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Christchurch’s contribution to the Royal New Zealand Ballet story takes centre stage in the company’s 2024 programme with a production of Swan Lake that honours the legacy of the city’s own ballet star, Russell Kerr.
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. From 1962 to 1969, Russell was artistic director at the still fledgling New Zealand Ballet Company. In 1978 he took up the reins as director at Christchurch’s Southern Ballet Theatre, whose teachers have turned raw talent into members of the company ever since.
Russell’s acclaimed production of Swan Lake was first performed in the 1960s and reprised in the 1990s. Next year’s Swan Lake, touring nationwide from 01 May - 02 June, will showcase the dazzling designs created by Kristian Fredrikson for the 1990s’ production.
Also on the busy schedule is the ever-popular Tutus on Tour coming to a regional theatre near you from 23 February to 16 March. The RNZB will visit Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch next August, with Solace: dance to feed your soul followed by another nationwide tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from 24 October to 14 December.
Solace: dance to feed your soul, is a programme of new and recent ballets by choreographers Wayne McGregor, Sarah Foster-Sproull and Alice Topp.
For the RNZB, getting Britain’s Wayne McGregor to premiere his Infra, created for London’s Royal Ballet in 2008, represents an artistic coup. Choreographed for an ensemble of 12 dancers and set to a slowly drifting, soulful score by Max Richter, Infra is a profoundly moving meditation on the loneliness, connections and consolations that lie beneath the surface of a city. Julian Opie’s mesmerising 18-metre LED artwork echoes the constant movement of the dancers below as a steady stream of anonymous figures walk purposefully towards destinations unknown.
RNZB Choreographer-in-Residence Sarah Foster-Sproull (Despite the loss of small detail, Artemis Rising, Ultra Folly, The Autumn Ball) creates her fifth work for the company, collaborating with the dancers on a ballet that takes a new look at the astonishing machine that is the human body: shape-shifting, endlessly inventive and always greater than the sum of its parts. Music by Eden Mulholland pushes and pulls the dancers through the space with urgency and power.
Following the dazzling impact of her Aurum (Venus Rising, 2022) and Logos (Lightscapes, 2023), RNZB alumna and Resident Choreographer at The Australian Ballet Alice Topp creates High Tide, her first original work for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, inspired by the music of Australian composer Graeme Koehne. High Tide is a tender depiction of the never-ending morphosis from birth to death and is inspired by the human condition: growing pains, growing apart and growing together and learning to love and live with the light and shade, youth and age, within us all. Alice’s regular collaborator Jon Buswell will again work with Alice to transform the stage into a living sculpture of light and shadow.
November’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a co-production between the RNZB and Queensland Ballet of a ballet created for the RNZB by Liam Scarlett and premiered in 2015. It played to capacity audiences throughout its first New Zealand tour and went on to wow Hong Kong in 2016. New Zealand designer Tracy Grant Lord created the glorious vision of Shakespeare’s characters and enchanted wood, illuminated with lighting by Kendall Smith.