Company News | December 2023

The Royal New Zealand Ballet farewells dancers, and welcomes two new company members for the 2024 season.

Principal Sara Garbowski in the Nutcracker, 2018. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court.

Long-standing Royal New Zealand Ballet Principal Sara Garbowski will take her final curtain call with the national ballet company this weekend when she retires from the stage at the end of The Ryman Healthcare Season of Hansel & Gretel. Sara’s final performance, on the evening of 9 December at the Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna, will be as Mother. 

Sara, who was born and trained in Canada and began her career at the National Ballet of Canada before spending seven years with the Royal Ballet of Flanders, moved to New Zealand to join the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2017. She was promoted to Soloist in 2019 and Principal in 2021. 

During her time at the RNZB, Sara’s performances have encompassed a vast range of repertoire, testament to her artistry, technical skill and dramatic flair. In addition to performing solo and principal roles in classical works, including Aurora and the Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, the Sugarplum Fairy and Dew Drop in The Nutcracker, Myrtha in Giselle and the title role in Paquita, she has shone in dramatic roles such as Ada in The Piano: the ballet and Lady Capulet in Romeo & Juliet. Her contemporary highlights include Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain pas de deux, William Forsythe’s Artifact II and In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, and Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort. 

Ruby Ryburn (second from left at the front) joins the RNZB in 2024 as the Todd Scholar. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court.

The RNZB is pleased to announce that three young New Zealanders who joined the Company as Scholars for 2023 will continue as members of the RNZB in 2024. Current Todd Scholar Hannah Thomson will become one of two Friedlander Foundation Scholars in 2024, with 2023 Friedlander Foundation Scholar Niamh O’Meara also continuing with the generous support of the Friedlander Foundation in 2024. RNZB Foundation Scholar Ema Takahashi will continue to be supported by the RNZB Foundation in 2024. 

Ruby Ryburn, who graduated from the New Zealand School of Dance this month, will join the RNZB as the 2024 Todd Scholar. Ruby was born in 2004 and undertook her early dance training at Mount Eden Ballet Academy in Auckland before moving to the New Zealand School of Dance for full-time training in 2022. Ruby was one of several young women seconded from the New Zealand School of Dance for the RNZB’s 70th Anniversary Lightscapes tour in July – August 2023, performing in George Balanchine’s iconic Serenade in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch. 

Zacharie Dun will join the RNZB as a Soloist in 2024. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court

Zacharie Dun, who is currently performing in Hansel & Gretel as a guest dancer, will join the RNZB as a Soloist in 2024.

Zach is originally from Taree, New South Wales and trained locally and at The Australian Ballet School and Queensland Ballet’s pre-professional programme, joining Queensland Ballet as a Jette Parker Young Artist in 2016. From 2017 until earlier this year, Zach was a member of Alberta Ballet in Calgary, Canada, where his notable roles included Albrecht in Giselle, the Sugarplum Cavalier in The Nutcracker and Botero in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Botero. 

Artist Dane Head with former Soloist Madeleine Graham. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court.

The RNZB farewelled three Soloists and one Artist during 2023. Madeleine Graham, who first performed with the Company for Giselle at the end of 2012, joining as an Artist in 2013 and promoted to Soloist in 2022, left New Zealand in March to move to The Netherlands with her life partner. Madeleine made her mark in both classical and contemporary repertoire with the RNZB, with special highlights including creating the role of Juliet in Francesco Ventriglia’s Romeo & Juliet in 2017, the role of Vivette in Roland Petit’s L’Arlésienne, which she performed the same year and Andrea Schermoly’s suffrage-themed Stand to Reason (2018). With the RNZB she performed in China, the USA, the UK, Italy and Hong Kong, and in 2018 she became the first ballet dancer to travel to and perform in Antarctica, collaborating with choreographer Corey Baker on his short film Antarctica: The First Dance. 

New Zealander Damen Axtens, and Australian Matthew Slattery, who were both promoted to Soloist at the end of 2022, left the RNZB at the conclusion of the Lightscapes tour in August 2023 for opportunities overseas. Damen, who joined the RNZB from Birmingham Royal Ballet in mid-2021 performed roles including Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2021) and Prince Dashing in Loughlan Prior’s Cinderella in 2022, as well as Sarah Foster-Sproull’s The Autumn Ball and Alice Topp’s Aurum (both 2022) and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Requiem for a Rose (2023). Damen is now a member of the Paris Opéra Ballet in France, just the second New Zealander to be accepted into the world’s oldest ballet company. 

Matthew Slattery, originally from Cooma, Australia, and trained in Sydney and New York City, first joined the RNZB in 2012 before returning to the USA to dance with Boston Ballet from 2014 – 22. After returning to the RNZB in mid-2022, Matthew performed a wide range of solo roles including Prince Charming in Cinderella, Alice Topp’s Aurum and Twyla Tharp’s Waterbaby Bagatelles™ (both 2022), Tybalt, Paris and Lord Capulet in Andrea Schermoly’s Romeo & Juliet (2023), George Balanchine’s Serenade, Moss Te Ururangi Patterson’s Te Ao Mārama and Alice Topp’s Logos (all 2023). Matt is now pursuing new creative, choreographic and performing opportunities in the USA and Europe. 

Artist Teagan Tank, who joined the RNZB from the New Zealand School of Dance as the Todd Scholar in 2019, retired from performing at the conclusion of the Romeo & Juliet tour in June 2023.  During her time with the RNZB Teagan performed in a wide range of repertoire including solo roles in The Sleeping Beauty (2020) and Cinderella (2022) and was frequently involved in RNZB Education initiatives. Following overseas travel, Teagan is looking forward to commencing studies towards a Bachelor of Nursing in 2024. 

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Hansel & Gretel, Photo credit: Stephen A’Court.

After an exceptionally busy end to 2023, including the 70th Anniversary ‘Platinum’ gala on 13 October and the eight-venue, 24 performance Ryman Healthcare Season of Hansel & Gretel, which also included three schools’ matinees, the dancers and artistic team will take a summer break from 10 December, returning to the rehearsal studio on 15 January 2024.