My year, 2022

by Jennifer Shennan

My year’s list of dance highlights seems thinner than usual since a number of productions didn’t make it to curtain-up. There are no lowlights though (why would you write about lowlights?) so I’ll just call them lights.

From a screen viewing I followed with interest the choreographic venture, Journey, by Lily Bones. I remember Lily’s serene sense of line as an unusual individual dancer at both NZSchool of Dance and later in RNZBallet.  After a time performing in Europe she is now based in Sydney and is a colleague there of Martin James. Her resilience in surviving serious illness, and her determination to make dances despite zero external resources has given her a maturity and quiet confidence to choreograph themes that speak and that we can hear. No glamour or glitz, just her truth. Refreshing.  

It was a treat indeed to see again an Arts Channel broadcast of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in Rice. Choreographed by Lin Hwai Min in 2013 (and toured to Auckland in 2017), it is talisman to their repertoire, with typically perfect proportion in shaping the cycle of rice growth and harvesting. Like all Lin’s work, there is pacing and spacing through the episodes that deliver at one level of nature at work in the titled theme, and also allegorical layers of reference to human and personal experience. The erotic sensuality in a single central duet in Rice defines the original power of creation. I own a dvd of this work but choose not to watch it alone—so how is that different from sitting alone and watching a broadcast? just a sense that there will be others out there watching ‘with me’, a feeling of being in the audience that is shaped by a performance in time. Cloud Gate’s repertoire has a strength in its Chinese legacy and vocabulary that is yet accessible to the wider world. Riveting.   

Another memorable experience on screen was the final sequence by the young boy in the studio, as epilogue to the film The White Crow, the dramatisation by Ralph Fiennes of Nureyev’s defection to the west.  Overall I was not as transported by the film as others seemed, but was certainly moved by how that final dance was allowed to speak for itself. Poignant.

Pump Dance Studio’s Roll the Dice also transformed the commitment of young performers  into something more than the sum of its parts. Infectious.

From NZSchool of Dance, Loughlan Prior’s Verse, a solo to the Folies d’Espagne played by the consummate ensemble Hesperion XXI, shone with the clarity of a beacon, both in choreography and performance. Luminous.

Joshua Douglas in Loughlan Prior’s Verse. New Zealand School of Dance, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court.

Two books—by Michelle Potter on Graeme Murphy, and by Ashley Killar on John Cranko—offered insights into those prolific choreographic careers, with welcome reminders of the live performances we have seen by their companies. Revelatory.

Not from this year, but nevertheless shaped by the pandemic term we are still experiencing, the tour de force of Strasbourg 1518 by Lucy Marinkovich and Lucien Johnson, remains the total standout dance season of recent times. Their earlier work, Lobsters, also holds its place on the list of memorable works of the decade. Indelible.

It has been indeed moving to follow the heroic project by Raewyn Hill, artistic director of Co3 Contemporary Dance in Perth, where she re-staged Gloria, the celebrated work by the late Douglas Wright, New Zealand’s visionary choreographer. Immortal.

A dance lives for as long as it is remembered, and can cheat death by a measure. Russell Kerr died earlier this year, and for many people the memory of his production of Petrouchka in which he cast Douglas in the title role, also stands as an indelible milestone in this country’s dance history. Legendary.

We are looking forward to the fifth in the series of the Russell Kerr Lecture in Ballet & Related Arts, in Wellington, late February. The subject will be Patricia Rianne, celebrated dancer, teacher and choreographer whose long career spans years both in New Zealand as well as UK, Europe and Asia. A delight.

Season’s greetings and good wishes to all those who watch dance, who create dances, who perform, who write and who read about dancing. Sprezzatura.

Jennifer Shennan, 21 December 2022

Featured image: Huang Pei-hua and Tsai Ming-yuan in Rice. Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, 2021. Photo: © Liu Chen-hsiang

Cranko. The man and his choreography. Book review

Cranko. The man and his choreography by Ashley Killar
Matador/Troubador Publishing
ISBN. 978-0-646-86603-1
reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

This biography of John Cranko is a deeply researched, widely contextualised and beautifully written account of the life and work of a major choreographer of mid-20th century. There is meticulous detail in the documentation and analysis of Cranko’s vast choreographic output, both within the text and in appendices. Ashley Killar has drawn on that oeuvre, as well as many of Cranko’s letters to friends and colleagues, to evaluate the teeming imagination and artistry, musical ear, lively sense of wit and satire, the devoted loyalty to friends and colleagues, the generous personality, the frankness over frustrations when things went wrong, the ability to move on to the next thing, the excesses in a sometimes reckless lifestyle —-all the good and some of the bad in a life fully lived but ended too soon. You come to know the man through coming to know his works, not just by reading a list of titles but by experiencing the texture and timing of the choreographies. That’s skilful dance writing.

Killar was a member of Stuttgart Ballet from 1962 to 1967 so he knew Cranko well. The book Is a devoted tribute to the man and his work, but in no measure is it simply hagiography. The contexts of socio-political history and related arts that open several chapters, and are also summarised in the appendix of choreography, are welcome reminders of a 20th century world. The contrasts of living conditions and morale in South Africa (where Cranko was born, in 1927), in post-war England (where he lived, danced and began to choreograph), in a divided post-war Germany without a single national ballet company (where he flourished, from 1961 to 1973), in Russia (where there were intriguing interactions within the political control of ballet, and the dancers visiting from Stuttgart had to step through a door in an iron fire-curtain lowered to end the applause but the audience would not cease applauding), and in America (where on a number of tours, thanks to Sol Hurok, Cranko met with great success with audiences, who loved the narrative and dramatic power of his works that their own dance-makers had not produced. There was also ongoing disdain from certain critics, Arlene Croce the most vocal among them… as though to say, ‘If you love —Balanchine then you must hate Cranko’. OK, so did that mean the reverse was true?  (KIllar’s pen is wiser and more tempered than Croce’s was).  

These contextual accounts are briefly but tellingly written and the book should appeal to a much wider readership than just ballet afficionados. It places the man in his dances, his dances in society, and societies in their response to his dances. That’s resonant choreography and insightful appreciation combined.

There were seemingly unconventional work practices in all his career. Cranko never had an office but would sit in the company canteen, use the phone on the counter, and be at all times accessible to the dancers he considered members of a family—holding no truck with the typical power and control that many a ballet company director adopts in the vain pretence that this secures leadership. The accounts around England’s Royal Ballet and that company’s ethos under Ninette de Valois’ directorship, come under the spotlight. Peggy van Praagh by contrast emerges as a genuinely joyful and encouraging figure who instantly recognised Cranko’s talent and knew how to help him rein in so that his best ideas could emerge, that less would be more. Her own long life generously devoted to dance is well caught here.

You could look at the listing of dancers in the Stuttgart company and fledgling choreographers stimulated and nurtured  by Cranko—they are among the best in the world, and New Zealand gets an entry. There is further resonance for New Zealand in that Martin James danced the title role of Eugene Onegin many times, rating it one of the most demanding and rewarding in his own remarkable performing career. It is but one example of how the dance profession becomes a kind of country in its own right, crossing over the political and historical boundaries defined by nationalism and history.

Cranko’s longstanding friendships with designer John Piper, and with composer Benjamin Britten (whose Gloriana, Peter Grimes, Prince of the Pagodas, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bouquet Garni were choreographed to) are covered. Figures in the English ballet world include Cranko’s relationship with the somewhat caustic de Valois, the idiosyncratic Frederick Ashton, as well as his camaraderie with Kenneth MacMillan, and are notable. It is Peggy van Praagh who emerges as an independent thinker and visionary to my mind.  I was intrigued to hear of the early influence on Cranko of the work of Rudolf Laban and Kurt Jooss—and later of his appreciation of the technique and style of Martha Graham, and suspect van Praagh was instrumental in this open-mindedness. Cranko’s partnership with Anne Woolliams as influential teacher at Stuttgart and her later appointment to the Australian Ballet, where van Praagh was a pioneering and spirited leader, provide a further connection to ballet in this part of the world.

From a hugely prolific body of work it is probably the early Cranks revue, the now largely forgotten Prince of the Pagodas, his The Lady and the Fool, Romeo & Juliet, Onegin and The Taming of the Shrew for which he is most remembered.

Marcia Haydée was legendary dancer and company stronghold at Stuttgart for many years. Among the young dancers in his company whose choreography he encouraged and nurtured are John Neumeier, Jiri Kylian, Gray Veredon (New Zealand’s own) and Ashley Killar himself (artistic director of RNZBallet 1992-1995, whose No Exit and Dark Waves were among the most dramatically incisive works in the company’s entire repertoire).

Cranko’s legacy speaks volumes and Killar has done him proud.

Jennifer Shennan, 13 December 2022

Cranko. The man and his choreography is available through Bloch’s ballet centres (including by mail order). Alternatively, the book is available to order through bookstores, or direct from www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/biography/cranko/ 

Go to www.crankobiography.com for more information.

Glimpses of Graeme. Reflections on the work of Graeme Murphy. Book review

Book by Michelle Potter. Published by FortySouth Publishing, Tasmania
reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

The first word of appreciation for this book should go to its design and visual appeal. A well-made paperback volume of good weight and proportion, it feels right in the hand, and its pages stay open (instead of closing themselves as typical paperbacks annoyingly do). In addition the ink of the text sits bright on the page rather than being absorbed into the paper, so that by running your hand over the page you discover a kind of braille, a little dance for your fingertips, in a haptic pleasure I don’t recall noticing in other volumes (clever designer).   

The front cover image is Murphy the man, in dance profile and grinning, the back cover Graeme the young schoolboy, smiling his pleasure for the ice cream sundae he has just enjoyed. The front endpaper has a curtain-call lineup of applause—the back endpaper has Murphy acknowledging that applause—with a facing image of Graeme and his life and work partner, Janet Vernon, back to back. Their combined lifetime contribution to dance in Australia receives tribute in every chapter of the book (heroic couple, generous author).

The frontispiece photo has Graeme Murphy en l’air, not in some balletic cliché of soaring jeté or flying leap, limbs outspread, striving beyond gravity, where aspiration replaces destination. This is not any role performed but the man himself, right here, right now, in the middle of the page, looking straight at you, the reader. Hello.

Portrait of Graeme Murphy, 1986. Photo: © Greg Barrett

Simultaneous movement in both upward and downward directions is implied. The single vertical stroke of the svelte elevated dancer in white trousers and loose-lapelled jacket, legs pointing down with pencil sharp engaged feet in an exquisite fifth position displaying all the stylised turnout that ballet requires of a dancer, (but none of the distorted overarched eagle feet sometimes displayed by those more interested in virtuosity than in dialogue or eloquence). Meantime the upper body is that of a relaxed and graceful man, hands tucked into large pockets, an enigmatic smile hovering around his lips. The floor is not shown in the photo so the image is of a dancer enduringly airborne, not one ounce of the effort involved in an elevation of this order allowed to show. Dancing masters of the Italian Renaissance had a term for this quality—sprezzatura/‘divine nonchalance’—as though to say ‘Look—leaping like this is as easy as breathing. I’ll teach you how to do it if you like.’ Yeah right. It’s a graceful yet wonderfully cheeky portrait, inviting readers into the book (gifted dancer, clever photographer). I savoured the photo for a day before starting to read the text. Felt as though I had been dancing.

The book title is borrowed from Murphy’s first major choreography, Glimpses, 1976. The astonishing photograph from that work reveals his early theatrical vision, with Janet Vernon standing tall on the chest of dancer Ross Stretton. 

Janet Vernon and Ross Stretton in Glimpses, 1976. Photo: © David Parker

Eight chapters celebrate Murphy’s choreographic works in thematic rather than chronological treatment, mainly through excerpts selected from reviews Michelle has written over the years. It has been a colossal choreographed body of work. Over and over Murphy’s collaborations with design artists and composers are acknowledged and there is much discussion of the Australian content within the works, by dint of those collaborations rather than simply in local narratives or settings.

I thoroughly enjoyed reminders of those of Murphy’s works we have seen in New Zealand — with design by Kristian Fredrikson, the striking Orpheus for the RNZBallet’s celebrated Stravinsky centenary season in 1982, devised by artistic director Harry Haythorne.  Our company also staged The Protecting Veil the following decade.  Sydney Dance Company visited with Shining (I recall a mighty performance from New Zealand dancer Alfred Williams). They returned with Some Rooms, a fine work which appealed to audiences wider than just dance aficionados. Berlin was a major work that well warranted the trip to Auckland then, so of interest now to learn of the creative processes of its music ( with Iva Davies and Icehouse) and design (by Andrew Carter).

I also saw Mythologia in Sydney, 2000, though I retain much livelier memories of the inspired Nutcracker, The Story of Clara, and of the remarkable  Swan Lake for Australian Ballet. Harry Haythorne had roles in these two works, but it was his tap-dancing-on-roller-skates routine in Tivoli that warranted yet another trip across the Tasman, to see the hilariously entertaining yet simultaneously poignant production. The closing image has never left me.

It’s also a good memory that Murphy invited New Zealand choreographer Douglas Wright to stage his legendary Gloria, to Vivaldi, on Sydney Dance Company.

Once when I was visiting Harry in Melbourne, he took a phone call from Graeme and I recall a very long conversation, more than an hour, with loads of laughter while Harry winked and indicated I should continue browsing his bookshelf. They were clearly best of mates with a great deal of respect for each other’s work.  

There’s another synergy one can appreciate: Graeme’s work, Grand, was made for and dedicated to his mother—and Michelle has made and dedicated this book to her own mother who died recently.

The book’s text is succinct and its themes clearly delineated. My paraphrasing would not be nearly as useful as my encouragement to you to find and enjoy it for yourself (lucky reader).

Jennifer Shennan, 19 November 2022

Featured image: Cover image (excerpt) of Glimpses of Graeme. Full cover reproduced below.

New Zealand School of Dance. Performance Season

16 November 2022. Te Whaea Theatre, Wellington
reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

This year’s Performance Season by New Zealand School of Dance offers two programs that alternate throughout a ten-day season. The opening program has five works all choreographed by Loughlan Prior, performed by the school’s stream of classical ballet students. The following evening has five works each by a different choreographer, performed by contemporary dance students.        

Loughlan Prior graduated from NZSD, followed a performing career and has more recently become a full-time free-lance choreographer. Even as a student he knew the pull towards choreography and has already a prolific output, one could say outpouring, of both short and full-length works, including a number of dance films, to his credit.  His works have been seen widely in New Zealand and also staged in a number of countries abroad.

His pithy and helpful program notes are reproduced here since they don’t need re-writing…

Storm Surge
Music: Matteo Sommacal, The Forgotten Strains (For Piano and String Quartet);
Exile Upon Earth: 3. Pensive; Follow It Blindly (For Piano and Cello);
The Sign of Gathering (For Piano and String Quartet)
Costume Design: Max de Roy
Inspired by the wild weather of Wellington, this newly created work explores the drama, beauty and fragility of the human body. Placed within varying environments, small fragments of movement are pieced together to create a complex matrix of shifting forms and patterns. The dancers are seen to dart and weave through a vibrant landscape evoking turbulent skies      

The opening section in low light had a mesmerising quality in arm movements suggesting the ebb of kelp tossed in the tide. Next a duo of abstract movement in unison, followed by a sequence with emotion newly introduced, gave the sense that the choreography was evolving through layered references, the weather outside towards the weather inside. All eight dancers were focussed and in form for this premiere performance, with Aidan Tully particularly noticeable in the cast.

Verse
Music: Antonio Martin Y Coll, Differencias sobre las Folias
Physical calligraphy. A script embodied in flesh
dedicated to Wellington arts patron, the late David Carson-Parker

Verse, a solo, beautifully performed by Joshua Douglas, is a carefully chiselled transition of a 17th century sarabande towards a contemporary sensibility. Prior has taken the minimalism of baroque dance movement vocabulary, through which intense emotion can be conveyed, from its iteration as the legendary Folies d’Espagne. The first known review of a dance performance in European literature is of a sarabande, by François Pomey mid 1660s, and I’ve yet to come across a finer account of a danced performance in any era. I’m drawn to art that reminds us infinity lies in both directions, ever outward, ever inward, as we walk backwards into the future. I would vote Verse as my favourite work from both programs if it were a competition, which thankfully it’s not.

Joshua Douglas in Loughlan Prior’s Verse. New Zealand School of Dance, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court.

(Verse takes its strength from the single music source, Diferencias sobre las Folias, theme and variations by Antonio Martin Y Coll, superbly rendered by Jordi Savall and Hesperion XX1. In contrast, a number of the other dances across both evening’s programs use excerpts from many different music sources for a single dance work, leaving a choreography to devise its own structure, predictably with varying degrees of coherence).

Curious Alchemy
Music: L.v Beethoven String Quartet no.3, op.130; C.Saint-Saens, String Quartet no 1, op.112
This short work was commissioned for students of the Canadian National Ballet School for a festival in 2017.

Four dancers in smart red contoured leotards moved with an attractive energy, conveying a playful mood of youthful enthusiasm. MIguel Herrera was particularly immersed in the humour of the style.

Time Weaver
Music: Philip Glass, Metamorphosis
This hypnotic and seemingly infinite, arrangement of Glass’ work for harp is symbolic of our relationship with the continuum of time and the perceived linear passage in which we live our lives. Two figures are captured curving, sculpting, playing, ‘living’ inside an unending duet, an ouroboros. If the stage light was never to fade, the dance could go on forever. 

India Shackel and Aidan Tully performed this sustained pas-de-deux with unflinching care and admirable command of the technical demands it makes, resulting in a ritual or prayer-like atmosphere.

Coloratura
Music: N. Porpora, O. Davis, G.Giacomelli, R.Broschi – numerous excerpts.
Originally created for Palucca Hochschule für Tanz Dresden, this stylish work never made it to the stage due to the Covid pandemic. Now in 2022 the piece finds a new home at NZSD and has been expended into a large ensemble work to feature the talents of every classical student. Fun, quirky and irreverent, Coloratura pays homage to the vocal mastery and comedic timing of world-renowned mezzo soprano Cecilia Bartoli. There is high energy and pure joy in every note, inspiring an infectious celebration of dance and music.

Fun, quirky and irreverent, indeed, as the excesses and extremes of staged opera are satirised. A lip-synching Diva, played by a masked Rilee Scott draped in fineries, struts the stage while he delivers many repeats of soft vague arm gestures in floating arm-covers to assist delivery of the lyrics. However the variety of would-be dynamic gestures that opera singers actually use while performing is a minefield waiting for choreographic exploration, since these are the often clumsy remnants of the earlier time when singers also danced and dancers also sang. Here a large dance chorus of attendants played backing, fronting and siding roles and one could imagine an expanded version of this piece in a heightened explosive finale with the ripped bodices and revelations of star performers in competition laid bare, as opera’s surreal characters sing and love, sing and dance, sing and suffer, sing and die, then come back to life for the curtain calls.

New Zealand School of Dance students with Rilee Scott (centre) in Loughlan Prior’s Coloratura, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court.

One suspects that Loughlan Prior finds a new dance idea every day of his waking life—and more in his dreaming life. This was a special opportunity to showcase his work on many young dancers who clearly relished their roles and gave spirited performances.

———————————————————-

17 November, 2022. Te Whaea Theatre, Wellington

The contemporary dance program opened with the premiere of Craig Bary’s State of Perpetuation. In an arresting beginning to a vocal section, the dancers held sculptural shapings in what was possibly the best lit work of the evening. It invited our own response, and the recurring motifs of hands quivering in wiri, or circular motions of wrist that suggested the thrust of poi movement I found both subtle and memorable.

(I know it’s important to thank the sponsors but one could hope space could be found in an 18-page printed program for a summary profile of each choreographer. Craig Bary was an exceptional student at the school years back, and later a phenomenal performer in a number of Douglas Wright’s choreographies. Dance is ephemeral enough by its nature so deserves the respect of memory within its legacy at every possible opportunity).

Midlight, choreographed by Christina Chan and Aymeric Bichon, was a duet danced by Persia Thor-Poet and Seth Ward. Their two bodies intertwined as one almost throughout, inviting thoughts about where individual identity is reshaped within a relationship.

Rubble, by Holly Newsome, had a large cast moving to vocal and percussion sections. Its theme involved the motivation needed to get up and get on with the daily dance. The song, Rise & Shine, framed the work with humour.   

A Kind Tone, by Tyler Carney-Faleatua, again with a large group cast, explored the lifting of layers, both literally in swathes of draped costume, and metaphorically in regard to how a community supports individuals. Sequences of a slowly locomoting tight-knit group from which different individuals had to push and struggle to emerge, were memorable.

Students of New Zealand School of Dance in Tyler Carney-Faleatua’s A Kind Tone, 2022. Photo: © Stephen-A’Court

Sarah Foster-Sproull, another graduate from NZSD some years back, is a gifted choreographer with a major output. Her work here, To The Forest, To The Island, with music by Eden Mulholland, gave a strong cadence to the program and the dancers were galvanised into energised performances as they explored the notion of the places where we take refuge.

The work was originally conceived for film by students at Auckland’s Unitec. In this live version, a number of tube light sticks carried and positioned around the stage then reflected sequences of many bright colours which moved towards strobe effects. This seriously challenges the audience’s viewing access, and I confess my response is always to close my eyes at any time where lights are shone at the audience or strobe effects are used in the theatre. It was clear however that the committed dancers relished the chance to perform in a strong and animated choreography.

In different ways, works on both programs referenced themes of identity of individuals and of groups, as well as motivation in how to respond to challenges. The last three years of tumultuous experiences related to the global pandemic have affected life for every individual, family, neighbourhood in the country, indeed in every country on the planet. The resilience needed to adapt and continue when continuity is often the first casualty, with dance training programs probably more challenged than most enterprises, is reflected in many of these works.

To many the divide between ‘classical’ and ‘contemporary’ dance is more of an aesthetic concept than a reality in today’s professional dance world, and several of the works we saw could have been performed in either program. The school’s whakatauki or motto—Kia kōrero te katoa o te tinana/to talk with the whole body—offers encouraging reminder of the choreographic aspiration to get the physics of motion to reveal the physics of emotion.

Jennifer Shennan, 19 November 2022

Featured image: India Shackel and Aidan Tully in Loughlan Prior’s Time Weaver. New Zealand School of Dance 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

Roll the dice. Pump Dance Studios

5 November 2022. Opera House, Wellington
reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

When I taught Dance Studies to students at New Zealand School of Dance several decades ago, one of the sessions I enjoyed the most, and students assured me they did too, was built around the documentary of the celebrated New York City Ballet dancer, Jacques d’Amboise—He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’ * and his associated book, Teaching the Magic of Dance.**         

Each year d”Amboise would book the theatre at Lincoln Center, then through the National Dance Institute which he had founded, liaise with teachers in numerous Manhattan schools, to prepare a full-length narrated show with a cast of thousands, well, at least 1000. He would borrow artists from NYCB to play lead roles, then recruit local cops, street sweepers or truck drivers and teach them a few numbers to widen the scene. It was always the irrepressible enthusiasm and musicality in d’Amboise that proved infectious for everyone to give their best.  ‘Give it a go—you don’t know if you can dance until you try’ … was his encouraging word, and the resulting film is evidence of their lift-off. Small wonder it won Academy awards, and made its mark worldwide.

A high-spirited and imaginative dance show, Roll The Dice, in a 2.5 hour long performance played twice last weekend to capacity audiences at Wellington’s Opera House. Pump Dance Studios brought what seemed like 200 young dancers together in a tightly sequenced show combining hip-hop, jazz and contemporary dance with faultless timing and spirited expression. It brought alive for me the memory of Jacques d’Amboise, who died last year aged 86, but whose legacy endures. No one who saw his fine performing or witnessed his spirited dance-making will forget him.

Roll the Dice followed the structure of a Monopoly game, with a narrative of rhyming couplets highlighting the greed that has driven so much of the world’s destruction of its natural resources. Starting with youth in protest, this became a journey of how to play the game and get out of jail without the Earth being the loser. Baddies v. Goodies played out in numerous episodes in which huge businesses, bankers, entrepreneurs, politicians, money lenders, pirates, war-profiteers and polluters were in contrast with young, hardworking and clear-thinking youth on a mission. Natural forces of water, wind, sun and air were danced and mimed into hydroelectricity, solar heating, sustainable building practices. There was a plea for the preservation of the environments for animals—meerkats, hyenas, panthers and penguins all disarmingly portrayed in dance. By re-writing the rules and disrupting the greed, The Goodies won in the end. What a heartening change from the daily news bulletins in our lives.

I particularly enjoyed the show’s atmosphere of inclusivity—there were soloists and leaders among the cast but also a sense that there’s no such thing as a minor role, and the resulting commitment was exponential in effect. There were numerous inventive ideas in lighting and staging—costume racks on wheels transformed into train carriages, onesie suits becoming hot dogs, $2 shop red bandanas signalling a band of pirates, a black net curtain reducing lives to mere shadows in death—numerous effective transitions that all prioritised ideas and imagination ahead of big budget and wardrobe. It worked so well because the narrative stayed alive at the spine of the show, and every performer believed in it. Jacques d’Amboise would have been tickled pink.

* The film is available on YouTube
** the book listed with Amazon

Jennifer Shennan, 18 November 2022

All photos: © Nick George Creative

El Abrazo. The Embrace—Argentine Tango Moments. Neville Waisbrod

Book review by Jennifer Shennan

This impressive book contains close to 200 photographs, culled from some 3000, taken by Neville Waisbrod, tango dancer-turned-photographer of Wellington.

Evident throughout is Waisbrod’s deep feeling and respect for the dance form in milonguero style. This is not tango for display or spectacle, for competition or ambition, for innovation or experiment, for the money or the bag, but rather for the intimate unspoken communication that builds between partners, between steps, between movement and music. It’s both in time and across time, and as you close the book you feel you have been dancing too.

Several pithy quotes, catching what a writer, poet, philosopher, teacher or dancer has penned about tango, or wider dance ideas, are scattered throughout the book. These are few in number but that restraint only makes them more evocative since we all know that less is more. Sources of quotes range from renowned tanguero and teacher, Carlos Gavitos,

The tango is not in the steps.
The tango is between one step and another.
There, when you do nothing,
you can see whether you dance tango.

Alicia Pons, a revered teacher regularly visiting New Zealand from Argentina, Tango is a journey not a destination.

JL Borges, The tango was having its way with us.

and from Waisbrod himself, The memory of an embrace will last a lifetime, while the steps will be forgotten by the end of the night.

There are further quotes from Jacques d’Amboise, Martha Graham, Wendy Whelan, Omar Khyyám, William Shakespeare, TS Eliot, Albert Einstein. These, as well as the Introduction and the Endnotes, are given in both English and Spanish.

The photographs are black & white or grained grey, with the focus on the mutual embrace of a dancing couple—upper body, head, neck, shoulders, arms, hands (for all of which, read ‘hearts and minds’). An image typically shows the face or profile of one dancer and thus the back of the head of the partner. We can read the facial expression of the one and, from the angle of head or neck, handhold raised or shoulder embraced, can imagine that of the partner. The concentration is intense. You’re not eavesdropping on these dancers, but looking and listening with your eyes and limbs.

A man and a woman hold each other and we hold our breath—they’ve probably been married for 45 years and we can tell their life story from the enchanted eyes of the one who faces the camera, and from the inclined and trusting head of his partner. It’s a love sonnet. Another couple, possibly three decades apart in calendar age, who may never have met before this milonga, are here not counting the years so much as sharing them. One tanguera is wearing a plaster cast on a broken arm and her partner carries its weight for her. The back of one head reveals hearing aids ‘the better to hear the music with, my dear’. One couple is dreaming, eyes closed, a hint of a smile hovering. A young couple shares an explosive laugh and we can only guess at what caused their mirth. Another couple, both males, are dancing more than just the steps their teacher taught them. A sadness etched into one woman’s face is lifted by the sense that her partner is allowing the dance to be bigger than any individual dancing it. Another image echoes that rapport, though with the gender roles reversed. Perhaps the memory of an earlier now departed life partner is nurtured by the physical proximity of a dance partner. One quote, ‘Dancing is cheaper than therapy’, could be the caption of several of these images, or perhaps of them all.

There are in fact no captions to individual photographs so the dancers remain anonymous. Although they have given their permission for reproduction, they are not posing for the camera and will be unaware they were being captured in that moment. The prime place given to the visuals within this book evokes for me the classic works of director Carlos Saura, who devoted entire feature-length films, with very few if any words, to the subject of just one dance form—Sevillanas, let’s say, or his fabled flamenco trilogy, Blood Wedding: the rehearsal—Carmen: the performance—El Amor Brujo: the dénouement.

JL Borges, Argentinian writer & poet, famously wrote…Tango can be debated, and we have debates over it, but it still encloses, as does all that which is truthful, a secret. This book borrows that notion to tell its own unspoken truth.

Waisbrod did not need to travel across continents in search of these dancers. They are all in New Zealand. His credit to Belinda Ellis for editorial help and design of the book is heartfelt. Search further and you find another modest little credit, ‘proudly supporting the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand’. This is a book of considerable humane and artistic merit, and, at $75.00, is cheaper than therapy.    

www.theembracebook.com
ISBN 978-0-473-59266-0

Jennifer Shennan, 10 August 2022

All photos: © Neville Waisbrod

Reliving the past

by Jennifer Shennan

Harry Haythorne (Artistic Director of Royal New Zealand Ballet 1981—1992) was always an enthusiastic admirer of Gray Veredon’s choreography. In 1981, the effervescent Ragtime Dance Company, to Scott Joplin, had set the stage sizzling and gave Jon Trimmer one of his favourite roles. In 1988 Harry commissioned Tell Me A Tale, which wove elements of 19th century Pakeha settlers interacting with local Maori community, incorporating haka into the danced narrative. To my memory that was the most assured choreographic staging in and of a bi-cultural New Zealand we have seen.

Veredon’s rapport with designer Kristian Fredrikson was evident in the shadowed atmosphere of a powerful set and vintage costumes. Images remain of the performances by Jon Trimmer as the father, Kerry-Anne Gilberd the mother, Kim Broad the son, with Warren Douglas powerfully leading the haka that challenged a love interest across the racial divide. It’s always intriguing to think about what keeps some dance memories alive for decades while others fade.

Kerry-Anne Gilberd and Stephen McTaggart in a scene from Tell Me a Tale. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1988. Photographer not identified. Courtesy Gray Veredon

In 1989, Haythorne commissioned A Servant of Two Masters—with Veredon and Fredrikson again working together. The request was for a set that could easily travel abroad since Veredon’s contacts with the impresario Manfred Gerber enabled the Company’s first tour to Europe. Fredrikson came up trumps with silk banners that filled the stage yet could be folded down into two suitcases. Board a plane with a ballet in your carry-on luggage? Touché. 

To vivacious Vivaldi, the full-length work proved a triumph as Veredon, who knew commedia dell’arte well, made stunning character roles for every soloist in the company, each one of whom rose to the challenge—most outstandingly Eric Languet as Truffaldino and Warren Douglas as Brighella. Even the Artistic Director was on stage as Harry leapt at the chance to play Dr. Lombardi, cavorting opposite Jon Trimmer as the wealthy Pantalone. It is true as Michelle Potter points out they did not push their luck by overplaying the farce, but reined in their comic timing which of course controls character the more impressively. Many audience veterans vote Servant as the ‘best ever’ work from RNZB repertoire. The tour proved hugely memorable for the Company for a completely different reason—they were in Berlin when the Wall came down. Dancer Turid Revfeim’s memories and descriptions of the events could and should be the subject of another full-length choreography.

In the book The Royal New Zealand Ballet at 60, Veredon wrote a perceptive article, Developing New Synergies, about his numerous seasons with RNZB. His tribute to Jon Trimmer as leading dancer for decades is for the record. Veredon also shares cogent and relevant ideas for choreographic development within a ballet company, and the responsibility to keep the best of the repertoire extant. Ka hau te rangatahi—the new net goes fishing.

Jennifer Shennan, 4 July 2022

Editor’s note: This article began as a comment on the review on this website of the Australian Ballet’s production of Harlequinade but deserved to become a short article on new and old repertoire. Gray Verdon’s comments on repertoire in The Royal New Zealand Ballet at 60, as mentioned above, are definitely worth reading especially the last paragraph on p. 166. More about A Servant of Two Masters and Tell me a Tale can be found in Kristian Fredrikson. Designer, pp. 147-156.

Featured image: Jon Trimmer as Pantalone with a group of Zanies in A Servant of Two Masters. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1989. Photo: © Martin Stewart (?). Courtesy Gray Veredon

Sublime Interludes. Tabitha Dombrowksi and Björn Aslund

Two dancers in search of a choreographer,
travelling side by side, up their hills and down,
moving well, tenants in common of their darker times,
the set is the sides of a box they can shift about, climb through,
sit on, sit in, drape over, lie in,
though not a coffin since they are alive and determined to work through their times,
surviving the lock-down—’We’re all in this together”
this is not a lock-up—’Don’t put us in a box’
nor a lock-out—’We are here and we want to dance for you’.

They share their times both good and bad,
and ask us to ask ourselves whether our glad and sad
are anything like theirs.

Breathe slowly, deliberately, deeply, get a grip,
prepare a show, perform it at the Fringe,
say yes to a return season,
invite folk along, hope they come,
hope they get it.

Thank you.
We came.
and Yes, we got it.


Jennifer Shennan, 27 May 2022

Circa Theatre, Wellington—Refringe season of Sublime Interludes.
Tabitha Dombrowski & Björn Aslund—choreography & performance
26–29 May 2022

All images: © Lokyee Szeto

Russell Kerr (1930–2022) Scripting the Dreams

This is an expanded version of an obituary written by Jennifer Shennan and published in The Dominion Post online on 2 April 2022.

Russell Kerr, leading light of ballet in New Zealand, has died in Christchurch aged 92. The legendary dancer, teacher, choreographer and producer influenced generations of New Zealand dancers. Kerr’s hallmark talent was to absorb music so as to draw out character, narrative, human interest, emotion, poetry and comedy that ballet in the theatre can offer. Thrusting your leg high in the air, or even behind your head, just because you can, is the empty gesture of perfunctory performance that he found exasperating. Shouting and sneering at dancers, telling them they are not good enough, was anathema to him. One dancer commented, ‘Mr Kerr always treated you as an artist so you behaved like one.’

Born in Auckland in 1930, the younger of two sons, Russell was already learning piano from his mother, a qualified teacher, when a doctor recommended dance classes to strengthen against the rheumatoid arthritis that ailed the child. Did that doctor follow the remarkable career that ensued from his advice?  Years later Russell was asked if it was difficult, back then, to be the only boy in a ballet school of girl pupils? He chuckled, ‘Oh no, it was marvellous—there I was in a room full of girls and no competition for their attention. It was great fun.’

Kerr made impressive progress both in dancing and piano, achieving LTCL level, then starting to teach. He could have been a musician, but dancing won out when in 1951 he was awarded a Government bursary to study abroad. In London he trained at Sadler’s Wells, with Stanislaw Idzikowski (a dancer in both Pavlova’s and Diaghilev’s companies), and also Spanish dance with Elsa Brunelleschi. Upon her advice and just for the experience, he went to an audition at the leading flamenco company of José Greco. Flamenco would be one of the world’s most demanding dance forms, both technically and musically. Remarkably, he was offered the job, providing he changed his name to Rubio Caro! How fitting that Kerr’s first contract was as a dancing musician. When asked later how he’d managed it he replied, ‘Oh, I just followed the others.’

Russell Kerr in 1951 shortly before leaving for England

After a time, Sadler’s Wells’ leading choreographer, Frederick Ashton, declared Russell’s body not suitably shaped for ballet. ‘I’ll show you’ he muttered to himself, and so he did. In a performance of Alice in Wonderland, he scored recognition in a review (‘Kerr’s performance as a snail was so lifelike you could almost see the slimy trail he left behind as he crossed the stage.’ As he later pointed out, ‘not many dancers are complimented in review for their slimy trails’). A sense of humour and irony was always hovering.

Kerr danced with Ballet Rambert, and was encouraged towards choreography by director Marie Rambert. Later he joined Festival Ballet, rising to the rank of soloist, earning recognition for his performances in Schéhérazade, Prince Igor, Coppélia, Petrouchka among others. Nicholas Beriosov had been regisseur to choreographer Fokine in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Kerr’s work with him at Festival Ballet lent a pedigree to his later productions from that repertoire as attuned and authentic as any in the world.

The investment of his Government bursary was exponentially repaid when Russell, now married to dancer June Greenhalgh, returned to New Zealand in 1957. He told me he spent the ship’s entire journey sitting in a deck chair planning how to establish a ballet company that might in time become a national one. Upon arrival he was astonished to learn that Poul Gnatt, formerly with Royal Danish Ballet, had already formed the New Zealand Ballet and, thanks to Community Arts Service and Friends of the Ballet since 1953, ‘…they were touring to places in my country I’d never even heard of. So I ditched my plans and Poul and I found a way to work together.’

Kerr became partner and later director of Nettleton-Edwards-Kerr school of ballet in Auckland. (I was an 11 year old pupil there. It was obvious that Mr Kerr was a fine teacher, encouraging aspiration though not competition. We became friends for life). Auckland Ballet Theatre had existed for some years but Kerr built up its size and reputation, staging over 30 productions. Perhaps the highlight of these was a season of Swan Lake on a stage on Western Springs lake. He produced a series, Background to Ballet, for Television New Zealand in its first year of broadcasting, and also choreographed many productions for Frank Poore’s Light Opera Company.

In 1959, New Zealand Ballet and Auckland Ballet Theatre combined in the United Ballet Season, involving dancers June Greenhalgh, Rowena Jackson, Philip Chatfield, Sara Neil and others. The program included Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor to Borodin’s sensuous score, and Prismatic Variations, co-choreographed by Kerr and Gnatt, to Brahms’ glorious St Anthony Chorale. Music as well as dance audiences in Auckland were astonished, and the triumphant season was repeated with equal success the following year in Wellington, when Anne Rowse joined the cast.

June Greenhalgh & Russell Kerr in Prismatic Variations.Choreographed by Russell Kerr and Poul Gnatt. New Zealand Ballet 1960
June Greenhalgh and Russell Kerr in Prismatic Variations, 1960. Photo: © John Ashton

In 1960 a trust to oversee the New Zealand Ballet’s future was formed, and by 1962 Kerr was appointed Artistic Director. His stagings of classics—Giselle, Swan Lake, La Sylphide, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Coppélia, Les Sylphides, Schéhérazade—were balanced with new works, including the mysterious Charade, and whimsical One in Five. Kerr used compositions by Greig, Prokofiev, Liszt, Saint-Saens and Copland for his own prolific choreographic output—Concerto, Alice in Wonderland, Carnival of the Animals, Peter and the Wolf, The Alchemist, The Stranger. In 1964 he invited New Zealander Alexander Grant who had an established reputation as a character dancer with England’s Royal Ballet, to perform the lead role in Petrouchka, a superb production that alone would have earned Kerr worldwide recognition.

A fire at the company headquarters in 1967 meant a disastrous loss of sets and costumes that only added to the colossal demands of running the company on close to a shoestring budget. Kerr’s health was in an extremely parlous state. In 1969 Gnatt returned from Australia and as interim director, with the redoubtable Beatrice Ashton as manager, kept the company on the road.

Russell had worked closely with Jon Trimmer, the country’s leading dancer, and his wife Jacqui Oswald, dancer and ballet mistress. They later joined him at the New Zealand Dance Centre he had established in Auckland, developing an interesting new repertoire. The Trimmers remember, ‘…Russell would send us out into the park, the street or the zoo, to watch people and animals, study their gait and gestures, to bring character to our roles.’  Kerr also mentored and choreographed for Limbs Dance Company. The NZDC operated until 1977, though these were impecunious and difficult years for the Kerr family. But courage and the sticking place were found, and Russell, as always, let music be his guide.

In 1978 he was appointed director at Southern Ballet Theatre, which proved lucky for Christchurch as he stayed there until 1990, later working with Sherilyn Kennedy and Carl Myers. In 1983 Harry Haythorne as NZB’s artistic director invited all previous directors to contribute to a gala season to mark the company’s 30th anniversary. Kerr’s satirical Salute, to Ibert, had Jon Trimmer cavorting as a high and heady Louis XIV.

His two lively ballets for children, based on stories by author-illustrator Gavin Bishop—Terrible Tom and Te Maia and the Sea Devil—proved highly successful, but there was a whole new chapter in Kerr’s career awaiting. After Scripting the Dreams, with composer Philip Norman, he made the full-length ballet, A Christmas Carol, a poignant staging alive with characters from Dickens’ novel, with design by Peter Lees-Jeffries. (The later production at RNZB had new design by Kristian Fredrikson).

Possibly the triumph of Kerr’s choreographies, and certainly one of RNZB’s best, was Peter Pan, again with Norman and Fredrikson, with memorable performances by Jon Trimmer as an alluring Captain Hook, Shannon Dawson as the dim-witted Pirate Smee, and Jane Turner an exquisite mercurial Tinkerbell.

Study for Captain Hook in Russell Kerr's 'Peter Pan', 1999. © 1998 Kristian Fredrikson
Study for Captain Hook and Peter Pan in Russell Kerr’s Peter Pan, 1999. © 1998 Kristian Fredrikson

His sensitively nuanced productions of Swan Lake became benchmarks of the ever-renewing classic that deals with mortality and grief.

Russell Kerr rehearsing 'Swan Lake'. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1997. Photo: © Maarten Holl
Russell Kerr rehearsing ‘Swan Lake’. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1997. Photo: © Maarten Holl

Leading New Zealand dancers who credit Russell for his formative mentoring include Patricia Rianne, whose Nutcracker and Bliss, after Katherine Mansfield, are evidence of her claim, ‘I never worked with a better or more musical dance mind.’ Among many others are Rosemary Johnston, Kerry-Anne Gilberd, Dawn Sanders, Martin James, Geordan Wilcox, Jane Turner, Diana Shand, Turid Revfeim, Shannon Dawson, Toby Behan—through to Abigail Boyle and Loughlan Prior.

An unprecedented season happened in 1993 when Russell cast Douglas Wright, the country’s leading contemporary dancer, in the title role of Petrouchka. He claimed Wright’s performances challenged the legendary Nijinsky.

An annual series named in his honour, The Russell Kerr Lecture in Ballet & Related Arts, saw the 2021 session about his own life and career movingly delivered by his lifelong colleague and friend, Anne Rowse. The lecture was graced by a dance, Journey, that Russell had choreographed for two Japanese students who came to study with him. It would be the last performance of his work, the more poignant for that.

Russell was writing his memoirs in the last few years, admitting the struggle but determined to keep going. He said, ‘Writing about my problem with drink is going to be a very difficult chapter.’ Russell had told Brian Edwards in a memorable radio interview decades back, of the exhausting time when his colossal work commitments had driven him ‘to think that the solution to every problem lay in the bottom of the bottle.’  He eventually managed to turn that around and thereafter remained teetotal for life—but by admitting it on national radio, he was offering hope to anyone with a similar burden, himself proof that there is a way out of darkness.

He viewed the sunrise as an invitation to do something with the day. He would bring June a cup of tea but not let her drink it till she had greeted the sun. Recently he took great joy in seeing photos of my baby granddaughter, rejoicing to be reminded of the hope a new life brings to a family.

Russell concurred with the sentiment expressed in Jo Thorpe’s fine poem, The dance writer’s dilemma (reproduced in Royal New Zealand Ballet at 60):

… the thing…
which has nothing to do with epitaph
which has nothing to do with stone.
I just know I walk differently
out into  air
because of what dance does sometimes.

Russell Kerr was a good and decent family man, loyal friend, master teacher and choreographer, proud of his work but modest by nature, resourceful and determined by personality, honest in communication, distressed by unkindness, a leader by example. A phenomenal and irreplaceable talent, he was a very great New Zealander. 

He is survived by son David, daughter Yvette and their families.

Russell Kerr photographed in 2007

Russell Ian Kerr, QSM, ONZM, Arts Foundation Icon
Born Auckland 10 February 1930
Married June, née Greenhalgh, one son (David), one daughter(Yvette)
Died.Christchurch 28 March, 2022

Sources: David Kerr, Anne Rowse, Jon Trimmer, Patricia Rianne, Rosemary Buchanan, Martin James, Mary-Jane O’Reilly, Ou Lu.

Jennifer Shennan, 3 April 2022

Featured image: Russell Kerr as director of Southern Ballet in 1983

Louis Solino (1941–2022)

by Jennifer Shennan

Louis Solino was for years a member of the celebrated José Limón Dance Company of New York. He later staged many works from that company’s talisman repertoire when a tutor at New Zealand School of Dance. Louis was partner of New Zealander Paul Jenden, both of them major contributors to Wellington’s theatre life.

Early drawn to dance, Louis performed in American Bandstand, Philadelphia’s hugely popular tv music and dance show. After studies in New York, he joined the Limón Dance Company in 1968, staying for 11 years. The company toured widely, including South America, Poland and Soviet Russia, encountering interesting audience reactions to the ‘new’ art.

In 1981 Anne Rowse, director of New Zealand School of Dance, on a study tour to establish connections for possible development at the school, had a fruitful and far-reaching meeting with Louis and Paul (who was studying dance and design in New York).  

Choreographies by Mexican-born Limón and fellow-artist Doris Humphrey are classics of American modern dance, timeless works of thematic power and intrinsic musicality. Anne understood the importance of that heritage, and upon learning that Paul was returning home, invited Louis to tutor at NZSD. She recalls, ‘He taught and staged wonderful repertoire, influencing many students into their subsequent careers … Carolyn Lambourn, Kate O’Rourke, Ursula Robb, Daniel Belton, Sarah Lawrey, Alannah Eliot, Alexandra Blair are only a few who come to mind.’

Louis worked at NZSD from 1982 to 1998. Sue Nicholls on the faculty recalls, ’I have a distinct vision of Louis with a very straight back, chin slightly dropped and direct focus. I really admired his care in presenting these works, and the students showed a deep respect for him and this heritage.’ Louis, a disciplined task-master, never handed out praise before it was earned, even if then, but guarded accuracy and integrity of each choreography. These included There is a Time, The Unsung, La Malinche, Concerto Grosso, Choreographic Offering, Dances for Isadora, The Shakers, Day on Earth, Two Ecstatic Themes, Air for the G String. It was phenomenal that Louis had memorised all those works. While the notated dance scores sent from New York were interesting, he scarcely needed to consult them.  Everything was in his head and heart.

Dance studies seminars in Victoria University of Wellington’s Continuing Education program offered studio showings of The Moor’s Pavane—(Louis reprised the role of Iago he had played opposite Limón’s and also Erik Bruhn’s Othello. Jenden danced The Moor, Carolyn Lambourn Desdemona, Claire Martin Emilia) allowing us insight into the jewel in the crown of Limón’s repertoire. (Years later another student Daniel Belton would dance Iago to Irek Mukhamedov’s Othello in Kim Brandstrup’s European company. This is dance lineage of the highest order). 

Equally memorable was Louis’ staging of Limón’s solo Chaconne, impeccably danced by Paul Jenden, the Bach/Busoni music stunningly played by pianist Richard Mapp. Jenden in slimline dark trousers and soft silk shirt, in Adam Concert Room, at a Music Teachers’ symposium and in the Lutheran church in Newtown, filled these bound spaces with consummate control and a noble dance quality. They rank among the most exquisite performances I have witnessed. 

A graduand dancer may never perform professionally again, but from Solino’s stagings they would carry memories for life. Limón’s choreographic style and aesthetic is minimalist, finely honed and paced, character embedded within the choreography, needing no embellishment, strain or added emotion. Just the moves as set. 

Louis and many of his colleagues were devastated when his teaching tenure at NZSD ended. He continued free-lance teaching, working with Fleur de Thier’s Rebound dance company in Christchurch and in a number of films, but his talents were absurdly under-used.

Jenden’s theatrical output was prolific, and he made roles for Louis wherever possible—in the Hairy Maclary shows, The Gay Fandango, musicals and pantomimes at Circa or Bats, seasons of Fairy Stories (with Jon Trimmer also in the cast)—shows laced with biting satire and high-camp naughtiness. Jenden’s legendary Swan Lake and Giselle, 20 minute one-man shows, hilariously mocking perfunctory ballet productions, with Bill Sheat claiming these were the funniest things he’d seen in the theatre.

In 2013, after serious illness with cancer, Jenden created C— The Musical at Circa. Louis played the silent role of Carcinoma and musician Sue Alexander recalls him as ‘an eerie, gaunt, elegant baroque figure, dressed in a long cape which I had to pass as it lay on the floor backstage, the only position from which Louis could put it on. It was about 20 feet long and spread along the floor like a dark, densely textured Venetian corpse.’

Voluminous sky-blue silk capes are worn in Doris Humphrey’s elegaic Air for the G String (Louis left the costumes here when he returned to America, trusting us to choose the appropriate celebratory or commemorative occasions to dance it). One of the costume labels reads ‘Renata’. Renata Donovan subsequently studied nursing, and I happened to meet her in ICU of Wellington Hospital, nursing the dying Paul Jenden. She did her work with care and compassion, sat with Louis in the waiting room, then went back to nurse the patient. Just the moves as set.

Louis returned to America in 2014. Our farewell to him included Air, and a striking rendition of Two Ecstatic Themes danced by Lucy Marinkovich. Grateful students gifted him a pounamu pendant which he wore constantly, ‘a piece of Aotearoa to take with me’ so no surprise to see it still at his throat when former students, led by Michael Long, enterprisingly fund-raised to bring Louis back to Wellington for the school’s 50th anniversary in 2017.  I took him to visit revered kuia, Tiahuia Gray (whose daughter Merenia and son Tanemahuta had both been Louis’ students) to bless the pounamu with a karakia. Tiahuia asked Louis his favourite word so as to name the taonga.  He answered ‘Paul’.

Louis lived his last years with family in New Jersey, and died after a long illness. He is survived by his sisters, Marysue Palen, Joann Fry and their families.

Louis Solino, born 7 February 1941, Philadelphia; died 5 January 2022, New Jersey

An edited version of this obituary first appeared in New Zealand in Stuff Entertainment on 22 January 2022.
Sources: Anne Rowse, Felicity Hamill, Daniel Belton, Sarah Lawrey, Jane Woodhall,  Richard Mapp, Carolyn Lambourn, Sue Nicholls, Sue Alexander

Jennifer Shennan, 29 January 2022

Featured image: Louis Solino in The Nero Show. Circa Theatre, Wellington, 2010. Photo: © Stephen A’Court. Courtesy Circa Theatre photo archive