News | 26 July 2022

Wellington's St James Theatre is ready for the ball

Wellington's St James Theatre, home of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, transforms for Cinderella.

Depiction of how Cinderella projection will appear on the St James facade

With just over a week until the world premiere of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s (RNZB) Ryman Healthcare Season of Cinderella, Wellington’s freshly re-opened St James Theatre has been given a Fairy Godmother-style transformation.

Brilliant new, bespoke animations on the facade of the St James will light up the building for two weeks from this evening (Tuesday 26 July), bringing some RNZB sparkle back to Courtenay Place.

The animations are a partnership between the RNZB, Wellington City Council and two Wellington creative companies, Click Suite and Streamliner, and celebrate the return of the national company to its Wellington home in the St James.

The St James is the RNZB’s creative base in which they create and perform the productions which go on to tour the country. The glorious, brand-new production of Cinderella, created by the dream team of choreographer Loughlan Prior and composer Claire Cowan, opens 3 August at the St James before heading off on the company’s first national tour in over a year – to Auckland, Christchurch, Napier and Dunedin.

The animations were created by the RNZB’s digital agency Click Suite by incorporating video footage of RNZB dancers with bespoke animations, 3-D modelling, and special FX. All of this was animated within a full-scale stencil of the building that was created by drone-mapping by Streamliner.

Six projectors have been used for the 15m video animation – the entire facade of the St James – in which well-known Cinderella characters appear to be in the building and responding to each other. It includes Cinderella played by Mayu Tanigaito, the Stepsisters performed by Kirby Selchow and Sara Garbowski, Prince Charming played by Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Prince Dashing played by Shae Berney, and the Fairy Godmother played by Kate Kadow. Glass slippers have been replaced by a row of colourful dancing pointe shoes.

The animations will be live until Cinderella’s carriage departs the city on Saturday 6 August.

RNZB Artistic Director Patricia Barker says: “We love that this creative celebration puts ballet dancers in the heart of Wellington, on a huge scale, reinforcing the RNZB’s commitment to, and love of this city.”

Wellington City Council’s Head of Creative Capital, Gisella Carr says: “Te Whanganui-a-Tara is very proudly the home of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Resident ballet theatres are iconic across the world – The Royal Ballet’s Royal Opera House in London and Paris Opéra Ballet’s Palais Garnier are examples. It’s exciting that digital technology is enabling us to bring the ballet from inside the St James onto the street to delight dance lovers and Courtenay Place habitués alike. We plan to do a lot more of this to add extra life and interest to our streets.

“For this enchanting, locally-made celebration, we’re also showcasing the work of two of the companies who anchor Wellington’s highly regarded creative tech sector. This projection is a superb example of innovation designed for and about Wellington, by Wellingtonians. We look forward to seeing locals and visitors to the city embracing our beloved St James, and the RNZB lighting up its home stage again.”

Click Suite Director Emily Loughnan says: “I think we’ve really captured the characters in the show; the stepsisters, in particular, were fun to exaggerate with animations. We had a crazy day shooting with everyone from dancers to camera crew contributing wonderful ideas – who knew you could pour a cup of tea for someone on a lower floor? It’s one of those jobs in which you begin not knowing quite where you will end up – historically, that’s always where our best work has come from; that leap of faith fuelled by creativity and a hairy deadline. Hopefully, we’ve made some great street-level entertainment and done the grand St James proud.”

RNZB Executive Director Lester McGrath says: “We offer our sincerest thanks to the many generous funders and partners who have supported our St James Theatre fundraising campaign – helping us raise over $4m – and the ongoing support of Wellington City Council, particularly for this brilliantly innovative celebration. We can’t wait to welcome everyone back to our home and, with building work now underway, to move back to our permanent studios, costume workroom and other facilities over the coming months.”

Feisty, funny, and fabulous, Cinderella, commissioned by Patricia Barker for the RNZB as a follow-up to 2019’s fabulously successful Hansel & Gretel, is the brainchild of award-winning ballet storyteller Prior, with a magical new score by Cowan, and fashion-forward designs by the San Francisco-based Australian designer Emma Kingsbury. Highs, lows, fairy-tale endings, and happy-ever-afters spill from the stage in every shade of the rainbow, with dancing and storytelling that will bring joy to the young – and young at heart.

The show opens 3 to 6 August at the St James Theatre but audiences best be quick as tickets are dancing out the door.