Company News, Matariki 2022

13 July 2022

Dancers returned to the studio after a well-earned break at Queen’s Birthday to start full rehearsals for The Ryman Healthcare Season of Cinderella. Early rehearsals in May included fencing lessons for both male and female dancers, as well as some flying lessons at Te Whaea.

Choreographer Loughlan Prior is now in the studio full time, working with composer Claire Cowan’s complete music score – and after months of working via email and Zoom, designer Emma Kingsbury is now in Wellington to work with our costume and workshop teams.

At the beginning of June, we said a fond farewell to long-serving dancers Katherine and Joseph Skelton, who have retired from performing after more than a decade with the RNZB. We wish them every happiness in the next chapter of their life together and look forward to catching up when the company is on tour. We also farewelled Artist and graduate of the New Zealand School of Dance Saul Newport, who after a year back home in Aotearoa with the RNZB has returned to Houston Ballet. We wish Saul all the best and look forward to seeing him when he’s next back in Wellington.

In May, we welcomed Artist Matthew Slattery back to the RNZB. Matthew grew up in Cooma, New South Wales and trained in Sydney and New York before joining the RNZB in mid-2012. From 2014 – 21 Matthew danced with Boston Ballet and we are delighted that he has now returned to Aotearoa to re-join the RNZB. Matthew’s first performances with the RNZB were in our previous production of Cinderella, so it is a happy coincidence that he’ll take to the stage again in our brand-new production.

This month, we have also welcomed new Artist Catarina Estévez Collins-Serra to Wellington and the RNZB. Catarina joins us from the Joffrey Ballet Studio Company in Chicago. She trained in Castille in Spain and in Antwerp before moving to the USA and now Aotearoa. Haere mai!

We also welcome Auckland-born Louis Ramsay as a guest dancer for Cinderella. Louis trained at Philippa Campbell School of Ballet prior to full-time training at The Australian Ballet School and then joining Queensland Ballet. We are also delighted that student dancers from the New Zealand School of Dance and New Zealand Youth Ballet, Emma McWhinnie, Hannah Thomson and Ema Takahashi, are joining us for Cinderella.

Dancers from the RNZB have been making guest appearances over the last two months. In May, Soloist Kihiro Kusukami was pleased to be invited to appear in Paquita with New Zealand Youth Ballet at the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch. Principals Mayu Tanigaito and Laurynas Vėjalis will shortly travel to Sydney to appear in the Lux Light The Way Showcase Gala at the Sydney Coliseum, performing the Flames of Paris pas de deux and Penny Saunders’ Berceuse.

Artist Annaliese Macdonald has taken a leave of absence from the RNZB to participate in several prestigious choreographic workshops in Europe in July to August: b12 in Berlin; Gaga Eden Orsolina in Italy, working with choreographer Ohad Naharin and dancers from Batsheva Dance Company; and a workshop with Nederlands Dans Theater choreographers Sol León and Paul Lightfoot. Annaliese has created a number of choreographic works for the RNZB through our RNZB RAW and recent Ballet Bites programmes, and we are excited for her to have this opportunity to develop her choreographic talents.

After a digital-only start to the year, during which more than 35,000 students engaged with the RNZB online, RNZB Dance Educators are once again out on the road and delivering workshops in schools throughout the motu. Our long-standing Education Partner the Lion Foundation and Accessibility Partner the Four Winds Foundation, together with many other generous organisations and individuals remain central to the success of this ever-growing programme. Thousands of school students are booked to attend schools’ matinee performances of Cinderella in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch, with the support of Trustees Executors. We will again be offering audio description and touch tours for visually-impaired children at these performances, and also at the public matinees on 6 August (Wellington), 13 August (Auckland) 28 August (Christchurch) and the evening performance in Dunedin on 3 September.

As part of the Cinderella season, RNZB Education will partner with musicians from Orchestra Wellington and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra to deliver Musical Moves workshops, bringing dance education with live music, based on Claire Cowan’s Cinderella score, to six Wellington schools and five in Auckland.

The RNZB will make a welcome return to Te Papa during the July school holidays with Tāne and the Kiwi, a new ballet for younger children based on the Māori legend How the Kiwi Lost Its Wings. Free performances, narrated in both English and Te Reo, will take place at Soundings Theatre on 14 and 15 July, with a relaxed performance, with additional narration in New Zealand Sign Language, on 14 July. On Saturday 16 July, performances of Tāne and the Kiwi will be complemented by free dance workshops for children, from pre-school to primary, storytime sessions, craft activities and a chance to learn more about Cinderella from choreographer Loughlan Prior, in the RNZB’s popular Te Papa Whānau Day.

RNZB Education is also gearing up for its annual Ballet in a Box performances on 15 and 16 August at the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau, which each year offers hundreds of children from South Auckland schools an up-close ballet experience. These free performances are enhanced by free in-school workshops delivered by RNZB Dance Educators Lauren Byrne and Jamie Delmonte.

At the end of June, we farewelled Board members Trish Oakley and Katrina Todd MNZM, who joined the Board in 2017 and 2019 respectively. Trish, who is based in Dunedin, and Katrina, who is based in Auckland, have made a great contribution to the RNZB during their time on the Board, Trish particularly through her membership of the Audit and Risk Sub Committee, and Katrina with her strong background in dance through both the New Zealand School of Dance and Wellesley Studios. We thank them for their service and wish them well in future endeavours.

Plans for our return to our permanent home at the St James Theatre are moving swiftly, with works to upgrade our studios, dancers’ changing room, bathrooms and well-being facilities, costume workroom and offices, due to commence next week.  We are very grateful to all the individuals and organisations who have together contributed more than $4m in funding to this project, including the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Manatū Taonga via the Budget announcement in May 2022, the Royal New Zealand Ballet Foundation, Wellington City Council, NZCT, Pub Charity Limited, the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board, the Four Winds Foundation, the TG Macarthy Trust and many individual supporters.

Loughlan Prior & Shae Berney in Cinderella rehearsals The Ryman Healthcare Season of Cinderella. Choreography by Loughlan Prior. Rehearsal at the Royal New Zealand Ballet Dance Centre, Wellington, NZ, 27 June 2022. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court.
Loughlan Prior Choreographer Loughlan Prior in rehearsals for The Ryman Healthcare Season of Cinderella, 2022. Photography by Stephen A'Court.