On February 12th 2014 at the Joyce Theater, Royal New Zealand Ballet under the artistic direction of iconic ballet star Ethan Stiefel opened a five-day run that marks the conclusion of the troupe’s first U.S. tour in 21 years. Dancegoers in four cities -- Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Minneapolis, and New York –- have had the chance to see the admirable results of Stiefel’s vision and hard work with 61-year-old company since he took the helm in September of 2011 at the age of 38.
If the three ballets on the bill on Wednesday are any indication, he is wisely aiming for a wide range of styles and genres in the company’s ever-expanding repertory. Not only that, but his dancers proved to be eminently capable of both classical and contemporary works. The first offering of the evening, “28 Variations on a Theme of Paganini”, was choreographed by Benjamin Millepied in 2005 for students at the School of American Ballet. Five couples, the ladies in pointe shoes and pastel mid-length tutus and the gentlemen in complementing hues, all had star turns as well as ensemble work with a hint of Balanchine.
The featured solo went to Gillian Murphy, Stiefel’s fiancée, billed as “Principal Guest Artist”. She is still a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre, where she often has bravura roles that allow her to perform her storied multiple turns, but on this occasion she was appealingly languorous and lush. For a poignant duet that seemed to presage a parting of ways, her partner was the accomplished and attentive Qi Huan.
“Of Days”, choreographed in 2013 by New Zealand’s own Andrew Simmons to mark RNZB’s 60th anniversary, involves undulating arms and torsos, entrances and exits that catch the audience off guard, and richly intricate patterns. The final offering, “Banderillero”, with choreography by Venezuelan-born Javier de Frutos, is set to percussive Asian rhythms and shows off the dancers’ versatility as they execute challenging contemporary moves that have subtle references to bullfighting.
If you’re reading this before February 16th, don’t miss the chance to catch a performance of Stiefel’s RNZB. The boyish swain who played Cooper Nelson in the 2000 ballet movie “Center Stage” is all grown up and he has clearly made a successful transition from performer to director. Let’s hope another two decades don’t go by before we see the New Zealanders on American soil again.
This post originally appeared on BroadwayWorld.com.