Women take the lead this year in ballet

Dancer: Katherine Skelton | Photographer: Ross Brown


Sarah Foster-Sproull. Image: Rebekah Robinson

Alice Topp black and white

Alice Topp

Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp. Image: Richard Avedon

Andi 2 Debbie Turner

Andrea Schermoly. Image: Debbie Turner

Women take the lead this year in ballet

This Royal New Zealand Ballet season represents a new era in dance, with the powerful programme’s full repertoire choreographed by women. The masterminds behind the routines tell Cityscape what’s what in the whirling worlds of the 2020 season.

Venus Rising is first to ascend into the spotlight. The invocation of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, beauty and victory over adversity as well as Earth’s scorching hot sister planet, the brightest of stars and herald of the dusk and dawn, seems wholly appropriate for the ignition of this female-fronted year of ballet. “The astronomical symbol for Venus is the same as that is used in biology for the female sex. The Venus symbol also represents femininity, and the symbol for Venus has sometimes been understood to stand for the mirror of the goddess. Rather fitting at this time and place for the RNZB and for New Zealand,” says RNZB artistic director Patricia Barker.

The four-part Venus Rising will arrive on our stage in August, each part choreographed by a formidable and internationally-renowned female choreographer. Contemporary dance and choreography legend Twyla Tharp will headline the programme with the New Zealand premiere of Waterbaby Bagatelles, which showcases 27 dancers leaping and spinning across the stage, sparkling in an ever-changing ocean of light. The second ballet in the Venus Rising curation is Aurum, an award-winning piece by Alice Topp inspired by kintsugi, or golden joinery, the Japanese art repairing broken pottery with gold so the breakage becomes part of the vessel’s history and aesthetic.

The third part is an acclaimed recent commission by Andrea Schermoly. Within Without is complex, subtle and candid, in which overcoming pain becomes a thing of immense beauty. Venus Rising will be the New Zealand premiere of this commanding work by the sought-after South African choreographer. The quartet of ballets is rounded off with Ultra Folly by Sarah Foster-Sproull, one of New Zealand’s foremost choreographers. It’s a particularly appropriate piece built around the desire for physical connection in this time of social distancing. The ballet, inspired by Antonio Vivaldi’s Baroque La Folia, is Sarah’s third work for RNZB.

With four challenging works on the Venus Rising programme, all of the RNZB’s dancers will have the chance to shine. This includes established soloists and principals such as Sara Garbowski, Paul Mathews, Joseph Skelton and Katherine Minor, as well as recently arrived artists Ana Gallardo Lobaina and Levi Teachout. The ballet also features Christchurch-raised international dancer Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, the first time he will perform professionally in his hometown.

In November, Royal New Zealand Ballet will return to the Isaac Theatre Royal with The Sleeping Beauty. It’s the classic tale set to Tchaikovsky’s unforgettable music score performed by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, spilling over with fairies, royalty and magic. The three-part ballet tells the story of Princess Aurora who is cursed by a jealous fairy to fall into a 100-year slumber.

Goddesses and gold, madness and pain. This season’s two big ballets bring us world premieres, New Zealand firsts and an ocean of talent that will have us engrossed in worlds near and far inspired by the brightest star in our night sky and the epic scenes of a fantastical court.

Venus Rising:

Wellington, Opera House, August 20 – 22
Christchurch, Isaac Theatre Royal, August 28 – 29
Dunedin, Regent Theatre, September 5
Palmerston North, Regent on Broadway, September 9
Napier, Municipal Theatre, September 12 – 13
Auckland, Aotea Centre, September 17 – 19

The Sleeping Beauty:

Wellington, Opera House, October 29 – November 7
Invercargill, Civic Theatre, November 11
Dunedin, Regent Theatre, November 14 – 15
Christchurch, Isaac Theatre Royal, November 19 – 21
Palmerston North, Regent on Broadway, November 25
Napier, Municipal Theatre, November 28 – 29
Auckland, Aotea Centre, December 3 – 6
Takapuna, Bruce Mason Centre, December 11 – 12


The four formidables

The four choreographers of Venus Rising are teeming with talent, bringing experience from across decades and around the globe.

Sarah Foster-Sproull – Ultra Folly

Sarah Foster-Sproull is Royal New Zealand Ballet’s new choreographer in residence for the 2020 to 2021 season. She was born in Dunedin and trained at the New Zealand School of Dance where she is recognised as a distinguished graduate. In her previous career as a performer, Sarah was a founding dancer and choreographer of The New Zealand Dance Company and performed in Australia, the Netherlands, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, Canada, Germany, Fiji, Japan, Indonesia and America. She is a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland’s dance studies programme where she researches choreography and creative practice, and she is also the artistic director of Foster Group Dance.

Alice Topp - Aurum

Alice Topp was born and raised in Bendigo, Victoria, and started dancing at the age of four. Her professional career began dancing on this side of the ditch for RNZB. Alice’s passion for choreography began when she created her first work, Trace, for the 2010 season of Bodytorque, Australian Ballet’s choreographic showcase. She has choreographed music videos for artists including Megan Washington and Ben Folds and has been invited to create works for Houston Ballet II and Queensland Ballet. Aurum, Alice’s work which forms part of Venus Rising, has been performed in Australia and New York and won a prestigious Helpmann Award for Best Ballet.

Twyla Tharp - Waterbaby Bagatelles

One of the world’s greatest living choreographers, Twyla Tharp has choreographed more than 160 works including dances, Hollywood movies, television specials, Broadway shows, figure skating routines and four full-length ballets – and she’s also a published author. Her career has seen Twyla awarded with a Tony Award, two Emmy Awards, 19 honorary doctorates, and many other honours and awards. Her dances are known for creativity, wit and technical precision coupled with a streetwise nonchalance. By combining different forms of movement – such as jazz, ballet, boxing and inventions of her own making – Twyla’s work expands the boundaries of ballet and modern dance.

Andrea Schermoly – Within Without

South African-born Andrea Schermoly trained at the National School of the Arts in Johannesburg then Rambert Ballet and Contemporary School and The Royal Ballet School, London. She competed internationally for The South African National Rhythmic Gymnastics Team, and danced professionally for Boston Ballet and the Netherlands Dance Theater. She has created ballets all around the world and directed dance narrative film, as well as choreographing for feature films, commercials and music videos including ‘Beautiful Now’, 'Bunheads', Justin Bieber, Poo Bear and Deorro.


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