Theatre Review: Transfigured Night - beautiful, intimate, uplifting (Palmerston North)

This article was originally published by Theatre Review on 13 March 2021. Click here to view the original article.


Tania Kopytko | 13 March 2021


When an audience leaves with smiles on their faces and chattering about the performance then you know it’s a hit. It is a hit with both the music and the dance aficionados.


The performance is intimate because the works are performed in a small space for the three dancers and six musicians. However rather than feeling cramped, the space is used cleverly, interaction between all the performers is clear and personal, and the choreography feels intimate and delicate.


The evening comprises three works, all choreographed by award-winning Loughlan Prior.


Danced, Unseen the first short work introduces the evening in the manner in which it will develop. With music composed by Tabea Squire, a dancer (Laura Saxton Jones), enters the performance space set up with the music stands, seats and a dance floor square, and plays with the stands. Enter quirkily a violinist and then two more, the third through the audience. Two more dancers enter (William Fitzgerald and Tabitha Dombroski) and there is playful interaction between the dancers and musicians, until the full ensemble is on stage. There is a stillness and breath intake, and then they all launch into the beautiful String Sextet in A Major, op 48 by Antonin Dvořák.


The String Sextet is comprised of five parts, each with recurring and evolving themes. Prior approaches this with satisfyingly musical choreography. Narrative-like phrases, for example with hands and arms, recur in further developed forms, just as the music also explores and develops on its first ideas. It is whimsical, playful, gracious and courtly, naughty and chattery. Each of the dancers shows their unique style, character and beautiful techniques and so do the musicians. The blending together is enhanced by the costuming and set, designed by the dancer William Fitzgerald. The full ensemble wear costumes that are folksy or country style. White dresses, trousers, shorts or shirts, whose painted patterns and colours are also in the sail-like back drop. Its creates a lovely uniting visual theme.


Sometimes the dancers sit out and listen to the music on stage, gently reacting, giving the musicians space. Sometimes their movement is reminiscent of a folk or baroque dance, or little references to grand ballet poses. At other times they are tumbling and unfolding in beautiful trio partner work with impressive extensions and balances. The musicians are also theatrical and interact with the dancers, even playing while their music stands are turned in a circle, so they have had to add another dimension to their beautiful playing. The NZ String Quartet comprised of Helene Pohl, violin1; Monique Lapins, violin2; Gillian Ansell, viola; Rolf Gjelsten, cello, Serenity Thurlow, guest viola 2; Ken Ichinose, guest cello 2; are a tour de force musically and theatrically. Three dancers in a group is always an interesting number, and Prior uses this to advantage, with playful interchange and also very clever sculptural trio and partner work which extends the shapes and emphasis that can be created with three.


The third and major work, Transfigured Night or Verklärte Nacht, is to an evocative work by Arnold Schoenberg, inspired by the poem Verklärte Nacht by German poet Richard Dehmel, which has also inspired the choreographic work. Schoenberg and Dehmel were inspired by the age of Freud, “what lay beneath….dissecting the unconscious, dream analysis” (programme notes). While the poem was about the relationship of a man and a woman and a reconciliation, the choreography evokes a more fluid relationship between the three dancers, two women and a man. The lead role is played strongly by the dramatic Laura Saxon Jones. Conflicted by her actions, gender, relationships or role, she eventually reaches a strong resolution. The work is symbolic and lyrical, musically and choreographically, lending its self to different interpretations. The set and costuming is more stark. Musicians and dancers wear black. The lighting is more subdued. The work opens with Saxon Jones moving with a large red silk square. The shapes she creates are wonderful and evocative of the symbols being explored – female sexuality, menstruation, foetus. As the work progresses and different male/female, female/female relationships are explored, red changes to white, eventually the colour of resolution/peace. There is a dreamlike quality about this work – musically and in the movement.


Congratulations to the New Zealand String Quartet and the dancers of BalletCollective Aotearoa. Congratulations to Chamber Music New Zealand and Loughlan Prior for creating this beautiful fusing of music and dance, for showing bravery, determination and innovation in our current Covid-difficult environment. We wish you well with this tour.


There are still many performances to come – support them. Wellington 15 March, New Plymouth 17 March, Nelson 19 March, Christchurch 20 March, Dunedin 22 March, Invercargill 23 March 2021.


This article was originally published by Theatre Review. Click here to view the original article.