From the ashes: RNZB's The Firebird with Paquita

Ana Gallardo Lobaina as The Firebird. Image: Ross Brown

From the ashes: RNZB's The Firebird with Paquita

Like a mighty phoenix rising into the sky, RNZB’s next ballet will erupt in glory on stage in the latter half of 2021.

Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) is bringing not one, but two glorious ballets to stages across New Zealand. The Firebird with Paquita is a pairing of classic Russian ballet Paquita with a reimagining of The Firebird that brings the issues du jour of 2021 into the world of ballet.

Loughlan Prior, RNZB’s choreographer in residence, has reimagined The Firebird for a new time and a new generation. It’s hot, it’s topical, and it’s absolutely beautiful.

The ballet was first staged in Paris in 1910 and now, more than a century later, Loughlan’s adaptation places the magical world of The Firebird in a state of environmental crisis, where the natural world is threatened and humanity is staring into the abyss of extinction. The Firebird’s boon is an opportunity for redemption, if humanity is brave enough to follow her.

The second ballet in this grand double feature is Paquita. This ballet was staged for the first time in Russia in 1847 and soon became part of the ballet world’s go-to repertoire for demonstrating dancers’ fine skills and classical technique.

Staged by RNZB artistic director Patricia Barker, this performance will be an extravaganza of fleet footwork, soaring leaps, tight twirling turns, and stunning, sparkling tutus inspired by Russian jewellery house Fabergé.

Ana Gallardo Lobaina, who performs the part of the Firebird, was born in Holguín, Cuba, where she studied ballet full-time at the Cuban National Ballet School in from age 14. Between 2009 and 2012 Ana trained at Miami City Ballet School on a full scholarship and Boston Ballet School, joining Cincinnati Ballet in 2012. In 2017 she joined West Australian Ballet.

Ana joined the Royal New Zealand Ballet in January 2020 and was promoted to soloist in December the same year. Her roles to date with the company include the Lilac Fairy, Carabosse and the Generosity Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, as well as her parts in Sarah Foster-Sproull’s Artemis Rising and Ultra Folly.

Loughlan Prior is a secret weapon of the New Zealand dance scene, an absolute powerhouse of creativity and incredible dance skill. He is RNZB’s choreographer in residence, and with good reason. His 2019 imagining of Hansel & Gretel pushed the traditional boundaries of ballet with cabaret flair and vibrant, memorable characters.

He’s a master of film and of the stage, heading up film collective Prior Visual as well as being half of performing arts production duo Lo|Co Arts. He has performed and choreographed in Australia, Germany, the United States, Denmark and Canada, and created digital and performance works for the likes of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, iD Fashion Week, Vogue Australia, LUX Light Festival, Tempo Dance Festival, Zambesi, the New Zealand String Quartet and Dancing with the Stars.

Loughlan graduated from the New Zealand School of Dance in 2009 and joined the Royal New Zealand Ballet, where he distinguished himself as a talented soloist. While still performing full time, he began to develop his choreographic skills, and became the first recipient of the Ballet Foundation of New Zealand’s Harry Haythorne Choreographic Award in 2015.

In 2018 he was appointed RNZB’s choreographer in residence, and in 2019 he retired from full-time performance to focus on production and choreography roles.

As well as his role with RNZB, Loughlan choreographs works with Queensland Ballet, BalletX, Singapore Dance Theatre, Grand Rapids Ballet, BalletCollective Aotearoa, Chamber Music New Zealand, New Zealand School of Dance, Palucca University of Dance Dresden and the New Zealand Youth Ballet Co.

Following cancellation of the Christchurch and Palmerston North performances due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Royal New Zealand Ballet is live streaming a performance of The Firebird, available to  enjoy in your living room from Friday 27 August – Thursday 16 September. Tickets available to purchase through Details of an on-demand broadcast of Paquita will be announced soon.

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