Royal New Zealand Ballet Timeline

By Carolyn Enting

Take a look back at the trials and tribulations of the Royal New Zealand Ballet as it celebrates its 60th birthday this year.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet celebrates 60 years. MiNDFOOD captures the triumphs, tribulations and highlights.

1953 – Former principal dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet Poul Gnatt establishes the New Zealand Ballet Company, which gives its first public performance at the Playhouse Theatre, Auckland on June 30. The opening work, choreographed by Gnatt, is entitled ‘Dance Without Tears’.
1955 – Gnatt secures an appearance of the New Zealand Ballet at the Festival of the Pines, New Plymouth, summer evenings in a beautiful outdoor setting. These continued for more than a decade and were considered a highlight of the festival and the company’s year.
1959 – New work Prismatic Variations, a collaboration between Poul Gnatt and Russell Kerr, is a bold step into the unknown.
1962 – Russell Kerr succeeds Gnatt as artistic director and reigns until ill health forces his resignation in 1968. Kerr goes on to choreograph more than 65 ballets.
1967 – A fire in the workshop and store in Thorndon totally destroys the Company’s resources, leaving costumes, sets and props in ashes.
1970s – Dancers and husband and wife team Sir Jon Trimmer and wife Jacqui Oswald break their contracts with National Ballet of Washington DC to stay in New Zealand and help keep the Company, which is having financial difficulties, alive, and later act as caretaker Artistic Directors. The Company has three artistic directors over this time – Bryan Ashbridge (1971); Una Kai (1973-75); and Philip Chatfield (1975-78)
1978 – New productions staged by then artistic director Philip Chatfield are staged for the company’s 25th anniversary including Carmen, Cinderella, Paquita, and a full-length production of The Sleeping Beauty with lead roles danced by Patricia Rianne and Jon Trimmer.
1978 – The company is officially without a director from 1978 to 1981 and the Trimmers again hold the reins.
1980 – Patricia Rianne’s production of The Nutcracker ends the year on a good note. Staged on a shoestring it nevertheless is a favourite, evidenced by its numerous return seasons.
1981 – Dancer numbers reduce from 28 to 18 in tough financial times following a tour to Queensland.
1984 – The right to use “Royal” in the company’s title is granted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of artistry and achievement. 
1985 – Tour to China includes Moko, a new work with a Maori theme choreographed by Gaylene Sciascia with design by Sandy Adsett. The tour is documented in TVNZ documentary Kaleidoscope.
1992 – The company faces another financial crisis. An American tour brings in welcome funds and New York critics reassured the dancers that they were up to international standard no matter how perilous the funding situation at home might seem.
1996 – Under Matz Skoog’s Directorship the RNZB attracted world renowned choreographers such as Mark Morris (2000) and Jiří Kylián (1998)
1997 – The St James Theatre in Wellington is secured as a permanent home for the RNZB
1998 – The company split into North Island and South Island contingents and toured nationwide to small centres that had not been visited by the company in many years. This was the first-ever Tutus on Tour which is now a biennial event. 
1998 – The RNZB’s performances of Jiří Kylián’s all-male Soldatenmis introduced a landmark work of 20th century ballet to the New Zealand stage; 15 years later still one of the most acclaimed productions ever staged by the RNZB.
1999 – Peter Pan proved to be one of the RNZB’s most popular and enduring productions. With an original score by Philip Norman, choreography by Russell Kerr and storybook designs by Kristian Fredrikson, it was revived in 2003 and 2009 and will receive its Australian premiere this Christmas, performed by West Australian Ballet. Sir Jon Trimmer created a memorable Hook, while the title role was taken by a young dancer from New Plymouth, Cameron MacMillan.
2000 – The blockbuster attraction Dracula featured a to-the-point-marketing campaign: ‘Go to the Bloody Ballet’ and subsequently broke all box office records. Ihi FrENZy featured the music of Split Enz opening with a Kapa Haka first half from Te Matarae I Orehu.
2000 – Staged a full length production Don Quixote for the first time, one of the virtuoso showpieces of classical ballet.
2003 – New Zealand premiere of Milagros – from Venezuelan choreographer Javier De Frutos – for which he received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination in 2004 – Best New Dance Production: “Milagros ranks as one of the great Rites – combining the collective potency of a ritual with the realisation of each dancer as a hauntingly believable individual” – The Guardian (UK)
2005 – Gary Harris’s productions of The Nutcracker (2005, revived 2010) and Don Quixote (2008) brought the RNZB’s versatility and flair for storytelling to the fore with witty and stylish takes on great works from ballet’s classical canon.
2010 – Award-winning TV3 series The Secret Lives of Dancers is first aired, taking New Zealanders behind the scenes and into the dancer’s lives.
2011 – The RNZB UK tour garners rave reviews; choreographer Andrew Simmons is nominated for Outstanding Classical Choreographer at the UK Critic’s Circle National Dance Awards 2012 for his original work A Song in the Dark; and former star of  New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, Ethan Stiefel, is appointed Artistic Director.
2012 – Opens the year with the record breaking mixed programme NYC, receives rave reviews for the new Ethan Stiefel and Johan Kobborg production of Giselle and ends the year on a high with the announcement that Giselle is being turned into a feature film.
2013 – The RNZB celebrates its 60th anniversary with a program that includes Made to Move: three world premieres in one night; former RNZB artistic director Russell Kerr’s production of Swan Lake; a 46 centre tour of heartland New Zealand with Tutus On Tour; and publication of book Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty.
Scroll through some images of the RNZB’s history on the right.


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