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August 20, 2015

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: where talent surpasses itself

Jack Yan/16.19

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Stephen A’Court

Top Dancers Tonia Looker and MacLean Hopper in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Above Tonia Looker and Harry Skinner.

If you ever wish to see the Royal New Zealand Ballet when everyone has reached beyond what you knew was their peak, then A Midsummer Night’s Dream presents that very opportunity: a ballet where the quality is jaw-droppingly magnificent, where choreographer, designer, lighting designer, and musical director have surpassed themselves, and where the dancers have revelled in bringing a production to life.
   In tonight’s (August 20) world première, Tracy Grant Lord’s designs are the first thing you notice, a galactic image of the night sky projected on to the curtain before the action is revealed, then a set that can only be described as her best work reviewed by Lucire to date. Set in a fairy dell in the wood, Lord’s imagination takes us into a world of cabanas and fungi, with electric blue shades offsetting the dark, night sky. It is the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s largest set, complete with bridges, multiple staircases, even a pole from which Puck slides down. Lord notes that her design ‘includes particular structural, decorative and technical elements that exist only for this production, and have all been developed and manufactured in the company workshops.’ This is a unique interpretation, a master-class in ballet set design, all the more impressive when one considers that Lord had a budget to work to. She envelopes us with her world even before the dancers take their first step.
   Kendall Smith’s lighting design comes into its own with Lord’s set, keeping the cabanas’ interiors dark when unused and lighting them subtly when dancers appear. His moon, in Act II, appears as a round, fluorescent ring, emerging from behind the mesh. With Lord employing a single set for the entire ballet, Smith’s lighting gave the production a sense of variety and change throughout. We noted earlier that Smith employed 4,000 LEDs and 2,000 m of fibreoptic cable, and we can certainly say they were put to excellent use. Smith, whose résumé includes lighting for Andrea Boccelli and Luciano Pavarotti, and some of the most respected companies in the US, was flown out with the support of the US Embassy, giving another world-class aspect to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
   Lord also stretched her imagination with the costumes, giving the initial illusion that the fairies were petite; it was only when Oberon and Titania appeared that you began realizing their true scale. Oberon’s and Puck’s costumes had a more cinematic, modern bent than seen in other interpretations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the former having a plunging neckline and a science-fiction feel to it. The fairies’ wings and headgear had metallic detailing, again taking us beyond the typical dell and going past the usual, traditional elements that earlier productions tend to rely on.
   Rising star Liam Scarlett did not disappoint, either, with choreography that expresses a witty yet respectful take on the Shakespeare play. Whether it was transforming Bottom into a donkey, and his subsequent comical pas de deux with Titania, having Puck swing down à la the cinematic Tarzan to commence his antics in the second act, or the strongly romantic pas de deux between Oberon and Titania, Scarlett’s interpretation brought the Mendelssohn score to life, matching movement masterfully to music.
   The music, too, saw RNZB musical director Nigel Gaynor go further than he typically has. Mendelssohn’s score was insufficient for a full-length ballet. Gaynor and Scarlett collaborated, choosing additional Mendelssohn pieces to give the characters greater depth and the story more completeness. Various opuses have been added along with incidental music, and Mendelssohn fans will recognize them and marvel at just how well they have been incorporated, not least how fittingly the choreography has been applied. It’s this characterization which marks out Scarlett’s work. The interactions between the characters—Oberon and Puck, Titania and Bottom, Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius, and the comical pursuit by both Lysander and Demetrius toward Helena—gives the RNZB’s production exceptional entertainment value. Like its The Nutcracker of 2010, the dance techniques are rich enough for the adult ballet-goer to appreciate, while the structure and comical elements give children plenty to enjoy.
   Adding incidental music from Mendelssohn is not new—Balanchine did the same in his version—but the level of dedication is apparent.
   And all this before commenting on the dancing itself, which was exquisite.
   MacLean Hopper had the commanding nature of Oberon on opening night. Tonia Looker’s Titania had a beauty and elegance that never diminished even when dancing with a donkey, thanks to her control. However, Kohei Iwamoto arguably stole the show as Puck, with an irreverence that the audience loved. Harry Skinner’s Bottom may have had a relatively minor role but his transformation, complete with tail, ensured he was remembered. Lori Gilchrist (Hermia), Joseph Skelton (Lysander), Abigail Boyle (Helena) and Demetrius (Paul Mathews) contrasted each other’s emotions through simple movements; when both men are entranced by Helena, Boyle’s movements conveyed her shock at the energetic pursuit—accompanied by an equally energetic rejection of Hermia. Scarlett was never too clever for his own good: he kept to the story and the score, and delivered through the characters in subtle ways, a sign of a choreographer who works in close collaboration with his dancers.
   It was a privilege to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Wellington as a world première; after its New Zealand tour (which runs till September 20), it will next be performed by the Queensland Ballet, with whom the RNZB co-produced, in 2016.
   The Vodafone season of A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs through August 23 in Wellington; Christchurch sees the ballet from August 27 to 29; it opens in Auckland on September 2, running to September 6. It reaches Rotorua for a single performance on September 10, Palmerston North on September 16, and Napier on September 19 and 20. Full details can be found at www.rnzb.org.nz.—Jack Yan, Publisher



Top Promotional image for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Above Forget retro: the sketch for Oberon’s costume.

August 9, 2015

Footnote New Zealand Dance celebrates its 30th anniversary this August with première and events

Lucire staff/14.02

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Above Footnote at its home at 125 Cuba Street.

Footnote New Zealand Dance celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and on August 28–9, it will première 30Forward at the Wellington Opera House to mark the anniversary.
   The première will take place in Wellington, before heading to the Christchurch Arts Festival, Auckland’s Tempo Dance Festival, then to Gisborne, the Kokomai Creative Festival in Carterton, and the Tauranga Arts Festival.
   The production features highlights from past works, as curated by founding director Deirdre Tarrant, and a new commission from choreographer Malia Johnston.
   Footnote will begin its celebrations on August 21 with The Art of Footnote, at a venue on Cuba Street to be announced during August. This exhibition shows posters, programmes and concept designs from Footnote over the last three decades, and runs till August 30.
   A Pecha Kucha event at the Wellington City Gallery, focusing on the culture of movement (covering dance, music, visual art and performance) takes place on August 27. The Tarrant Dance Studios at 125 Cuba Street, Wellington welcomes visitors on August 29 to an open house, while the August 29 performance of 30Forward will be followed by a function.
   The Christchurch dates are August 31–September 1; Auckland on October 15 and 17; Gisborne on October 21; Carterton on October 24; and Tauranga on October 30.
   Tickets are on sale now—visit footnote.org.nz for ticketing information.


Above Rehearsing in 2012.

July 29, 2015

Classic & Sports Car London Show gets an iconic poster by artist Tim Layzell

Lucire staff/13.55

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Motoring artist Tim Layzell was commissioned to create an artwork for Classic & Sports Car magazine’s inaugural London Show, featuring a Jaguar E-type, Bentley Speed Six and McLaren F1 at Alexandra Palace.
   The iconic sports cars are among those in a public poll for the magazine, where readers are invited to name the ‘Best British Car Ever’. Other cars in the running include the Mini Cooper S, the Range Rover, and Jaguar XKSS. The winner will be revealed at the Show at Alexandra Palace, from October 30 to November 1.
   The Show will also feature over 300 classic cars from world-famous collectors and retailers.
   â€˜It’s a real honour to be asked to produce a one-off piece for this amazing new event,’ said Layzell. ‘With such an incredible line-up of icons on the shortlist for the Best British Car Ever and such a stunning location as Alexandra Palace, this commission has been a motoring artist’s dream. I’m so looking forward to the event; with the experts from Classic & Sports Car behind it, it’s going to be a must-attend show.’
   Layzell’s image will be used on all marketing and promotional material for the event.
   Tickets are available from www.classicandsportscarshow.com.

May 12, 2015

David Gandy and Jodie Kidd lead Jaguar’s Mille Miglia line-up; Bentley fields 1930 Blower

Lucire staff/12.09

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Top The nine Jaguars taking place in this year’s Mille Miglia. Above Almost Bondian: the 1930 Bentley 4½-litre with a Vanden Plas Open Sports four-seat body and a supercharger by Amherst Villiers competing in the 2015 Mille Miglia.

British car makers are taking this year’s Mille Miglia seriously. Jaguar is taking part with a large heritage line-up, and has enlisted, once again, the help of model and motorhead David Gandy, who competes in an XK120 as he did two years ago along with Jodie Kidd, who must equal Gandy both in the modelling and motorhead stakes. Bentley will field an original 1930 4½-litre Blower, in an attempt to complete what it could not do back then: complete the race.
   Jaguar’s fleet consists of nine, including three C-types, three D-types, an XK120, an XK140, and, the most unusual of this group, a Mark VII—although one had won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1956. One of the C-types is NDU 289, which competed in the original Mille Miglia in 1953, driven that time by Mario Tadini and Franco Cortese. Jaguar engineer Mike Cross drives the car in the 2015 event.
   Other C-types are PUG 676, which was raced by Ian Appleyard, Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons’s son-in-law, this time driven by RAC motoring committee chairman Ben Cussons; and KSF 182, formerly raced by Jimmy Stewart and Jackie Stewart between 1953 and 1955, and owned now by Adam Lindemann, driven this time by five-time Le Mans winner, Derek Bell. The D-types are the ex-Ralph Lauren NCV 260, which had competed in the original Mille Miglias, driven by current owner Simon Kidston; RSF 303, the Ecurie Ecosse car that was second in Le Mans in 1957 and competed in the Mille Miglia in 1957 and 1958, driven by Jaguar design director Ian Callum and enthusiast Clive Beecham; 393 RW, the Reims winner for 1956 and the sixth-place-getter at Le Mans that year, setting the lap record, will be driven by Saturday Kitchen’s James Martin.
   One XK120, nicknamed Betsey, will be driven by Jodie Kidd and David Gandy, as noted: she had driven the car in the 2014 trial. The XK140, TAC 743, was once raced by David Hobbs; it will be driven by Elliot Gleave, a.k.a. Example, and his father Michael. The Mark VII will be driven by Charley Boorman.
   Bentley, meanwhile, will field a 1930 British racing green 4½-litre Blower with a Vanden Plas Open Sports four-seat body and a supercharger by Amherst Villiers—not unlike the one driven by James Bond. The Bentley Boys, the Hon Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin and Bentley chairman Woolf Barnato (right, at Le Mans in 1929), were the first British drivers to compete in the Mille Miglia, using the No. 2 Birkin Blower, a 4½-litre supercharged model. However, they were unable to complete the race.
   Bentley is aiming to do what it could not 85 years ago, using an equivalent model and seeing if its director of royal and VIP relations, Richard Charlesworth can complete the race in the 2015 event. It is the Blower’s fifth entry.
   Between May 14 and 17, 2015, racers will depart from Brescia and drive 1,000 miles, including through Roma, and return to Brescia.



Top The XK120 to be driven by Jodie Kidd and David Gandy. Above The famed 393 RW Jaguar D-type, which set the lap record at Le Mans in 1956.

May 8, 2015

Two world premières form part of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Salute, ahead of an international tour

Lucire staff/2.36

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Ross Brown

Top Neil Ieremia’s Passchendaele with RNZB dancer William Fitzgerald. Above Kirby Selchow dances Andrew Simmons’ Dear Horizon.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet has revealed more about Salute, its commemoration of World War I, that premières in Wellington on May 22, with a nationwide tour after its stint there. As revealed in Lucire earlier this month, two of the specially commissioned pieces having their world première in Wellington will also be seen abroad, with the Royal Ballet hosting the RNZB in November 2015 at the Royal Opera House. Leeds, Canterbury and Roma are on the list of stops for the tour, Francesco Ventriglia, the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s artistic director revealed today.
   The two premières, both commissions by the RNZB, are from choreographers Neil Ieremia and Andrew Simmons, set to scores by Dwayne Bloomfield and Gareth Farr, respectively. The world-class New Zealand Army Band will also collaborate on Salute, touring to each of the seven centres on the national tour.
   Ieremia’s Passchendaele, with the Bloomfield score, will also feature works by Auckland artist Geoff Tune, inspired by his artist grandfather’s World War I diaries and recent visits to Gallipoli and Passchendaele.
   Ieremia said in a release, ‘The grotesque and brutal nature of war robs humans of humanity—my intention is to do what little I can to remind us of our own. From the haunting journey through the music, to the refined expression in the dancers’ bodies, encapsulating the very human impact of war—this creative process has already left an indelible mark on my spirit. I feel I have grasped a very, very small insight into something that should never be forgotten.’
   Simmons’ Dear Horizon is a new commission and his fifth for the company, and features a specially commissioned score by Farr, written for the New Zealand Army Band and cellist Rolf Gjelsten of the New Zealand String Quartet.
   Simmons said, ‘It is a very special honour to have been asked to create something for the company as part of this commemorative programme. War cannot really be celebrated and fêted, however the human aspect and participation should always be remembered. I wanted to create a work that reflects upon emotions of those affected by conflict.’
   The set and costumes for Dear Horizon have been designed by Tracy Grant Lord, who also designed the RNZB’s Cinderella (2007) and Romeo and Juliet (2004).
   As detailed last month, the Salute programme also features Johan Kobborg’s Salute and Jiří Kylián’s Soldiers’ Mass.
   Salute has been supported by the Lottery Grants Board, New Zealand Defence Force, Qantas, the Göthe-Institut, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, national sponsor Vodafone, and Pub Charity.
   Dates for Salute are May 22–4 in Wellington; May 28–30 in Christchurch; June 3 in Dunedin; June 10 in Hamilton; June 13 in Takapuna; June 17–20 in Auckland; and June 24–5 in Napier.
   Further information can be found on the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s website at rnzb.org.nz.

May 7, 2015

Dakota Johnson, Natalia Tena, Quim Gutiérrez star in Estrella Damm promotional film, directed by Alejandro Amenábar

Lucire staff/12.35

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Top Dakota Johnson, as she appeared in 50 Shades of Grey. Above Natalia Tena, in a still from last year’s Black Mirror Christmas special.

Dakota Johnson, who became a household name after her performance in the movie adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey, is set to star in a promotional film for Estrella Damm, the Spanish beer brand.
   Alcohol marketing is big business—Heineken paid US$45 million for its tie-in to Skyfall, the 2012 James Bond blockbuster, and for Daniel Craig and Bérénice Marlohe to appear in its ad. This time, Johnson, along with Natalia Tena (10,000 Km, Black Mirror: White Christmas, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) and Quim Gutiérrez (Cousinhood, The Last Days), appear in the film, to be directed by Academy Award-winning director Alejandro Amenábar (who won for Mar adentro, or The Sea Inside, starring Javier Bardem; Anglophone audiences may know his earlier work, The Others, starring Nicole Kidman). Amenábar has directed Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke in Regression, which is released this October.
   The advertisement film will première in mid-June. Locations are Ibiza and Barcelona. Johnson plays Rachel, a tourist who arrives at Ibiza and establishes friendships with a group from Barcelona.
   Filming commenced April 29.

Filed under: celebrity, film, living, Lucire
April 27, 2015

Nepal earthquake advice and list of aid agencies

Lucire staff/11.35

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The horrors of the earthquake in Nepal will be known to most readers by now, with the latest death toll at 3,700 at the time of writing.
   The news has hit home more as one of the juniors on our team, Kayla Newhouse, was in Kathmandu on Saturday. She remains there with water and food at the American Club, and is one of the fortunate ones. We have very sporadic telephone and wifi contact with her, and those with loved ones there are urged to keep cellphone contact to a minimum as battery-charging is hard to come by.
   The barest reports we have directly received is that the area is ‘like a war zone’, and that only 20 per cent of scheduled flights are still going ahead.
   Please consider donating to some of the organizations undertaking relief efforts in Nepal or collecting money for them. Some of the below have been compiled by The New York Times.

Oxfam New Zealand—direct donation page
Oxfam USA—direct donation page
UNICEF
UNICEF New Zealand—direct donation page
UNICEF USA—donation page
United Nations World Food Programme—direct donation page
Save the Children—direct donation page
Médécins sans Frontières—links to donation pages
Doctors Without Borders
World Vision
Red Cross
American Jewish World Service
The Salvation Army USA
International Medical Corps
Handicap International
PayPal
Mercy Corps
Catholic Relief Services
Habitat for Humanity International
Global Giving
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Samaritan’s Purse
CARE
Lutheran World Relief
The Jewish Federations of North America
SOS: Children’s Villages International
MAP International
Our Sansar

   Our latest syndicated news report (in Italian, from Euronews) is below.

   Jost Kobusch filmed the video below (with understandably strong language) from the Everest Base Camp, when an avalanche hit on Saturday. He and his friend ran for their lives as rock and ice came down the mountain.

April 22, 2015

The Royal Ballet announces its 2015–16 programme, including four world premières

Lucire staff/22.32

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Above Steven McRae as Florizel in Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale, which will be revived for the Royal Ballet’s 2015–16 season. Photograph copyright ©2014 by Johan Persson.


Above Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, performed in 1965. Photograph copyright ©1965 by Leslie E. Spatt.

The Royal Ballet has announced its 2015–16 season under its director, Kevin O’Hare, with four world premières, including the first main-stage, full-length narrative ballet by artist-in-residence Liam Scarlett based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; new one-act ballets from resident choreographer Wayne McGregor and artistic associate Christopher Wheeldon; and a new production of Carmen by principal guest artist Carlos Acosta.
   The first production of the season is Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Romeo and Juliet, originally created in 1965 for Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable, and performed by Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev at its première, which famously met with 43 curtain calls. It is the first work in the Royal Opera House Live Cinema Season for 2015–16.
   Acosta’s new adaptation of Carmen is set to the Bizet score with a new arrangement by Martin Yates. Acosta will dance the Don José and Escamillo roles at certain performances. Tim Hatley is behind the set and costume designs, and Peter Mumford has created the lighting. Scarlett’s Viscera, Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun and George Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky pas de deux form the rest of the mixed programme, and part of the ROH Live Cinema Season.
   McGregor’s Raven Girl will be revived in October in a double bill with Alastair Marriott’s Connectome. In May 2016, McGregor premières a one-act ballet set to Nyx, a one-movement orchestral work by Esa-Pekka Salonen. The programme also features a revival of MacMillan’s The Invitation.
   In February 2016, the company premières a new ballet by Wheeldon set to a commissioned score by Mark-Antony Turnage, alongside a mixed programme featuring After the Rain and Within the Golden Hour. Designs are by Bob Crowley and lighting by Natasha Chivers.
   Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale will stage its first revival in April 2016. The original was nominated for an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance and won the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Classical Choreography. It has also been nominated for a South Bank Sky Arts Award for Dance.
   Scarlett’s full-length narrative ballet based on Frankenstein premières in May 2016, with a score by Lowell Liebermann with designs by John Macfarlane and lighting by David Finn. It will be broadcast live to cinemas on May 18, 2016.
   Mixed programmes of Frederick Ashton’s work will feature this season, the first being The Two Pigeons, created in 1961 for Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable, appearing in November 2014, alongside Monotones I and II, set to Erik Satie’s Trois Gnossiennes and Trois Gymnopédies. It returns in January 2016 in a second double-bill alongside Rhapsody, created by Ashton for Lesley Collier and Mikhail Baryshnikov in honour of the Queen Mother on the occasion of her 80th birthday. It will be shown in cinemas on January 26, 2015.
   Peter Wright’s production of The Nutcracker, with design by Julia Trevelyan Oman, will be the Royal Ballet’s Christmas programme, while Wright’s Giselle returns in February.
   A summer tour to Japan is planned for 2016.
   As part of the Royal Ballet’s Linbury Studio Theatre programme, the Royal New Zealand Ballet is set to tour in the UK in November 2015, making its Royal Opera House début, performing a mixed programme, including a world première by Andrew Simmons. UK audiences will be delighted to see Anatomy of a Passing Cloud by Javier de Frutos, Selon Désir by Andonis Foniadakis, and Passchendaele by Neil Ieremia.
   Others to be hosted include Cas Public, which also makes a début at Linbury, presenting Symphonie Dramatique, inspired by Romeo and Juliet, and coinciding with the Royal Ballet’s production of Romeo and Juliet on the main stage.
   The Phoenix Dance Theatre will perform Until.With/Out.Enough, choreographed by Itzik Galili, a co-commission by the Royal Ballet. The company’s artistic director Sharon Watson will present TearFall in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust, exploring the complexities of crying, and Caroline Finn’s Bloom examines ‘a surreal universe with tragi-comic characters.’
   Former Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre principal Alessandra Ferri will make her Linbury début in Chéri, directed and choreographed by Martha Clarke, and inspired by the novella by Colette. Chéri will feature American Ballet Theatre principal Herman Cornejo.
   Will Tuckett’s Elizabeth will make its Linbury début, based on the life of Queen Elizabeth I, and featuring Carlos Acosta and Zenaida Yanowsky, set to a score by Martin Yates, derived from Elizabethan compositions by Dowland, Tallis and Morley.
   Keon Kessels succeeds Barry Wordsworth as music director; Wordsworth becomes principal guest conductor.
   Further information can be found at the Royal Opera House’s website at www.roh.org.uk.

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