Presented by: Royal New Zealand Ballet
St James Theatre, 3rd Aug 2022
Reviewed by: Leah Maclean
The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) makes a long-awaited return to the St James Theatre with the Ryman Healthcare Season of Cinderella. Choreographed by Loughlan Prior, with music by Claire Cowan and costuming by Emma Kingsbury, this ballet is ambitious with shades of a Baz Luhrmann epic.
Prior and his cohort of co-creators have taken the traditional Cinderella story and given it a modern twist. It explores the familiar plotline of navigating love and the social constructs that come with it, but in this iteration Prince Charming and Cinderella are not the power couple. Instead they are forging separate relationships, Cinderella with The Royal Messenger and Prince Charming with a prince from a neighbouring kingdom. Perhaps Prior and RNZB have taken a gamble with this interpretation for ‘traditional’ ballet audiences, but it absolutely works and is a welcome shift into the contemporary space.
Cinderella is danced deftly by the ever-graceful Mayu Tanigaito, while Prince Charming is performed by Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, who demonstrates tight technique and balletic discipline. Laurynas Vėjalis and Shae Berney are cast as the love interests, Vėjalis as The Royal Messenger and Berney as Prince Dashing. Both prove excellent partners to Tanigaito and Guillemot-Rodgerson. Entwining and connecting through ethereal choreography, the pas de deux between Guillemot-Rodgerson and Berney are particularly touching. Prior’s artistry and sensitivity shines brightest in these duet sequences.
There is a lot to absorb throughout the performance. Orchestra Wellington performs Claire Cowan’s dynamic composition with panache; however, there are times where the symphony overwhelms the dance, and I miss key moments of magic trying to study Emma Kingsbury’s elegant costuming. But I have never sat in a ballet audience that has whooped and hollered quite like Cinderella’s audience.
There is beautiful synergy between the dancers on the stage, who look like they are genuinely having fun – although some seem to struggle with the more choreographically loose scenes. It’s not easy to ask a ballet dancer to fall over on purpose. Prior’s retelling of the classic tale holds you captive and breathes fresh air with clever comedic marks and energetic, modernised choreography.