RNZB’s Cinderella is a carnival of excess, packed full of joy and beauty and delight. It shines with queerness, and as a queer dancer myself, this ballet was a revolutionary take on a well-hewn story and hit me right in the chest.

Cinderella (Mayu Tanigaito) is the same woman we all know, stuck in a house with her evil stepmother and stepsisters, but this time, she doesn’t fall in love with Prince Charming (Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson), but rather his Royal Messenger (Laurynas Vėjalis). Charming, however, doesn’t seem all that interested in women, and finds his love in Prince Dashing (Shae Berney) a prince from another kingdom. The story, at least somehow in the way we know, blossoms from there. 

Ballet, like a lot of forms of dance with partners, tends to fall into strict gender roles. Recently, we’ve seen big dance competitions like Dancing With the Stars break the mould and allow same-sex partnerships, and in Wellington we’ve seen School for Gifted Children’s The Slutcracker and Sapphic Lake

However, it is huge for a company such as the RNZB to allow for such a new retelling of Cinderella – where queerness is celebrated and heteronormativity need not apply – and honestly, rather brave. It can be very simple to take the easy road, but no-one is immune to criticism, no matter how big the company might be, and it’s a great step for a show like this to be performed in one of Wellington’s biggest venues, to near sold-out audiences, who clap and cheer at the queer moments, rather than boo. 

Loughlan Prior’s choreography for this work ranges from traditional ballet (both partnered and not), through club dance, modern dance and even voguing. Did I ever think I’d see the caterpillar on an RNZB stage? No, but in Cinderella, there it is. The freshness of the choreo simply adds another layer to the delight of the world. The fabled ball Cinderella attends is less ballroom, more hazy 3am club, and honestly – it works. 

In a more traditionalist retelling, perhaps it wouldn’t, but I laugh and cheer along with the rest of the audience as Prince Charming’s ball starts out as a parade of “eligible maidens” being shown to the Prince, all dressed in formal wear and dancing with much poise; then descends rather swiftly into the bass-drop alcohol-fueled dance chaos of a good night out. 

The choreography was brilliant overall, but here’s a few moments I especially loved – obviously actualised by a team of incredible and proficient RNZB dancers. Prince Charming dancing with his fencing team, complete with épées and actual swordfighting (choreo’d by Simon Mann) was incredible to watch, and I don’t doubt a challenge to block with swords in hand. All of the moments between Cinderella and the Royal Messenger had a beautiful liquid sensuality and genuine intimacy to them; and the Evil Stepsisters Madelaine (Sara Garbowski) and Nicolette (Kirby Selchow) were genuinely hilarious, oftentimes parodying certain other ballets we know well, but with a comical flair. 

My favourite moments, however, were how Prior approached the dance scenes between the queer couple – Princes Charming and Dashing. It can be so easy to queer a show by simply having a person of the same gender take on the opposite gender role in a heterosexual couple (ie: one person “plays the girl”, complete with a faux-feminine vibe that somehow exists to undermine the queerness of the moment), and I’ve definitely seen it done in queered dance before. 

However, in Cinderella, Charming and Dashing share the stage equally, and hold equal footing. Their dances are undeniably masculine, but they share the lifts, the grapples and the holds – they’re balanced, rather than off-kilter, a little rough around the edges but unmistakably beautiful. These moments were very precious, and held a lot of the honesty in the show for me.

It is that sense of balance that underscores the entirety of the show. Cinderella doesn’t need to be saved in this work, and has her own footing. She doesn’t exist just to be wooed, and that’s so, so refreshing. She even gets a swordfighting scene of her own. The strength and grace in Tanigaito’s performance is lovely – she’s always a delight to see on stage.

I can’t talk about everything for fear of spoilers, but let me say, there were some wonderful new additions to this piece that I didn’t expect, and will particularly resonate with some of you who enjoyed a certain queer Netflix series a few years back. 

Claire Cowan is back as the composer of this show. I absolutely adored her work in the RNZB’s past work Hansel and Gretel, and thoroughly enjoyed her compositions in Cinderella. Ranging from more traditional classical pieces, through EDM, techno and the occasional polka and tango, this is a soundtrack that’ll stick with you. (I’m writing this review the morning after I saw the show, and believe me, I was dreaming some of the soundtrack last night). The collision of genres really adds to the overall feel of the piece – this show wanders through time and space in a way that’s gorgeous, and the music is the guide that leads us on our way. Major props to the orchestra as well, this is a spicy show with a lot of fun to it, and they absolutely brought the energy. 

Cinderella is beautiful chaos. From the grace and professionality of the dancers, to the shine of the set, the costumes and the digital projection, time and effort has clearly been put into making this piece revolutionary. Art brings joy to desperate times, and right now, when queer folk are in such strife in many places across the world and discord is flaring up about our sheer right to exist, Cinderella is the balm that we all need. It is a celebration of love, euphoria, and endless queer joy, and I certainly felt that last night.

Besties, I am positively shooketh. Take your friends, take your lovers. This is one you’ve gotta see.

{ 9 comments }

Shift Your Paradigm
Reviewed by Lox Dixon

Shift Your Paradigm (No Chairs Required) begins by welcoming us into the Dome space at BATS Theatre, for a chair seminar. The stage is sparse. Two cheap desks are set up, one to either side of stage, and an object (presumably a chair) covered by a sheet, sits atop a Persian rug centre-stage. I take my seat next to an amusing visual gag which is referenced by the actors at several points later in the show, a camera “cleverly” disguised as an audience member.

Colour-changing lights and 80s power ballad rock set the scene for a high energy, high pressure sales event. I am seriously concerned I won’t be allowed out without purchasing something. Zoe (Isabella Murray) takes the stage and immediately lets us in on a big secret via a pre-recorded video phone call with her real boss Caleb (Hamish Boyle). Her character is a journalist posing as a new recruit for Do-Be-Us, the aptly named Multi-Level-Marketing chair company. Shortly after, we meet Eric (David Bowers-Mason), the soon to be Do-Be-Us Senior CEO for the Wellington region.

Eric introduces himself to us through a series of well executed cliches including a Jordan Belfort “sell me this pen” reference. He immediately brings the audience participation we’ve all been expecting from this show, and it works well. As the show progresses, it is made clear that the smiling Eric is not as successful as he has led us to believe.

A few video calls from his clients/victims/downstream sales associates, an accidental call from a hapless elderly woman (Hilary Norris), and a very clever piece of visual work from the projectionist, shatter the thin facade of Eric’s big lie. Every aspect of his life is controlled by Do-Be-Us and its unscrupulous CEO “The High Chairman.” His family is worried about him, and the predatory nature of Do-be-us has left him in crippling debt to the company. The main message of this show is one that resonates in an era of misinformation and prevalent conspiracy groups attempting to gain political traction. When you find yourself isolated from friends and family, and in the midst of a beliefs-based group that frowns upon critical thought, it’s a tough hole to climb out of.

Triumphantly, the show portrays real emotional connection, and the unconditional love of a family member as the key to Eric’s redemption arc. At times, the pacing of this show flattens, but the dynamic presence of The High Chairman (Kevin Orlando) goes a long way towards regaining our full attention. There are moments where from the back of this theatre, bits of dialogue between Zoe and Eric are lost but this is nothing that some concentrated articulation and vocal projection exercises can’t fix.

The use of the projector and the graphics that it displays are wonderful, though I wonder if the pre-recorded video scenes may have been better as live off-stage performances. On the night I attended, there were timing issues, and it was difficult to tell which of these were intended, and which were a mistake.

There is a lot to the plot of this show, and much of it is told to us through heavy expositional dialogue. The writing could use some refining, and perhaps the reduction of a plot point or 3, though I will admit the “faxman” plotline was a nice twist.

Shift Your Paradigm is an innovative bit of new theatre, featuring some very strong acting performances and flashes of technical brilliance. It is a show that with a touch more development could reach the heights of greatness, and one that all involved should be proud of.

{ 0 comments }

Tutus and trauma: a delicious slice
By Talia Carlisle

It’s never too late to join the ballet bandwagon, unless that wagon is the Tempest season of Dying Swanologues at BATS Theatre, in which case you have sorely missed out.

The short and sweet season from July 5-9 was made shorter with two last minute cancellations due to illness, but nevertheless, made a spectacular leap to the stage following their 2022 Fringe Festival postponement and a successful Boosted Campaign.

The emotionally-fueled passion project was the genius of performer, writer and producer Bea Lee-Smith, and supported by a multi-talented and enthusiastic cast and crew. This included El Yule’s inspired directing, studio-perfect lighting by Janis C.Y Cheng, and captivating choreography by Tabitha Dombroski.

Thank you to the brightness and creativity of Lee-Smith as Lou, the passion of Otto Kosok as Joe, the joyful spark that is Felicity Cozens as Mary, and the courageous ambition portrayed by Lorna Rosevear. The leads jumped swiftly to and from supporting characters, brought wildly to life with the guidance of assistant director and accent coach Hilary Norris.

This treasure chest of relatable and rhythmical characters leaped onto stage and into my heart. Sandra Norman’s role as the nurturing ballet master was filled in by Patrick Davies, but I heard great excitement from the audience about her previous performances.

It was set on the simple yet elegantly set Stage by set designer Becky Sees. I have no doubt producer and musical theatre great Jo Marsh’s talents contributed greatly to the flow of the show, as did the jukebox soundtrack designed by Lee-Smith. Just like a chocolate box, there is a favourite song in there for everyone, and that is a delicious element that lifted the energy and emotion of the show up into the rafters.

Rehearsal stage manager and sound designer Patrick Davies stepped in to read the role of Patrice for the final Friday performance I attended, and fitted in like a glove with his significant prior experience with the role.

For such a character-filled and digestible show, it barely filled the stage time it deserved – or fulfilled the happy endings and beginnings I would have liked to see elaborated. I feel lucky however that my own timing was impeccable and I was able to experience Dying Swanologues when I know so many more Wellingtonians who would have been touched by its performance if not for the cancellations or limited season.

The show centers around an adult ballet class as its pupils, aged mid 20s to late 50s, maneuver life’s ups and downs through dance, dialogue and friendship.

Just like their characters, the performers are clearly connected through a love of dance, demonstrated in their well-practised choreography and stability in the roles, despite the many date changes, roles filled in and the threat of covid cancellations at any moment.

The idea is to create a place for people to comfortably connect with themselves and each other on a soul level. This is very much needed at a time of instability and disconnect due to covid, technology and political divide.

The fact these characters can show up to class, and the audience to the theatre reconnects us to what’s important – showing up as we are. And that’s just what Dying Swanologues does best and in full resilient strength.

For a relaxing Friday at the theatre, I was filled with wonder, courage and strength to see these incredible characters embracing ballet as it frames their perfectly drawn storylines of new relationships, travels and career aspirations, encouraging us all to tackle our own demons or adventures when we are ready. It is never too early or late to start.

 

{ 4 comments }

Back for the fourth year in a row – Sex Workers of Aotearoa; A Day in the Life of – is an annual art exhibition in which all art has been created by current or past sex workers. The artwork is for sale, showcasing various mediums; photography, ink, paint, mixed media, cross-stitch, sculpture, poetry and more.

 

The aim is to challenge public stigmas and stereotypes, to create discourse about the nuances of sex work and to give voice to sex workers across New Zealand, free from media agenda. This sounds like a great exhibition, and it’s pissed off some dickheads, so we think it’s definitely worth your while.

Academy Galleries
1 Queens Wharf, Wellington Central
11-25 June
10am to 5pm daily

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Review: Trifles

by Emma Maguire February 6, 2022

Reviewed by Shauwn Keil. Upon entering the theatre, we are treated to a magnificent set, designed by Jasmine Bryham. Everything that reminds you of Nana and Poppa’s house is present. Jars of God knows what across the kitchen bench. A kettle and cool mugs. Dinner set items. A paua shell ashtray on a shelf on […]

Read the full article →

Review: Soho Cinders

by Emma Maguire January 31, 2022

Reviewed by Talia Carlisle The set of Soho Cinders is a simple train station in London, but the story, design and performances are far from simple. A saucy queer rewrite of Cinderella, Soho Cinders tells us the story of Robbie (Chris McMillan), who’s caught between sugar daddy Lord Bellingham (Stanford Reynolds) and London Mayoral Candidate James Prince (Michael Stebbings). […]

Read the full article →

Review: Illegally Blind

by Emma Maguire December 7, 2021

Now, I’m literally in this show so I figured probably not the best for me to review it. This week we’ve got the lovely Cordy Black writing some kind words! The experience starts in the foyer, after a ritual of scanning and phone-waving – the default programme for Illegally Blind is presented to the visitor […]

Read the full article →

Review: The Little Mermaid

by Emma Maguire November 22, 2021

Somehow it’s nearly Christmas again, and that means Circa Theatre’s annual pantomime is back! I’ve been going every year since I moved to Wellington, and I’ve gotta say, it’s still a fantastic and very ridiculous experience. This year it’s a wet and wild ride through The Little Mermaid, written once again by Circa stalwarts Simon Leary […]

Read the full article →

Review: Hole

by Emma Maguire November 21, 2021

I’ve been on a reviewing spree this week, so I passed this one onto our lovely guest reviewer, who took up the mantle very well for his first time reviewing. Check out his piece below! – Hole is unbelievably charming. The play itself is cleverly written, utilizing the charm of the characters to get important […]

Read the full article →

Review: Poprox Improv

by Emma Maguire November 18, 2021

  Poprox Improv is the brainchild of a bunch of Wellington theatre stalwarts: Pippa Drakeford-Croad, Dylan Hutton, Austin Harrison, Nina Hogg, Jonny Paul & Nino Raphael, and it is a show absolutely worthy of their talent. Performed for the first time this night at Miramar’s gorgeous new performance venue – Roxy Live (a glorious new space […]

Read the full article →