Pander 8 (July 1999)
The Royal New Zealand Ballet, The Shell Season of Peter Pan, Choreographer Russell Kerr, Designer Kristian Fredrikson, Composer Philip Norman. National Tour, 27 February-18 April.
Royal NZ Ballet: Peter Pan
It’s been done before, of course: a ballet of Peter Pan. One might have thought the play was spectacular enough, with its doggy nurse, trapeze wires, variegated sets and pantomimic audience participation (“Clap if you believe in fairies!”), but no, another dance verison was, it seems, required. You’ll have gathered that it was with a certain trepidation that I repaired to the Aotea Centre to see the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s new version of the immortal tale (that ghastly Disney film did little but leach away at its strangeness).
To say I was pleasantly surprised is to put it mildly. I loved it. True, it’s less perverse, less self-exploratory than J. M. Barrie’s original, but perhaps there are abysses there that it’s best not to peer into for too long (those of you who’ve read, or watched, Andrew Kerr’s The Lost Boys will know what I’m talking about: the bizarre psychodrama of Barrie’s involvement with the Llewelyn-Davies children).
One strong point in favour of the ballet is the strongly masculine presence of Peter himself. The convention of having girls in the leading role had perhaps gone far enough. It’s time to see this parable of arrested emotional development in another, franker light. The other “archetypes of the collective unconscious” (surely one of the great titles) embodied in Barrie’s play – mermaids, Indians, pirates – were equally fresh and clear.
Perhaps that’s the keynote of this piece, in fact: clarity. The original Peter Pan is muddled, mad, multi-faceted – this one is clipped and elegant. The sets are sumptuous but never de trop – the dances precise and unprotracted. It’s hard to see a foot put wrong.
The strongest accolade is that both the adults and the children in the audience enjoyed it. The frisson one feels when looking round at large numbers of children in expensive theatre seats is seldom an agreeable one, but even the ones who were too young to be studying ballet seemed satisfied. Jon Trimmer’s genial nabob Captain Hook, the roly-poly Lost Boys, the sinuous star maidens provided sufficient spectacle for all.
The music was quite adequate to its purpose, though perhaps a little uninspired. It’s hard to imagine it in a concert hall on its own. I’d rather have that, though, than another tired production to first-rate music: one more Nutcracker, say. The freshness of the choreography (particularly scenes such as Peter in search of his shadow) and ingenuity of the design were a joy. Full marks and felicitations.