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Subject: "Swan Lake? Not this black duck" Archived thread - Read only
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Conferences What's Happening Topic #1880
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Trog Woolley

15-07-01, 01:17 PM (GMT)
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"Swan Lake? Not this black duck"
   Here is an article that I have OCR'ed from "The Australian", 13th July 2001.

Swan Lake? Not this black duck

The creative mind behind the success of New Zealand ballet, Matz Skoog, is about to ruffle some feathers in the UK, writes Christopher Niesche

When Matz Skoog takes over as artistic director of the English National Ballet later this year, he knows he'll have some changes to make.

"They've become a little bogged down. They've not been that innovative over the past several years," he says. "I think it's time to introduce new work to the company. One of my goals would be to some degree to continue what I've been doing here, and that's bridging the perceived gap between classical ballet and contemporary dance."

"Here" is New Zealand, where Skoog has been artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet since 1996. Indeed, what Skoog is planning for the English National Ballet - touring Australia with its arena production of Romeo and Juliet - is what he is credited with already achieving in New Zealand. "Matz has done an amazing job of revitalising the ballet company and reaching new audiences," says Philip Tremewan, executive director of advocacy group DANZ.

"Reaching new audiences is a by-product of putting on first-rate dance," says Skoog. "It wasn't necessarily something that I set out to do. I set out to put some good work on stage," he says. "It's proved that good work does sell."

Skoog's arrival in England in September will mean the country's two main ballet companies will be run by artistic directors from the antipodes. Ross Stretton takes over as artistic director of the Royal Ballet, having spent the past 4 1/2 years running the Australian Ballet. For Swedish-born Skoog it will be something of a homecoming: he spent 12 years with the ENB as principal dancer and soloist before going to New Zealand with his New Zealand -born wife Amanda. Introducing new work to the English audiences will not be easy, says Skoog.

"I think it's a much more conservative society. Certain aspects of the arts would be much more firmly established there and have been there for a long time," he says. "There are some very big audiences in Britain and in Europe and there are groups in these audiences that have strong views of what they want to see."

Skoog plans to run the ENB as he ran the RNZB: with an eye on the bottom line each time he thinks of trying something new. "We operate with less money that the Royal Ballet. The amount of money they have is almost immoral," he says . "I have to be much more commercially astute in programming the ENB."

Skoog says he will continue blurring the lines between classical ballet and contemporary dance. "There is a gap between the two dance forms of classical ballet and contemporary dance. People perceive that to be quite a big gap but to the dance professionals the gap is much smaller, because we know there's not much of a difference. Dance is dance is dance."

The Royal New Zealand's latest work exemplifies this. frENZy sets ballet to the music of Split Enz and also features New Zealand's top kapa haka group (a Maori performance art something like the haka). "It's a brilliant way to end," says dance critic and director of the Wellington Performing Arts Centre, Jenny Stevenson. "It was just fantastic because it was a real celebration of New Zealand dance."

Australians would best know the work of the RNZB through the company's production of Dracula, which toured to Melbourne last year to good reviews. "It's been popular anywhere it's been in the world. Just the notion of Dracula on stage entranced a lot of people, just the name," Skoog says.

Not content just to introduce new work, Skoog has made sure it was often new work by New Zealanders. "I think that's what you have to do wherever in the world you are, especially if you are the leader of a national company. Part of your mission has to be contributing to developing the national talent," he says. "Sometimes its more a matter of convincing people on their home ground that they have the talent.

"There's this sort of cultural cringe here in New Zealand where on the one hand there's this sort of nationalism and pride, and on the other hand there's this lack of confidence about whether they are comparable to the rest of the world. They are."

No successor has yet been named to replace Skoog at RNZB, with a decision expected by the end of this month.

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