When Czech choreographer Jiri Bubenicek and his stage designer brother Otto arrive in New Zealand to restage an extended version of their work The Piano: the ballet for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the stage is set for a voyage into uncharted territory for everyone involved. The twins, both former Principal Dancers, are now sought-after by Europe’s most eminent ballet companies for their choreography and staging, but they are unaware that in New Zealand their work raises questions of cultural appropriation.
Over the coming weeks the brothers must work together with Māori cultural advisor Moss Te Ururangi Patterson to adapt the work for a New Zealand context, the very process challenging concepts of freedom of expression so important to them both. Meanwhile the dancers responsible for delivering the ballet face challenges of a different kind as they come to terms with the famous characters of Ada, Stewart and Baines and the love triangle they are caught up in. They also discover that retelling this story raises questions – in their case about inter-personal rather than inter-cultural relationships.
As the premiere date approaches, and the company works behind the scenes to bring the many elements of this memorable story together, aspects of the film that inspired the ballet continue to be played out – old world versus new, new relationships, new challenges, new understandings – while Jiří and Otto discover the responsibilities of storytelling in dance are more complex than they imagined.