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Expertly executed: the New Zealand School of Dance’s 2014 Graduation Season

Filed by Jack Yan/November 20, 2014/14.23

Stephen A’Court

Top Samantha Vottari and Tynan Wood in Double Stop. Centre Wessel Oostrum’s The Speech, danced to the words of Charlie Chaplin. Here, Jeremy Beck dances. Above The challenge of dancing the Balanchine Ballet, Concerto Barocco, here with Samantha Vottari and Tynan Wood. Choreography by George Balanchine, and copyrighted to the George Balanchine Trust.

The New Zealand School of Dance’s Graduation Season for 2014, at Te Whaea Theatre in Wellington from November 19 to 29, is a must for anyone who appreciates dance and wants a glimpse of the next generation of performers.
   The six performances show vitality and variety, from the challenging Balanchine Ballet, Concerto Barocco, to the modern and energetic Trigger II: One Thing Leads to Another, created by the students themselves. While every dancer was on the money with their expertise, technique and stamina, we noted in particular Law Lok Huen in Concerto Barocco, William Keohavong in his solo in The Speech, Amanda Mitrevski in three of the pieces in the final Purcell Pieces, and Mason Kelly, who elicited spontaneous applause after his dance to Purcell’s ‘The Frost Scene’ from the opera King Arthur.
   Balanchine ballets are tough and are especially demanding with their technique, and the Graduation Season opened with one: Concerto Barocco, performed to Bach’s Concerto for two violins, strings and continuo in D minor, BWV 1043. We hadn’t expected to see a ballet but the principal dancers—in tonight’s case, Law Lok Huen, Megan Wright and Jack Bannerman—acquitted themselves expertly, especially as one of the techniques is to move “against” the music.
   In the first set, it was The Speech that captivated us, danced by William Keohavong. Choreographed by Dutch choreographer Wessel Oostrum, Keohavong’s movements were poignant, against the words from Charlie Chaplin’s finishing monologue from The Great Dictator. They were negative when Chaplin’s speech dwelled on negative subjects; more optimistic as they reflected on liberty and freedom. The words, too, seem very fitting for our times, when we question whether corporate greed is driving supposedly free societies. While Oostrom intended The Speech as a tribute to those who lost their lives in World War I, the contemporary choreography coupled with the Tramp’s monologue made it the most socially relevant performance of the night.
   Trigger II: One Thing Leads to Another got the second set off to an energetic start, with 18 dancers (from all years at the School) involved. Students appeared in dull greys and blues initially, and the costumes became more colourful and vibrant as the dance went on. This was an entertaining piece that any lover of modern dance will enjoy, thanks in good part to the direction of Malia Johnston, artistic director of the Brancott Estate World of Wearable Art award show. However, it was Val Caniparoli’s romantic Double Stop, where Samantha Vottari and Tynan Wood gave a poetic duet. We were spellbound with their dance, and it was not surprising to see Qi Huan’s credit as répétiteur. Formerly with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, Huan took up a teaching role earlier this year, after having appeared in some of our favourite lead roles over the years. Caniparoli had already created a beautiful ballet to Philip Glass’s ‘Song II’ that had premièred in 2011, but Vottari and Wood danced this with such passion that belied their status as students of the School of Dance.
   Excerpts from Rapt, which closed the second set, saw alumnus Craig Bary, who was in the original cast in 2011, return to teach the chosen sections to the NZSD dancers, before Douglas Wright, who created the original dance–theatre performance, and his assistant Megan Adams (an NZSD alumna) added the nuances. Being excerpts rather than the full 80-minute work, we focused more on the nine dancers’ considered and precise execution. Once again, we were impressed.
   With two sets having gone extremely well, the third, entitled Purcell Pieces, had to be of a very high quality to keep the audience happy. The School did not disappoint. Choreographed by Nils Christie, and a collaboration between the New Zealand School of Dance, the Queensland Ballet and Singapore Dance Theatre, Purcell Pieces is set to the music of Henry Purcell, but giving each piece a modern interpretation in dance. Loose, colourful costumes designed by Annegien Sneep and Noelene Hill and flowing movements characterized these final dances, with Amanda Mitrevski’s two appearances notable for her expressiveness, and Mason Kelly conveying the sense of solitude and coldness in his performance to ‘The Frost Scene’. Kelly was the stand-out for nearly the entire audience in the third set, judging by the applause. Purcell Pieces ended with rose petals coming down onto the stage, finishing the night on a high.
   The Graduation Season runs at Te Whaea: National Dance & Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Road, Newtown, Wellington, New Zealand, till November 29, with performances nightly at 7.30 p.m., excepting Sunday and Monday. Matinees will take place on Sunday, November 23 and Saturday, November 29, at 2 p.m. Tickets are NZ$29 for adults, NZ$24 for students and seniors, and NZ$16 for children under 13. Tickets can be booked at—Jack Yan, Publisher

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