Andrew Simmons' "Of Days" is one of the works on the program by the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Credit: Evan Li
The Royal New Zealand Ballet has finally made it to New York after six decades of national and international touring. Artistic Director Ethan Stiefel, a legend in American Ballet, brings his partner Gillian Murphy, a principal guest artist with RNZB, along with him. At the Joyce Theater in Chelsea, RNZB offers a program of three works that will run through Feb. 16.
The evening begins with Benjamin Millepied’s "28 Variations on a Theme" by Paganini, a courtly work set to Brahm’s romantic score. With this pleasant, light-hearted work, the Royal New Zealand Ballet demonstrates its technical prowess. Tight-bodiced knee-length tutus on the ladies and mock suits with vests over tights for the gentlemen exude an air of the past. Gillian Murphy commands the stage, yet she shares it gracefully with many capable and eloquent others. Under a single chandelier, these 10 dancers take on leaps, supported spins and daring off balanced maneuvers that subtly disrupt the notion that we’re back in 1863, when Brahms created the challenging study that sparked this piece.
The program moves forward with Andrew Simmons’ "Of Days," a tender work that evokes ideas of trust, memory and loss. Simmons, who danced with RNZB before moving to Dresden, "imagines the piece [as a] whisper — it just passes you by" and describes it as "Reflective. Subdued. Subtle. Human.” It may sound a bit presumptuous but the work lives up to his note (written for the 2013 premiere in NZ). As the ethereal sound score (comprised of six songs from three composers) fills the room, the dancers slowly migrate through the space and as they shift, relationships form, evolve and quietly wither away.
RNZB concludes the evening with "Banderillero," an evocative work in bare feet created by Javier De Frutos in 2006. Set to the recorded drumming of Master Chinese Percussionist Yim Hok-man, 10 dancers stand at the edges of a white central square. They enter the ring, with hints of challenge and ferocity, and move through full-bodied group sections, nuanced duets and high-flying partnered trios. The work has its moments of power but ultimately loses steam as the dancers become exasperated with each other — the "frenzied ritual" of temptation pulses on past revelatory.
The Royal New Zealand Ballet presents a diverse aesthetic range that both succumbs to and challenges the boundaries of contemporary ballet. Steifel’s contribution is palpable and his utilization of talented performers is smart and impressive.
If you go
The Royal New Zealand Ballet The Joyce Theater 175 Eighth Ave. Feb. 12-16 $10-$75, www.joyce.org