Dance Review
OrphEus – a dance opera

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The entire company dances with great strength and rapport in OrphEus.
(Photo credit: John McDermott)

OrphEus – a dance opera
by Michael Parameter with The New Zealand Dance Company
Civic Theatre, Auckland
Auckland Arts Festival

Reviewed by Ann Hunt, The Dominion Post

As well as the stunning dancers from The New Zealand Dance Company, there are 19 movement chorus volunteers; the sublime Award-winning American tenor, Aaron Sheehan; seven outstanding Baroque musicians, including those of Australia’s brilliant Latitude 37. They are accompanied with fine musicianship by Polly Sussex, Jonathan Le Cocq, Sally Tibbles and Miranda Hutton and the extraordinary voices of soprano Jayne Tankersley, countertenor Nicholas Tolputt and baritone William King.

The creative team reads like the crème de la crème of New Zealand’s creative artists. It is headed by Artistic Director/Concept Creator/Choreographer Michael Parmenter.

Choreographically there is all the elegance and fluidity we have come to expect from him. But there is also an added choreographic maturity, refinement and articulation that is impressive.

He has used two different Orpheus myths. The first is the voyage of Orpheus and the Argonauts. The second is the love story of Orpheus and Eurydice, which is set in the hell of a present-day refugee camp.

In his exploration of these myths, Parmenter has endeavoured to bring it into today’s political arena, where there are seducers aplenty. The heroic and dangerous voyage of the Argonauts (very imaginatively staged here), could just as easily be that of any one of the millions of refugees who flee their homeland every day, lured by images of a better life.

In OrphEus, Michael Parmenter has endeavoured to bring two versions of the classic myth into today's political arena.(Photo credit: John McDermott)

The refugee setting is a perfect metaphor for hell, where one can really only become an entire person on leaving it.

The exceptionally beautiful score is superbly delivered and deserves a music critic’s perspective. Musical Consultant is Marc Taddei.

Comprising various Baroque works, including those of Rameau and Charpentier, there is also a dramatically vibrant sound score by David Downes. Most importantly, the balance of the sound system at the Opera House has rarely been better.

Leading tenor, Sheehan sings with great tonal beauty and clarity and is well-matched by Tankersley’s soaring soprano.

However, the use of Baroque music which is essentially contained and refined is problematic. OrphEus is a dark and passionate story, full of violence and despair. The very nature of the music keeps us at a remove from the action. We are intellectually stimulated, but rarely emotionally involved.

Added to which, and in spite of moments of exceptional beauty and grace, at two hours, the production is far too long.

John Verryt’s imaginatively versatile set design, Nik Janiurek’s warm lighting which resembles Old master paintings and Tracy Grant Lord’s muted costume designs are a match made in Heaven.

As Orpheus, Carl Tolentino gives the strongest performance of his career. His pliant technique and sensitive partnering are accompanied by a very real presence – an Everyman on his life’s journey.

Chrissy Kokiri’s Eurydice is a beautiful creation. She dances with body, mind and heart and her despairing solos and lifeless pas de deux in Act Two are breathtaking.

The entire company dances with great strength and rapport.