The 2022 season of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Tutus on Tour is arguably its best yet, thanks to careful curation by artistic director Patricia Barker, and including the talents of the company’s choreographer-in-residence Shaun James Kelly.
Tutus on Tour is designed to bring the RNZB’s excellence to smaller and more diverse audiences, without the grand sets. Think of it as “ballet unplugged”, where you’re focused on the dancers and the choreography. with simple staging and design—and the experience is all the more refreshing for it.
Kicking off the evening is Kelly’s The Ground Beneath Our Feet, commissioned by Barker in 2019, and re-staged tonight in its première as part of Tutus on Tour at the Opera House, Wellington. Set to a Bach score, with additions by Massimo Margaria, The Ground Beneath Our Feet is a symphony of movement, with sweeping classical techniques brought right up to date. It’s a reminder, too, that the RNZB has plenty of talent who are rising up to be future leads.
It’s followed by a very raw, very human After the Rain, a romantic number choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. While beginning with three couples, only a single couple returns for a pas de deux that’s raw and tender. You can sense every emotion from the pair, beautifully danced by Kate Kadow and Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson in tonight’s performance.
Since it is called Tutus on Tour, the classical garb makes an appearance for excerpts from The Nutcracker (it shouldn’t be hard to guess which part—the Tchaikovsky score is instantly recognizable). It’s from a version by Val Caniparoli, which Lucire reviewed in 2018. Adapted to New Zealand, the dancers wear scarlet tutus with green, hinting at the pōhutukawa that blossom near Christmastime. With 13 dancers for the ‘Waltz of the Pōhutukawa Flowers’, you’re taken away from the raw emotion of the earlier performances. The grand pas de deux, with Mayu Tanigaito and Laurynas Vėjalis, brings things back to that human level from the earlier ballets, and once again we enjoyed Tanigaito’s expertise and mastery of the Sugar Plum Fairy’s role.
It was second part of Tutus on Tour that really allowed Vėjalis to shine—in fact, this is the best we’ve seen him dance. In Le Corsaire’s pas de trois (after Marius Petipa), with Vėjalis, Tanigaito and Paul Mathews, the Lithuanian-born dancer is really given a chance to shine as Ali, with pirouettes and grands jetés in his solos. Vėjalis is focused on his own movements and technique, and executes his moves with precision and determination. We seldom see him do these big solo numbers—in our reviews he’s often the romantic male and has to turn on the suitor’s role—so this was a revelation. In fact, Tanigaito’s perfectly performed pirouettes were the only feats that challenged Vėjalis’s jetés in this part of the ballet.
Olivier Wevers’ The Sofa, set to a Mozart score, concluded the evening: part-comic turn, part-heartbreak as two lovers confront their differences, and all surreal. The cast of 10 engage in their series of duets, while the sofa is the 11th cast member, even vying for the hearts of the human dancers. Here are the dancers showing their full flexibility, crowding themselves upon the sofa, sliding underneath it on at least two occasions, and showing the skills in Wevers’ complex, uninhibited movements.
These short pieces don’t provide much context to unpack, so you come down to very simple emotions: are they enjoyable? Even for regular ballet-goers, it’s an emphatic yes. There’s a fresh energy at the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and it’s very much reflected in this year’s Tutus on Tour.
Full details of venues and dates are available at rnzb.org.nz. The season runs from October 7 to November 12, 2022.
Jack Yan is founder and publisher of Lucire.