Royal New Zealand Ballet celebrates 70 years with 2023 season 

RNZB Artist Damen Axtens at Adam Art Gallery. Photo by Paul Ross Jones.
RNZB Artist Damen Axtens at Adam Art Gallery. Photo by Paul Ross Jones.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) has announced its 70th anniversary season. 2023 heralds the RNZB’s eighth decade as the national ballet company of Aotearoa, the first full season in three years, and the first season back at home in the St James Theatre in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Wellington.

Also announced is a major new partnership with one of the country’s most trusted and respected companies, Ryman Healthcare, which, after a long relationship with the RNZB, has come on board as the company’s new Principal Partner.

Ryman Healthcare CEO New Zealand Cheyne Chalmers said Ryman was pleased to be able to take on the role of lead partner. “We have been an enthusiastic supporter of the RNZB for many years, and we are delighted to be able to take our backing to the next level. Over the years, we’ve been amazed by the innovation and sheer hard work our national ballet brings to overcoming any barriers, including the elevated digital experience to make the ballet accessible during COVID.The RNZB’s innovative and inclusive approach to delighting our residents while inspiring the next generation’s love of dance is something we are thrilled to be able to support.’’

Artistic Director Patricia Barker says, “When curating our 70th anniversary season, I first selected works that represent seven decades of beautiful ballets presented on our stages. I then sought choreographers and works which were tailor made for the company, while infusing new work, by an array of talented dance makers, which will continue to delight our audiences, challenge our dancers and grow our organisation.”

The RNZB celebrates 70 years in July with Lightscapes, a collection of four large-scale works that depict the powerful lifeforce of dance. Moss Te Ururangi Patterson is creating a new work inspired by haka which will be powered by the men of the RNZB. George Balanchine’s Serenade (1934) was first staged for the company by the late Una Kai in 1975, and holds a special place in the hearts of generations of dancers, here and around the world. Barker is delighted to restage Serenade as a celebration of the joy of ballet to mark this special anniversary. The second half of the generous Lightscapes programme features two New Zealand premieres by choreographers making waves in the international dance world. Annabelle Lopez-Ochoa will stage her Requiem for a Rose, created for Pennsylvania Ballet in 2009 as an exploration of love. Then, the RNZB is proud to present Logos by company alumna Alice Topp (Aurum, Absence of Light), created for The Australian Ballet in 2020.

Barker says, “Lightscapes holds the essence and the wonder of dance – all the possibilities of the human body, light and space. We are truly excited to work with Moss Te Ururangi Patterson for a third time – the first Kiwi choreographer with whom I had the pleasure of working with back in 2018. His work will make the most of the fantastic line-up of male dancers at the RNZB alongside two special New Zealand premieres. We were due to work with Annabelle in 2020, and after so long, it will be a joy to welcome her to New Zealand. Alice Topp is a member of the RNZB family, and her ballets already have a special place in our – and New Zealand’s – hearts.”

Shakespeare’s great love story Romeo and Juliet returns in May 2023. In a passionate re-telling, with exquisite sets and costumes by Academy Award-winning designer James Acheson (The Last Emperor, Dangerous Liaisons), and new choreography by Andrea Schermoly (Stand to Reason, Within Without), Romeo and Juliet was first seen onstage in 2017, and went on to universal acclaim. It brings all the splendour and seduction of Renaissance Verona, swept up in Prokofiev’s exhilarating, sensuous score.

Barker says, “The music is thrilling, the story is timeless, and this is a glorious production made for the St James in 2017. Andrea Schermoly is creating new choreography that will revive the classic story with even more passion, drama, hope and despair.”

A special Christmas gift will close the year, as the RNZB brings back to the stage the ballet dream team of Loughlan Prior and Claire Cowan’s Hansel & Gretel following a triumphant premiere in 2019. Belly laughter and frightened shivers are served with plenty of sugar and just a touch of spice in this truly wonderful ballet for all ages.

Hansel & Gretel is the first full-length ballet I commissioned for the RNZB and a festive delight from the very first note of Claire Cowan’s fabulous score to the final flourish of the very happy ending,” Barker says.

Tutus on Tour, in February to March 2023, will look back with affection to the RNZB’s early days with performances in some of the smaller cities and towns in Aotearoa, and most cherished and charming historic theatres. Barker has carefully curated a collection of works which encapsulate the history of ballet, and her desire to share treasures from the RNZB’s recent past alongside both new and old works the dancers can’t wait to perform.

Le Papillon and After the Rain – made almost two centuries apart – both convey the intimate magic of a couple dancing together, creating a miniature world-in-the-spotlight onstage. Mark Baldwin’s ‘Nobody Takes Me Seriously’ from 2001’s landmark FrENZy is a toe-tapping solo to Tim Finn’s Kiwi classic and the chance for one of the company’s men to cut loose, with style. The programme is completed with two works for eight dancers each: the New Zealand premiere of Brian Enos’ elegantly neo-classical Cold Winter’s Waiting (2013) and Greg Horsman’s classical showpiece Holberg Suite, created for Tutus on Tour in 2009, and now given a welcome revival.

2023 also marks 20 years of RNZB Education, a year-round programme of events for schools, young dancers, ballet schools and including prisons, which, since it began, has been experienced by hundreds of thousands of Kiwis of all ages. In the last 10 years alone, RNZB Education has presented more than 4,000 in-person events, almost all free or low-cost, with more than 30,000 people now participating every year. Digital events have added hugely to this number, with more than 36,000 primary school children, through more than 400 teachers, accessing the Step Online digital dance resource in the first six months of 2022.

The RNZB will continue to invest in digital dance in 2023, bringing live performances out of the theatre and into living rooms across the country and the world, offering a fresh perspective on classic and contemporary works with ballet made for broadcast. The digital year will include free broadcasts of short works and on-demand streams of full-length ballets, available to watch at home.

RNZB Chair Dame Kerry Prendergast says, “We offer a heartfelt thank you to all our supporters, but especially to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, our national touring partner Pub Charity Limited and our new principal partner Ryman Healthcare. We are so grateful for your generosity, your commitment and your belief in the value of our work. Also, we offer sincere thanks to all our valued partners and funders in the St James project, especially Wellington City Council, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the RNZB Foundation, NZCT, Pub Charity Limited, and the Adam Foundation. We are very much looking forward to taking up residence once again at our home theatre and are counting the days until we can pack up and move.”

Finally, as the company reaches its 70th year, a new alumni association, to connect and uplift former members of the RNZB, has been announced. Communications, events, classes and special discounts will form part of this exciting new, connecting project. Former dancers, members of the production team and other staff members are invited to sign up for what could become New Zealand’s largest arts organisation alumni programme. Inaugural events will take place at the performances of the Lightscapes 70th anniversary programme on the evenings of 28 July (Wellington), 4 August (Christchurch) and 11 August (Auckland). Interested participants can discover more and sign up at rnzb.org.nz/alumni or send an email to alumni@rnzb.org.nz

The full RNZB 2023 programme can be found on www.rnzb.org.nz.

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