July 22, 2011 12:41 pm

New Zealand Ballet, Barbican, London

For a visiting ballet troupe to present a programme boasting one unsuitable work argues a misreading of local taste. To present two such suggests artistic myopia. But to offer three clunkers, as the Royal New Zealand Ballet did, opening a brief season at the Barbican, may be construed either as obstinacy or a death-wish.

The sadness of the evening, apart from the choreography, was that the New Zealand dancers are unfailingly dedicated to making the best of the bad jobs they must show us. But their devotion to the task is not enough to persuade me that the repertory was wisely chosen, or flattering to their gifts. The opening Plan to A by Jorma Elo has the curious distinction of using massively un-danceable music for violin, chamber organ and harpsichord by Heinrich Biber and obliging us to watch seven dancers fidget interminably in red costuming to the over-amplified writings of this earnest baroque master.

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As with each of the choreographies on view, my reaction was that nothing had happened for some all-too-long time, and kept dismally on not happening. The local choreographer Andrew Simmons’ A Song in the Dark offered no relief. His Philip Glass compilation score began rewardingly but briefly with the Songs and Poems for Solo Cello, well realised in his dance-making. There then arrived the turgid yardage of the Tirol piano concerto, whose clichés were met with respectfully blank academic activities by the dancers.

I suppose, in retrospect, one should be glad of this blandness, for the closing Banderillero by Javier de Frutos offered determined vivacity to no evident purpose. The stage provided a well-lit square in which the cast (in pale beige outfits that were the only serious clothes of the evening) postured, moved, and offered displays of mass arm swinging in approved Mao-era style, and bad manners. The curiosity of the event was that, given the bull-fighting associations of the title, the score by the percussionist Yim Hok-Man was conflated with large extracts of modern Chinese music (Poems of Thunder). The agenda to this juxtaposition was not evident in movement, and, like the rest of the dance on offer, fed voraciously off the dancers, rather than feeding them. A sad event.

2 stars

barbican.co.uk

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