Seduction, passion, obsession – RNZB’s first season of 2017

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 2017 season begins with two New Zealand premieres of French master choreographer Roland Petit’s landmark works L’Arlésienne and Carmen, which open in Christchurch on 16 February ahead of touring to Christchurch, Invercargill, Dunedin, Blenheim, Rotorua, Palmerston North, Wellington, closing in Auckland on 1 April.

This is the first time that the RNZB has performed works by Roland Petit (1924 – 2011), one of the great choreographers of the 20th and 21stcenturies. Renowned for his uniquely theatrical vision of ballet, he created works for many of the world’s finest dancers including Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Zizi Jeanmaire (who become his wife), Alessandra Ferri and Natalia Makarova to name a few. His collaborators included artists such as Picasso, writers Jean Cocteau and Orson Welles, designer Yves Saint Laurent, and musician Serge Gainsborough. He also spent four years in Hollywood, as choreographer on films that included Daddy Long Legs with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron (1954), and Anything Goes (1955) with Zizi Jeanmaire and Bing Crosby. His ballets continue to be performed by the world’s leading ballet companies.

RNZB Artistic Director Francesco Ventriglia was a 19 year old dancer with La Scala in Italy when he first met Roland Petit. “Maestro Petit had an extraordinary impact on me as an artist. He not only cast me in my first major roles but he also became my mentor.”

“I feel very honoured to be introducing his genius to the dancers of the RNZB and to nurture them as artists through this experience. I really believe that Maestro Petit’s works should be seen by everyone who loves the arts, and I am thrilled New Zealanders now have the opportunity to see these masterpieces,” says Francesco.

Carmen has become Roland Petit’s signature work and is in the repertoire of ballet companies throughout the world. It was created for Les Ballets de Paris, and premiered in London in 1949 with Zizi Jeanmaire in the title role, and Petit himself as Don José. Petit created L’Arlésienne in 1974 for the Ballet National de Marseille, a company he founded. Both ballets are set to the well-known and powerful music of composer Georges Bizet and are stories of passion and obsession.

Artistic Director of the Roland Petit repertoire, Luigi Bonino who danced for many years in Petit’s ballets and who went on to be his assistant, has travelled to New Zealand especially to teach the RNZB dancers these two masterpieces with the assistance of Gillian Whittingham.

Francesco Ventriglia has invited two guest artists to join the company for the season. Natalya Kusch, originally from the Ukraine and a former dancer with The Australian Ballet will be one of the dancers in the lead role of Carmen, and dancer Daniel Gaudiello who also joined the RNZB for 2016’s acclaimed Giselle returns to New Zealand to be one of the dancers in the lead role of Don José.

For the first time in many years the RNZB will open a tour in Christchurch at the Isaac Theatre Royal, on Thursday 16 February.

Carmen synopsis:
Don José meets Carmen as she fights with another woman at the cigarette factory. Despite initially being sent to arrest her, he is attracted to her and invites her to meet him at a tavern later that evening. At the tavern, Carmen dances for Don José. When he has eyes only for her, her bandit friends rob him. Carmen and Don José leave and spend the night together. Driven by passion and a desire to prove himself to Carmen, Don José kills a man. Nonetheless, she abandons him for the glamorous Toreador, leaving Don José broken and despairing. Don José cannot bear to see Carmen with another man. As the Toreador fights in the arena, the lovers meet one last time, and Don José stabs Carmen to death.

L’Arlésienne synopsis:
It is high summer in Provence. As his wedding approaches, Frédéri is captivated, and then obsessed, by an unknown, unseen woman – the faithless ‘girl from Arles’. We never see her onstage, in fact, she may be a figment of his imagination. Despite Vivette’s efforts to help him, as their wedding day approaches, Frédéri loses his reason, and ultimately, his life.

Two ballets by Roland Petit, Carmen, with L’Arlésienne
16 February – 1 April

Choreography by Roland Petit. Music by Georges Bizet. Staging Luigi Bonino, with Gillian Whittingham. Lighting by Jean-Michel Désiré. Set design (L’Arlésienne) by René Allio. Costume design (L’Arlésienne) by Christine Laurent. Set and costume design (Carmen) by Antoni Clavé.

Running time approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes including one interval.

For booking info see

Carmen RNZB dancer Mayu Tanigaito, photo by Ross Brown