The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s world première of The Piano: The Ballet, inspired by Jane Campion’s Oscar-winning film The Piano (1993), began the company’s program for 2018. It is the second ballet on the subject by Jiří and Otto Bubeníček, former and highly decorated principal dancers at Hamburg Ballet. Their first was a one-act work for Ballet Dortmund in 2014. Its success encouraged the Czech twins to spend twenty wintry days driving a campervan around New Zealand. They filmed and recorded everything from the country’s natural grandeur to expressions of Maori culture.
Some of their video and sound recordings now populate the sets and soundscapes. Production values are high, and the settings are generated by projections on three mobile screens of glistening forests, beaches, waterfalls, and interiors backed by wallpaper, yards, or shimmering fern glades. A few sticks of furniture and emblematic props make up the domestic scenes: a dead tree, a large axe, and the piano that symbolises the medium of expression, solace, and emotional freedom of the ballet’s protagonist, Ada, a mute Scottish pianist sold into marriage to a white settler-forester she has never seen.