Shaun James Kelly

JX3189 Shaun James Kelly for the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court.

With his choreography reviewed as ‘classical majesty’, ‘spellbinding brilliance’ and ‘pushing classical technique to the edge’, Scottish-born Shaun James Kelly is staking his claim as one of New Zealand’s most exciting innovators of classical dance choreography.  

Through his training at the Dance School of Scotland and English National Ballet School, his professional career dancing for Denmark’s Tivoli Ballet Theatre and the Royal New Zealand Ballet, Shaun has become known as a versatile, compelling performer. He’s worked with leading, top-tier creatives from across the globe, which has inspired him to develop his own choreographic voice to create exciting works that challenge and fulfil dancers. 

Shaun quickly looked for choreographic opportunities in New Zealand, collaborating with Kiwi musician Martin Bryant and creating the choreography for his music video: ‘Out of Sight Out of Mind’ in 2014 which has over 30,000 views online. Shaun’s choreography was awarded the RNZB’s Harry Haythorne Choreographic Award for his work Blanć in 2016. Following this, he was asked to create his first main stage work for the RNZB titled Aura, which was performed throughout the country as part of 2017’s Tutus on Tour. Shaun has also created for the catwalk in New Zealand Fashion Week, collaborating with Kiwi designer Andrea Moore for her ‘AM FIT’ collection. Then going on to create for the 2017 Harry Haythorne presentation, work titled Dona Nobis Pacem | The Fallen. 

In 2018, Shaun was given the prestigious title of Choreographer in Residence by RNZB Artistic Director Patricia Barker. Shaun’s exciting venture for 2018 was the adaptation of the much-loved children’s story Little Red Riding Hood, his new work entitled Little Red, reaching over 5,000 New Zealanders throughout the country. This work was commissioned through the RNZB and Te Papa (The National Museum of New Zealand) and was further performed as part of Auckland Live’s ‘Pick’n’Mix’ dance workshop. 

Shaun brought his work to the main stage as part of the RNZB’s Choreographic Series in 2019. His work The Ground Beneath Our Feet was reviewed as: 

“The stand-out of the evening is The Ground Beneath Our Feet by Kelly. It is a well-crafted and playful work.” 

Lyne Pringle, stuff.co.nz. 

“But the long-awaited awe, classical majesty and exhilarating choreography…belongs to The Ground Beneath Our Feet by Shaun James Kelly. With vivid structure, exciting and unrelenting momentum… providing balletic exhilaration, technical intensity, and spell-binding brilliance. The audience receives Kelly’s work with riotous applause.” 

Greer Robertson, theatreview.org.nz 

With the challenges of 2020, Shaun took the opportunity to create new work for the RNZB RAW studio performances. The Things We Left Unsaid was created using Zoom and was developed further into a 19-minute piece. This duet was also performed as part of Royal Academy of Dance Scholarship gala. 

In 2021, Shaun was thrilled at the chance to collaborate with the RNZB and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra to create the choreography for Stravinsky’s well-loved pocket-sized theatre piece, The Soldier’s Tale. This was part of NZSO’s 2021 season ‘Setting Up Camp’, which was performed all over Aotearoa New Zealand. 

Later in 2021, Shaun utilised the digital space to create a short film for his work Behind Closed Doors. This was streamed on social platforms as a reflection and celebration of resilience one year on from the COVID-19 lockdown. Finishing the year, Shaun created NEXUS for the New Zealand School of Dance graduation season. This piece ‘completed the evening with a joyful climax’, with the students relishing in the challenges of the choreography. 

Shaun is thrilled to bring back his work The Ground Beneath Our Feet as part of the RNZB’s Tutus on Tour at the end of 2022, which will tour throughout Aotearoa.