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What's Hot New Zealand talks dystopian future, dramatic backdrops and modern ballet with The Firebird choreographer Loughlan Prior.
“This production of The Firebird takes Stravinsky’s original music and tells a different story with it,” says Loughlan Prior. “A story that is steeped in an environmental message, and more connected with the issues of today.”
He calls it “ballet with grit”, and that’s definitely a double entendre. The choreography and the story certainly have grit, and the kicker is that this production is set in the decidedly gritty desert landscape of a dystopian wasteland. Well, we say dystopian, but it may be more of a not-so-distant future.
“I’ve been working with set designer Tracy Grant Lord to create this world, and it really is a world that exists in the future, kind of a civilisation on the edge,” Loughlan says. “The choreography is raw and athletic, and there’s urgency to all the actions on stage. It’s a departure from tutus and tiaras.”
Loughlan is also a talented film director, and is bringing this passion into play by incorporating film elements into The Firebird, with the help of animations from POW Studios. “I have been obsessed with film and the way it tells stories. I wanted to be a filmmaker before I stared choreography, and that definitely influences my work,” he says. “We’re creating digital backdrops and film content, so the show exists in this abstract dystopian world.”
The film backdrop will help tell a visual story with fire, water and desert storms. “It’s really adding another element of gritty raw realism to the production,” Loughlan says. “The dancers can see the setting right from the first rehearsals, and it will inspire them to be able to perform in a really expressive way in reaction to the imagery.”
This performance of The Firebird is paired with RNZB’s Paquita, and Loughlan says the latter – more traditional – ballet will juxtapose his modern choreography. “The programme’s wonderful because you’re getting both ends of the spectrum. Paquita is a beautiful look back on the past, it’s a legacy piece. It’s traditional ballet and it’s honouring the history of ballet, and The Firebird is a contemporary take on the narrative ability of the ballet genre.
“I think the stereotype of ballet has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go in terms of breaking perceptions. Ballet dancers are really strong, athletic beings, and the art form is just a really powerful medium for expression and telling stories and for raising different issues. Good art should be reflecting what’s going on in the world around
us and I think this production touches upon that in a really beautiful way."
The Firebird with Paquita – Nationwide, 29 July – 2 September