Royal New Zealand Ballet
Air New Zealand Gala Evening of Stars

Mark Morris' "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes"
Viktor Gsovsky's "Grand Pas Classique"
Marius Petipa's "Don Quixote pas de deux" and "Le Corsaire pas de deux"
Derek Deane's "Impromptu"
Jirí Kylián's "Nuages"
George Balanchine's "Allegro Brilliante"

The Aotea Centre, Auckland, New Zealand

August 30, 2001
By Malcolm Tay

Presented by the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the Air New Zealand Gala Evening of Stars was a sumptuous two-night programme that toured Auckland and Wellington, with two pairs of guest performers invited for this occasion: Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur, Regular Guest Principals with the English National Ballet; Lisa-Maree Cullum and Oliver Wehe, Principal Dancers with the Bayerisches Staatsballett München. Performed at the Aotea Centre in Auckland (30-31 August), the Auckland Philharmonia accompanied the Auckland leg of this show.

Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes, by Mark Morris.

In this imaginative parody of the ballet class, Morris cleverly distorts the classical line and positions without going too far, taking the archetypal classroom exercises to a more complex level, creating a structurally dense, yet refreshing ballet for a cast of twelve. With pianist David Guerin centre-stage working Virgil Thomson’s thirteen piano études, the white-costumed dancers travelled in twos across the stage, alternating quick turns with hand-joined balances. The usual walk-her-around promenade became a laborious carry-her-around for four couples, with the women leisurely inclined in their partners’ arms. Seemingly simple steps, from the demi-plié to the sauté in second position, were performed in patterns that became increasingly complicated, resulting in all-too-brief moments where it looked like a chaotic mess of arms and legs. Despite a little uncertainty on some occasions, dancers of the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) coped admirably with this demanding piece.

Grand Pas Classique, by Viktor Gsovsky.

Made as a showcase for virtuosic classical technique and first performed in 1949, Lisa-Maree Cullum and Oliver Wehe, delivered an overall steady performance of this typical grand pas de deux. Cullum was light and elegantly poised in her every move, pulling off her series of piqué turns and chaînés with incredible ease, knocking double turns in between her multiple fouettés. Wehe, described as “a technically very strong virtuoso”, was in relatively fine form, though it looked as though he needed the extra hunch in his back to get through his leaps and jumps.

Don Quixote pas de deux, after Marius Petipa.

Taken from Act III of the full-length classic, Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur seemed totally at home with this gala staple and all its haughty, Spanish posturing. As a sultry Kitri in a red and black number, Oaks displayed excellent bodily control in her effortless échappés to the music, long balances on point, and stiff arabesque penchés even when hoisted in the air by Edur. Every bit the suave matador in black, Edur was the steady partner with his own set of tricks, executing turning assemblés and high, scissor-leg leaps.

Impromptu, by Derek Deane.

Oaks and Edur have earned much praise for their rendition of this duet, and this performance was no less praiseworthy. Accompanied by Guerin’s capable performance of Schubert’s Klavierstücke in E Flat minor, it is a fluid, lively work with a delicate, lyrical middle, interpreted by the Estonian-born pair with great aplomb and sensitivity. Symmetrical and asymmetrical shapes flowed through their bodies, picture-perfect fish dives were frozen in time, with beautifully sustained, spiralling lifts. Originally set on Antoinette Sibley and David Wall in 1982, it was hard not to imagine this delectable pas de deux as a poetic conversation between two lovers.

Le Corsaire pas de deux, after Marius Petipa.

Yet another frequently performed showpiece, from the complete ballet based on Lord Byron’s poem “The Corsair”, this time taken on by the RNZB’s Chen Jianguo and Yo Otaki. Chen does not have the same presence as others (say, ABT's Angel Corella) who have performed this role, but his tight, compact frame zipped through his turning leaps with an almost razor-sharp finish. Yo was gracefully composed and showed off a competent series of fouettés.

Nuages, by Jirí Kylián.

In this 1976 creation, classical ballet is given a muscular, grounded edge, leaving the torso free to flex and bend, the arms defiantly extended or brandished in eagle-like curves, crafting a sensuous, sculptural upper bodyline. Performed by Cullum and Wehe to the sombre, haunting score by Debussy, interaction between the two was tense, as if taut with fear and anxiety, yet classically fluent. With its treacherously elaborate lifts (such as when Wehe whirled Cullum around by her arm and supporting leg) and intricate moves (such as when Cullum twirled readily on one knee), this was a much-welcomed break from the evening’s prevailing classicism, and an ideal vehicle for these Munich-based artists.

Allegro Brilliante, by George Balanchine.

After what felt like a lacklustre opening, the RNZB dancers came back to close the evening with this exuberant, plotless piece for ten. As the orchestra fired up Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto, the ballet began with four couples running in circles while the curtains were raised. With Cameron McMillian and Larissa Wright leading the cast, the dancers bounded joyously, be it in unison or in separate formations, to the jubilant score.

But for someone who has yet to see the entire Balanchinian repertoire, this thirteen-minute ballet seemed neither distinctive nor sufficiently brilliant in design, as compared to some of his other works. Nevetheless, when delivered with such assurance by the RNZB dancers, it made for a strong, solid ending to a night of luminous dancing. One can only hope for more of such talents, both local and foreign, to grace the New Zealand stage.


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Edited by Marie.

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