Otago Daily Times

Good tri­umphs over evil forces

Heart­break ruled Royal New Zealand Bal­let’s 2020 sea­son un­til last week when the com­pany hit the stage for the first time this year in Sleep­ing Beauty. Re­becca Fox talks to artis­tic di­rec­tor Pa­tri­cia Barker and head of cos­tume Donna Jef­feris.

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THE Royal New Zealand Bal­let Sleep­ing Beauty is a fairy tale story, where good tri­umphs over evil.

When RNZB artis­tic di­rec­tor Pa­tri­cia Barker chose the fa­mous clas­si­cal bal­let for 2020, she did not ex­pect the com­pany would be fac­ing its own good ver­sus evil bat­tle.

Covid­19, its as­so­ci­ated lock­downs and re­sult­ing bor­der clo­sures, caused the can­cel­la­tion of its Venus Ris­ing tour in May and sub­se­quent at­tempts to stage it in Septem­ber, as well as its planned Dan­ger­ous Li­aisons pro­duc­tion in Au­gust.

‘‘We started hit­ting road blocks, es­pe­cially with our bor­ders closed, not know­ing if we’d get any­one in. Our last pro­duc­tion we were one day away, all that hard work. Mo­ti­va­tion is key, it gives us pur­pose.’’

Even Sleep­ing Beauty has had its tri­als and tribu­la­tions as bor­der con­trols meant orig­i­nal chore­og­ra­pher Danielle Rowe and light­ing de­signer Ran­dall Chiarelli could not come to New Zealand.

Although an ex­emp­tion was ob­tained for Chiarelli to en­ter the coun­try, it was granted 24 hours af­ter the RNZB’s cut­off date for in­clud­ing him.

‘‘When we pulled the plug on that it was heart­break­ing, there were tears on my part. Through­out my whole ca­reer he has helped me many times. Heart­break­ing, that Dani Rowe couldn’t cre­ate a new won­der­ful work for the or­gan­i­sa­tion.’’

Lock­down re­stric­tions also meant no touch­ing dur­ing re­hearsals and dancers re­stricted to small bub­bles.

‘‘Each pro­duc­tion has its own chal­lenges. Covid­19 just cre­ated heart­breaks for the artists.’’

Barker, who sees her role as pro­vid­ing a plat­form for artists, feels Covid­19 has stolen her abil­ity to do so.

‘‘That is not to say we haven’t tri­umphed on our own.’’

In­stead, the com­pany did what Ki­wis do best when times get tough, as Barker, who is Amer­i­can, dis­cov­ered.

It knuck­led down, draw­ing on its own, not in­signif­i­cant, re­sources to pro­duce Sleep­ing Beauty, al­beit in a dif­fer­ent way to first en­vis­aged.

Barker took over the stag­ing of the bal­let with help from dra­maturg Michael Auer and bal­let masters Clytie Camp­bell, Laura Mc­Queen Schultz and Nick Schultz while cos­tume de­signer Donna Jef­feris and scenic de­signer Howard C.

Jones cre­ated the fairy tale world.

‘‘They were able to get me on the right path. It was fun to rely on just our or­gan­i­sa­tion and the tal­ents we have gath­ered over the years. Maybe we do have to re­flect in­ward more rather than out­ward.’’

Chiarelli worked re­motely from Seat­tle on the light­ing with help of lo­cals Jeremy Fern and Daniel Wil­son.

‘‘We have in­cred­i­ble tal­ented peo­ple al­ready here and now I be­lieve it is their time to shine. There has been this tenac­ity and imag­i­na­tion. Dig­ging deep within our own tal­ents is the good.

‘‘On open­ing night to see the au­di­ence full, the ap­plause, happy dancers, ev­ery­one en­joy­ing the tal­ent, if you think of the virus as evil, I’d say good has tri­umphed over evil.’’

It meant a lot to Barker who has a soft spot for the bal­let as her first solo role in a pro­fes­sional bal­let as a stu­dent at age 15 was as the White Cat. She then went on to dance the roles of Aurora and the Lilac


The role of Aurora is one of the top roles (Odette, Giselle, Kitri) a dancer wants to achieve in her ca­reer. Hav­ing danced all of the roles, a dancer joins a small elite group, Barker says.

‘‘That’s what makes the role so spe­cial.’’

Sleep­ing Beauty is not one the RNZB reg­u­larly per­forms, mean­ing only a hand­ful of dancers in the com­pany today have per­formed it in New Zealand be­fore. The last time it was per­formed in full was 2011.

‘‘I’ve re­worked my stag­ing so it would be unique for the Royal New Zealand Bal­let. We delved into the story quite a bit.’’

For this pro­duc­tion, the team led by Barker de­cided to make the char­ac­ter of Cara­bosse, who is of­ten played as a man, a woman.

‘‘We wanted the dark fairy to be the most beau­ti­ful crea­ture out there, we all want to stay youth­ful for­ever — I think Kirby (Sel­chow) did a fan­tas­tic job last night.

‘‘Re­flect­ing back, she’s like Cher in a real cool Bob Mackie out­fit com­ing out [on stage] for the first time. It’s like a rock con­cert.’’

Jef­feris de­scribes her as smokin’, es­pe­cially given the weight of the cos­tume.

They also dis­guised the spin­dle which pricks Aurora’s fin­ger as a black rose, Barker says.

‘‘Why can’t they use their magic? Why do they have to come in dis­guised as old women as it wouldn’t hap­pen in a court? We were able to dis­cuss the story back and forth and discover the points in it. It’s when we de­cided we needed one of the suit­ors to be kid­napped, the clothes stripped from him. All those things, maybe I watch too many pe­riod movies, but they don’t just go in as old peo­ple dressed in rags, they go in as some­body, there is in­trigue.’’

The team also had in the back of their minds the work they had done for Dan­ger­ous Li­aisons.

‘‘It was one of the tragedies of 2020. We will bring it back, the set’s al­ready built. One story leads to the next. You con­tinue to find the nu­ances. It’s great to con­tinue to dive into these sto­ries and read them to­gether with more peo­ple in the room. It makes our pro­duc­tions richer, we have dif­fer­ent an­gles and we get a richer, deeper ex­pe­ri­ence for our au­di­ences.’’

For Jef­feris, the cos­tume de­sign came down to what could be achieved in the time she had, given the re­stric­tions of lock­downs.

‘‘I knew straight pe­riod stuff would have been too hard.’’

She de­cided not to set the cos­tumes in any one pe­riod in­stead pulling on in­spi­ra­tion from many dif­fer­ent eras of fash­ion.

‘‘It’s a fu­sion of fash­ion/dance/ pe­riod and I mixed it all up.’’

That meant large puff sleeves, along with large puffy tulle skirts and a colour pal­ette rang­ing from a peach spring­sum­mer rose gar­den to a white win­ter theme with lots of glit­ter and sparkle.

The tran­si­tion of time is marked by the wigs and puff sleeves be­ing re­placed by slick hair and bare arms.

‘‘It’s cre­at­ing our own fan­tasy land. Ini­tially, peo­ple were a bit scared of the colour. I use colour quite strongly but I wanted it to look like a kids’ il­lus­trated story book. It is dec­o­rated but we use blocks of colour and the fab­rics rather than too much em­bel­lish­ment.’’

Barker wanted the show to re­flect Christ­mas in New Zealand is in sum­mer not win­ter and wanted to avoid the vel­vets and heavy win­ter colours of north­ern hemi­sphere pro­duc­tions.

‘‘It’s em­brac­ing where we are and the colours in the flow­ers just start­ing to come out.’’

Jef­feris was sur­prised and thank­ful to find they did not have any prob­lems get­ting her cho­sen fab­rics to New Zealand from her usual sup­pli­ers in Ger­many and Amer­ica.

She knew if they had to rely on their own fab­ric sup­plies they would not have enough for the mul­ti­ple cos­tumes needed in the pro­duc­tion.

‘‘We weren’t held up by any­thing. We were lucky.’’

One of the chal­lenges was that some of the roles, which tra­di­tion­ally are not dance roles, are for this pro­duc­tion such as the court, the Min­ions and Cara­bosse.

‘‘She had to be ban­gin’ and be able to dance and she just needed to look fab­u­lous — she is the Queen fairy of the dark side.’’

They knew they were on to a good thing when Sel­chow in test make­up and cos­tume scared Barker’s dog Lola and an­other dancer’s son.

‘‘It was ef­fec­tive. There are a lot of funny wee things that won’t be im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous to the au­di­ence — like the de­tails and trims — but they add up the fuller pic­ture.’’

It meant many hours of work for Jef­feris, who is of­ten found hand­sewing cos­tumes at home at night in the run­up to shows. She also had help from some Toi Whakaari stu­dents.

‘‘You do put your heart and soul into it.’’

Barker also vol­un­teered help­ing hot­fix and at­tach the trim to the blue suit­ors’ cos­tumes.

‘‘I’m not great. But it feels good to nour­ish­ing to be in a dif­fer­ent depart­ment and just sup­port. The en­ergy in the cos­tume shop is in­spir­ing.’’

The set was also a chal­lenge given the re­straints of the Wellington Opera House stage and the fact the pro­duc­tion is tour­ing the coun­try, but noth­ing they can­not over­come — it is one les­son learnt from 2020.

‘‘We just wanted to cre­ate a sto­ry­book.’’

 ?? PHOTOS: STEPHEN A'COURT. ?? Dark queen . . . Kirby Sel­chow as Cara­bosse and Paul Mathews as Mor­fran.
PHOTOS: STEPHEN A'COURT. Dark queen . . . Kirby Sel­chow as Cara­bosse and Paul Mathews as Mor­fran.
 ??  ?? RNZB dancers Kate Kadow as Aurora, Nick Schultz as King and Clytie Camp­bell as Queen.
RNZB dancers Kate Kadow as Aurora, Nick Schultz as King and Clytie Camp­bell as Queen.
 ??  ?? Cos­tume sketches for Cara­bosse (left) and Aurora by Donna Jef­feris.
Cos­tume sketches for Cara­bosse (left) and Aurora by Donna Jef­feris.
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