. Also on the programme is Serenade, George Balanchine's first full-length ballet in America; Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Requiem for a Rose, created for Pennsylvania Ballet in 2009; and Logos, by company alumna Alice Topp and created for The Australian Ballet in 2020.
In 2019, Abigail completed the Professional Dancers’ Postgraduate Teaching Certificate with the Royal Academy of Dance and founded her own ballet coaching company, Abigail Dance Coaching.
Then in 2021 she went full circle, taking up the role of Ballet Mistress for the New Zealand Youth Ballet Company in Christchurch, helping to develop the next generation of classical and contemporary dancers.
Abigail is still humbled by the opportunity to be part of the Royal New Zealand Ballet story, and she has memories she will hold on to forever. Touring with your best mates. “Even the stuff-ups on stage when we would forget the choreography and just look at each other and know what was going on in each other’s head.”
Isaac Theatre Royal,
Sat 5 – Sun 6 August,