Royal New Zealand Ballet – 2023 Company Announcement

Principal Laurynas Vejalis at the Michael Fowler Centre, 2022. Photo by Paul Ross Jones.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) is pleased to announce that three young New Zealanders will join the company next year as the Todd, Friedlander Foundation and Royal New Zealand Ballet Foundation Scholars respectively. The four dancers who joined the company in 2022 as Scholars are all being promoted to Company Artists in 2023. Three dancers from overseas will also join the company next year.

We also announce company promotions and next steps for dancers who are retiring from the stage or moving on in their professional lives, onstage and off.

The Todd Scholar, funded by Todd Corporation, supports a graduate of the New Zealand School of Dance in their first year as a full-time professional dancer with the RNZB. Hannah Thomson will join the RNZB as the 2023 Todd Scholar. Hannah was born and grew up in Christchurch, training at Garden City Dance Academy and the Anneliese Gilberd Dance Academy before joining the New Zealand School of Dance. She was a guest dancer for the RNZB’s Cinderella this year.

Ema Takahashi, who also grew up in Christchurch, training at Convergence Dance Studio and at New Zealand Youth Ballet, where her tutors have included former RNZB Principal Abigail Boyle, joins the RNZB as the Royal New Zealand Ballet Foundation Scholar for 2023. Ema also appeared as a guest dancer in Cinderella and recently appeared with the RNZB in Venus Rising.

Niamh O’Meara who trained at Chilton Ballet Academy in Lower Hutt and the New Zealand School of Dance, joins the RNZB as one of two Friedlander Foundation Scholars for 2023. Niamh was a part of the RNZB’s National Mentor Programme in 2020 and earlier this year joined the company as a guest dancer for Tutus on Tour.

A second Friedlander Foundation Scholar will be announced in the New Year.

2022 Todd Scholar Tessa Karle and 2022 Friedlander Foundation Scholars Macy Cook and Jake Gisby, together with 2022 RNZB Foundation Scholar Monet Galea-Hewitt, join the RNZB as Artists in 2023. Tessa and Jake are both graduates of the New Zealand School of Dance, while Wellington-born Macy trained at Chilton Ballet Academy and Houston Ballet Academy. Monet grew up in Auckland and trained at the Philippa Campbell School of Dance and the English National Ballet School.

We are pleased to welcome three new dancers from overseas who will join the RNZB in 2023. Branden Reiners, who was born in New Jersey and trained in New York City before joining companies in Minnesota and Michigan, joins the RNZB as an Artist. Branden previously performed with the RNZB as a guest dancer in 2017 and is looking forward to returning to New Zealand. Jennifer Ulloa, from the Dominican Republic and currently a member of the Ballet Nacional de Sodre in Uruguay, joins the RNZB as an Artist. Australian Rose Xu, a graduate of the Australian Conservatoire of Ballet, joins the RNZB as an Artist.

The RNZB farewells Artist Vincent Fraola, a graduate of the New Zealand School of Dance who joined the company as an apprentice in 2019. Vincent’s highlights during his time with the RNZB include the Bluebird pas de deux in The Sleeping Beauty (2020) and he has just appeared in Twyla Tharp’s Waterbaby Bagatelles™. He leaves the company to return to Australia.

Artist Maggie Bryan, who joined the RNZB as an apprentice in 2020, is leaving the stage to travel and hopes to explore new avenues in the humanitarian or not-for-profit sector. Maggie grew up and trained in Queensland. During her time with the RNZB she has danced solo roles including Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2021) and the Fairy of Clarity and the Fairy of Serenity in The Sleeping Beauty (2020). She also appeared as the Kiwi in RNZB Education’s free family performances of Tāne and the Kiwi.

Artists Harry Peterson and Christian Renforth, who both joined the RNZB during 2020, have returned to the USA. Harry is now performing back in his home town with Los Angeles Ballet and Christian with Nashville Ballet, where his roles have already included Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments and the Sugarplum Cavalier in The Nutcracker. Artist Annaliese Macdonald, who joined the RNZB in 2020, took leave from the RNZB earlier this year to attend choreographic development workshops in Europe, has decided to remain in Australia. In 2023 she will join the pre-professional year at Sydney Dance Company to pursue a more contemporary career, as well as being involved in many new choreographic opportunities. Christian, Harry and Annaliese made their mark as choreographers as well as dancers during their time with the company and we wish them, together with Vincent and Maggie, every success in their future endeavours – be they onstage, in the rehearsal studio, on the road or in the lecture hall.

The RNZB farewelled a further four dancers during 2022. Artist Saul Newport returned to Houston Ballet in May. Principal Joseph Skelton and Soloist Katherine Skelton (née Grange) retired in June after ten and eleven years with the company respectively and are now running their own dance school, Hawke’s Bay Dance Centre, in Napier. Principal Paul Mathews retired in November after 17 years with the RNZB and, following his graduation from Massey University with a Bachelor of Business, is now completing his MBA.

We are also pleased to announce the following promotions.

Soloist Kihiro Kusukami is promoted to Principal. Kihiro joined the RNZB in 2018 and was promoted to Soloist in 2020. His principal and solo roles to date include the Royal Messenger in Cinderella (2022), Albrecht in Giselle (2021), Prince Désiré and the Bluebird in The Sleeping Beauty (2020), Hansel in Hansel & Gretel (2019) and the Nutcracker (2018), as well as the pas de trois in Paquita (2021), Rothbart in Black Swan, White Swan, William Forsythe’s Artifact II and the Flames of Paris pas de deux (all 2019). Kihiro is originally from Nagoya, Japan and in 2013 was awarded a scholarship to The Australian Ballet School at the Youth America Grand Prix. He trained at the School 2014 – 16 and then spent a year at Queensland Ballet’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme before joining the RNZB. Warmest congratulations are also due to Kihiro and RNZB Artist Ella Chambers on their recent engagement.

Artist Madeleine Graham is promoted to Soloist. Madeleine joined the RNZB in 2012, marking ten years with the company in November 2022. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Madeleine has excelled in both classical and contemporary roles with the RNZB, including Juliet in Francesco Ventriglia’s Romeo & Juliet and Vivette in Roland Petit’s L’Arlesienne (both 2017), Marie/Clara in The Nutcracker (2018), Gretel in Hansel & Gretel and the White Swan in Black Swan, White Swan (both 2019) and the Bluebird and the Fairy of Curiosity in The Sleeping Beauty (2020). Other roles to date include Alice Topp’s Aurum (2022), In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated by William Forsythe (2016), the Little Russian Girls in Balanchine’s Serenade (2019), Stand to Reason by Andrea Schermoly (2018 and 2019) and Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort and Sechs Tänze (2018). In 2018 she travelled to Antarctica with choreographer Corey Baker to create Antarctica: The First Dance, a short film now viewed over one million times.

Artist Damen Axtens is promoted to Soloist. Damen joined the Royal New Zealand Ballet in June of 2021. Damen has danced in Loughlan Prior’s The Firebird and Paquita and as Puck and the Rustics in Liam Scarlett’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He most recently appeared as Prince Dashing in Cinderella (2022) and in all three works in the Venus Rising mixed bill. Damen grew up in New Zealand and started ballet at the Drapers Academy of Dance in Pukekohe. He then trained with Glenys Scandrett, Paula Gilroy, and La Muse in Invercargill before training at The Australian Ballet School and graduating from The Royal Ballet School in London. Prior to joining the RNZB Damen was a member of Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Artist Matthew Slattery is promoted to Soloist. Originally from Cooma, Australia and trained in Sydney and New York City, Matthew first joined the RNZB in 2012, leaving in 2014 to join Boston Ballet, where he was promoted to Second Soloist in 2018. Matthew returned to New Zealand and the RNZB in mid-2022 and has already taken on solo roles including Prince Charming and the Fab Five in Cinderella, Alice Topp’s Aurum and Twyla Tharp’s Waterbaby Bagatelles™.

The RNZB will also farewell Dance Educator Jamie Delmonte this month. Jamie, a graduate of The Australian Ballet School, joined the company as a guest dancer for Hansel & Gretel in 2019 and was appointed one of two inaugural Friedlander Foundation Scholars in 2020. His roles onstage included Puss in Boots in The Sleeping Beauty (2020) and the Soldier in Shaun James Kelly’s The Soldier’s Tale, a collaboration with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (2021). As a Dance Educator, Jamie has travelled the country to teach students in primary and secondary schools, hosted schools’ matinees and special events and connected with thousands of children via the RNZB’s online workshop resources. Jamie is returning to Australia to commence study towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting at Queensland University of Technology. He will however rejoin the RNZB education team temporarily in mid-2023, when Senior Dance Educator Lauren Byrne takes a well-deserved sabbatical break.

After a busy end to 2022, with 45 scheduled performances of three different programmes from August to December, and performances in 13 different venues, from Auckland to Invercargill, all dancers, together with Artistic Director Patricia Barker and Ballet Masters Clytie Campbell, Laura McQueen Schultz and Nicholas Schultz, will take a summer break from 13 December, returning to the rehearsal studio on 9 January 2023.

Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2023

Sara Garbowski, Kate Kadow, Kihiro Kusukami, Mayu Tanigaito, Laurynas Vėjalis.

Damen Axtens, Ana Gallardo Lobaina, Madeleine Graham, Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Shaun James Kelly, Katherine Minor, Kirby Selchow, Matthew Slattery.

Cadence Barrack, Georgia Baxter, Shae Berney, Ella Chambers, Macy Cook, Luke Cooper, Catarina Estévez Collins, Lara Flannery, Monet Galea-Hewitt, Jake Gisby, Calum Gray, Dane Head, Tessa Karle, Callahan Laird, Branden Reiners, Jemima Scott, Gretchen Steimle, Teagan Tank, Levi Teachout, Jennifer Ulloa, Damani Campbell Williams, Rose Xu.

Niamh O’Meara (Friedlander Foundation Scholar), Ema Takahashi (RNZB Foundation Scholar) Hannah Thomson (Todd Scholar).