Ballet in New Zealand

Short Film, 1963 (Full Length)

This National Film Unit doco illustrates the early days of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Performances from the company’s touring program include Bournonville’s Napoli, kiwi Arthur Turnbull’s Do-Wack-A-Do, a quirky 1930s flapper themed production (also with a NZ composer, Dorothea Franchi) and the tulle and poise of Fokine’s Les Sylphides. Prismatic Variations, choreographed by ballet company founder Poul Gnatt, and produced by another dance icon Russell Kerr, is the finale for this tribute to those who have made New Zealanders “ballet conscious.”

The Heart Dances - The Journey of The Piano: the Ballet

Film, 2018 (Trailer)

In 2015 celebrated Czech choreographer Jiří Bubeníček and his twin brother and designer Otto adapted award-winning film The Piano into a full-length ballet. With her second big screen documentary, Crossing Rachmaninoff director Rebecca Tansley followed the pair as they arrive in New Zealand, and begin expanding  their original production for a 2018 season with the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Bubeníček faces difficult artistic decisions as he and Māori Advisor Moss Te Ururangi Patterson try to find common ground while deepening the ballet's Māori elements and themes.

Kaleidoscope - China Ballet: A Week in Beijing, A Bit Less in Shanghai

Television, 1985 (Full Length)

TVNZ’s 80s arts programme follows a Royal NZ Ballet visit to China in this documentary directed by Keith Hunter. The trip is billed as a cultural exchange but the term belies the stresses of missing equipment, a director who has lost his voice, language barriers, incorporating a local seven-year-old girl into their performance and, for some, the dishes at a banquet. On a rare day off, there’s a chance to marvel at the scale of the The Great Wall; and there are insights into the everyday lives of the Chinese people as the country begins to open itself up to the world.

Our Stars of Ballet

Short Film, 1960 (Full Length)

Our Stars of Ballet, a short documentary from ballet teacher turned NFU director Kathleen O'Brien, tracks the careers of New Zealand ballet icons Rowena Jackson and Alexander Grant, who both achieved success as principal dancers for major ballet companies in England. The film follows their visit to Wellington with the Royal Ballet in 1959; Jackson picnics by the harbour with dancer husband Philip Chatfield, while Grant visits Mt Victoria. The film ends with Jackson performing her famed multiple fouttés en tournant, for which she held the world record in 1959.

Petrouchka in Performance

Television, 1993 (Full Length)

This Royal New Zealand Ballet performance of Stravinsky’s Petrouchka stays true to the original 1911 version by legendary ballet company Ballet Russes, in more than just spelling. As tormented puppet Petrouchka, Douglas Wright pays tribute to legendary performer Vaslav Nijinsky. Designer Raymond Boyce channels Alexandre Benois, while Russell Kerr's choreography evokes Mikhail Fokine. The sellout season was reviewed as "phenomenal" and "a visual feast… exploding with colour and shifting image". Future TV executive Andrew Shaw directed coverage of the ballet. 

Danny Down Under

Television, 1980 (Full Length)

Framed around a visit to New Zealand by Irish-born entertainer Danny La Rue, this all-singing all-dancing spectacular was recorded over three days in March 1980. The “fella in a frock” was famed for his drag acts and double entendres. Comedians Jon Gadsby and David McPhail provide local support as Marlene Dietrich visits a farm, Mae West visits the All Blacks changing room, and Margaret Thatcher meets Robert Muldoon (McPhail). Filmed at Avalon Studios, the revue was a co-production with London Weekend Television, made during the golden era of NZ TV variety shows.

Giselle

Film, 2013 (Trailer)

This documentary sees Dean Spanley director Toa Fraser and producer Matthew Metcalfe swap dialogue for dance. Based on The Royal NZ Ballet's acclaimed 2012 production of Giselle, the movie features American Ballet Theatre star Gillian Murphy as the dance-mad villager, wooed by a prince in disguise. Inspired by concert film The Last Waltz, a Leon Narbey-led camera team filmed the performance, with scenes of the lead dancers in Shanghai and New York counterpointing the onstage action. Following its Kiwi festival debut, Giselle screened at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival.

For Arts Sake - Mary Jane O'Reilly

Television, 1996 (Full Length)

Arts magazine series For Arts Sake screened on TV ONE for two hours on Sunday mornings for 22 weeks in 1996. This segment on dancer/choreographer Mary Jane O'Reilly marks the launch of her new company Auckland Ballet. The founder of the celebrated Limbs Dance Company talks about still being involved in dance in her mid-40s, the formation of her new company, the similarities and differences between ballet and contemporary dance, and her move into making dance films. The item also features excerpts from some of O'Reilly's dance works.

Tutus & Town Halls

Television, 2001 (Full Length)

In March and April 2001 slippers met gumboots when The Royal New Zealand Ballet went on a five-week long heartland tour. The ballerinas performed in community theatres and halls in places like Twizel, Putaruru, Taihape, and Alexandra. This Gibson Group TV One documentary chronicles the challenges – injuries, fatigue, motel life, provincial performance diets (junk food, baking), dodgy stages and wiring, romance on the road – and receptive locals. The programme includes work from local choreographers to famous ballets, with music from classical to Head Like a Hole.

Point Your Toes, Cushla!

Short Film, 1998 (Full Length)

Point Your Toes, Cushla! captures a girl's eye view of the final minutes before she goes on stage in a ballet contest — where one wrong move could be a short cut to humiliation. In this case the danger is heightened thanks to a stage mother whose idea of encouragement is constant meddling (played in scene-stealing brilliance by Alison Wall). Low on dialogue but rich in detail, this film by Simon Marler was invited to a number of overseas festivals, where it won a jury diploma in St Petersburg. It also got general release in Kiwi cinemas.