This elegant new film from the director of Crossing Rachmaninoff takes us backstage at the Royal New Zealand Ballet as a brilliantly theatrical European interpretation of a New Zealand classic re-enters the culture that inspired it.
Czech choreographer Jiří Bubeníček and his twin brother and designer, Otto are stars in the European dance world, creators of vital, innovative contemporary ballets. Director Rebecca Tansley (Crossing Rachmaninoff) follows them from Prague to Aotearoa as they take up an invitation from the Royal New Zealand Ballet to expand their adaptation, made in Germany in 2015, of Jane Campion’s film. Tansley’s documentary feasts on the sheer beauty of the Bubeníčeks’ work – the music, the theatricality, the costumes, the suite of achingly expressive pas de deux at the heart of the piece.
It also presents a delicately traced picture of the Old World at sea in the New, and vice versa. The Bubeníčeks arrive apparently unaware that the work they have been invited to stage poses significant problems for Moss Patterson, the Māori cultural adviser contracted by the RNZB. (The original ballet gave prominent place to ‘Ka Mate’.) Only someone who’s never worked in the New Zealand cultural sector could be surprised as the ensuing struggle, signally embedded in the 2015 work, unfolds over the four weeks before opening night.
Tansley sees Bubeníček’s dismay, but above all she celebrates his vigour and enthusiasm for communication. She observes the enormous reserves of skill and discipline required of classical performers, all the more to savour the thrill when everything takes flight. Intercutting rehearsal and performance, The Heart Dances weaves a seductive, elegant celebration of a vital, centuries-old art that still has a squillion tiny dancers line up to audition for the Anna Paquin role.