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Tutus & Tame

Let's hear it for inky tarns.

BALLET

Old-style romance was alive and well - in ballet anyway. This year the Royal New Zealand Ballet's emphasis on classical ballet paid off handsomely. And the company's policy of engaging both overseas and local dancers and creative teams ensured an international profile without compromising Kiwi integrity.

Best Production Magical was the word for the RNZB's new production of Cinderella. Choreographed by Christopher Hampson, designed by Tracy Grant Lord, with lighting by Nick Schlieper, its all-round excellence wowed audiences here and on a recent Chinese tour.

Runner-up The RNZB's Swan Lake celebrated two New Zealanders' extraordinary gifts. Veteran choreographer Russell Kerr closed his career with an erudite adaptation of the original choreography; Kristian Fredrikson's set and costume design confirmed the benchmark for splendour. Expat guest artists added excitement to the roles of the Swan Queen and Prince.

Best Female Dancer Technically accomplished Yu Takayama was a sexy partner in Concerto Pas de Deux, Tutus on Tour. As Cinderella she embodied endearing vulnerability and quiet determination.

Runner-up Katie Hurst-Saxton is an elegant, sensitive dancer. In Tutus her solo in Raymonda Variations was precise and dramatic; her Cinderella charming, utterly believable.

Best Male Dancer Qi Huan's Prince in Cinderella accomplished harrowing feats - multiple turns without a waver; swooping high leaps. A romantic, assured partner, he impressed in Concerto Pas de Deux.

Runner-up Michael Braun was a needle-sharp court jester in Swan Lake, a responsive yet commanding Prince in Cinderella.

CONTEMPORARY DANCE

2007 has seen a strong focus on socio-political themes, with hard-hitting works. The sophisticated redefining of performance space and skilled integration of multi-media were evident in a number of exciting productions.

Best Contemporary Choreographer Tempest by Lemi Ponifasio's MAU Dance Company brought Shakespeare's themes of statelessness and colonisation into the present. A political, insightful work, it featured Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui, dancers from ecologically fragile Kiribati and activist Tame Iti.

Runner-up Daniel Belton's beautiful Stitchbirds shifted dancers in and out of frames of light in subtly flowing movement, at times as if caught in freeze-frame.

Best Production Aoraki, by Louise Potiki Bryant: an extraordinary solo work integrated film, live dance, video and sound to create a mountain world where light, rain, inky tarns and swooping keas appeared transmuted from the Southern Alps into the dance space.

Best New Work by Emerging Choreographer Moss Patterson's Whakairo (Atamira Dance Collective) was devastating dance theatre: an unflinching story of family disintegration and child abuse.

Runner-up The Leaning Tower of Penchant (Back Lit Productions) was sophisticated and ever-so-slightly disturbing for those with a hankering for shoes, mirrors and tea.

Best Female Dancer Julia Milsom's intelligent artistry was consummate in all performances, particularly in Locked where she revealed unsparing strength and balance. Also remarkable this year were Louise Potiki Bryant, Liana Yew and Dolina Wehipeihana.

Best Male Dancer Paul Young is an outstanding theatrical and movement artist. In Dark Tourists, he was an edgy, pivotal figure; his partnering in Bones and Locked was fluid, strong and receptive. Maaka Pepene, Jeremy Poi, Jack Gray, Peter Takapuna and Sean MacDonald also gave outstanding performances.

DANCE FILM

Shona McCullagh's Break re-creates the splintered reality of a mother leaving her family. Daniel Belton's After Dürer explores Dürer, German Renaissance painter and mathematician. Time-travelling, Belton, as both alchemist and object, creates dance housed within a magic digital architecture.

INTERNATIONAL DANCE

Sadly, our physical isolation and box-office pressures dictated that only international companies' safe programmes reached our shores; cutting-edge works remained out-of-bounds.

Best Production French dance company Ballet Preljocaj's whimsical and light-hearted Les Saisons 4 offered European nuance and sexy interplay between women and men.

Runner-up Complexions Contemporary Ballet pushed unrelenting physicality and technical perfection, with Afro-American themes, dominating masculinity and New York pizazz. Breathing space for performer and audience alike was in short supply.