As choreographers like Wayne McGregor push the aesthetic boundaries of ballet, even the most contemporary work still adheres to recognizable elements of the form. There are gradations—and yes, there’s the eventual hair-splitting difference between contemporary ballet and contemporary dance, when too many of those recognizable elements have been stripped away—but when a ballet company performs something “contemporary,” it’s likely that the piece will fit safely within a handful of stylistic guidelines.
Not so at the Royal New Zealand Ballet. For the month of August, the company is touring an eclectic program of contemporary and neoclassical work. Notably, they are the first ballet company to perform Larry Keigwin’s Mattress Suite in its entirety.
Shaun Urton performs a solo from Mattress Suite
Mattress Suite is pure Keigwin: deceptively tricky, gestural, quirky, humorous, athletic and tender. It is balletic only by a significant stretch of the definition, tailor-made for the highly technical modern dancers of Keigwin + Company. RNZB dancers will never look like K+Co when they perform this work, and that’s okay. As ballet dancers, they bring something new and different to a piece that wasn’t necessarily designed for their strengths.
This is the second Keigwin piece RNZB has performed, and in doing so the company proves that ballet dancers can challenge themselves without compromising their foundational aesthetics—that is, without losing themselves. Check out this clip of RNZB dancer Shane Urton performing a solo from Mattress Suite, followed by Larry Keigwin discussing his work.