The Eighties new-wave rock band Split Enz remain an institution in their homeland, New Zealand. Its members were odd-looking even for the time, with wild, be-quiffed hairdos and Saturday Night Fever-style clothing. Now, as a homage, the choreographer Mark Baldwin has titled his new dance piece FrENZy, after their 1978 album of that name.
"They did have a hit in the UK with 'Six Months in a Leaky Boat'," Baldwin recalls. "Unfortunately, the single came out the same time as the Falklands War, so it wasn't played much."
The group disbanded in 1985 - bowing out with "Enz with a Bang!" - and junior member Neil Finn (younger brother of Split Enz's founder Tim) went on to form Crowded House.
Baldwin is the artistic director of Rambert Dance Company, and this is his first work for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, which is embarking on its first UK tour, beginning at Sadler's Wells. The company of 32 dancers, under the artistic directorship of Gary Harris, will dance a full-length ballet, Romeo and Juliet, and a triple-bill programme. FrENZy is the finale in the triple bill; the other pieces are Milagros by Javier De Frutos (set to music from Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring) and Saltarello by Christopher Hampson, inspired by Boccaccio's Decameron.
Baldwin, born in Fiji, studied painting at the Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland where, coincidentally, Noel Crombie and Phil Judd of Split Enz were fellow students. While there, he also trained as a dancer at the New Zealand Dance Centre. "Eventually I chose dance," he says, "because I always knew I could get a job quickly as a dancer, but not as a painter."
Baldwin joined the New Zealand Ballet Company, and was later a member of the Australian Dance Theatre and the Rambert Dance Company. In 1992, after 12 years, he left Rambert to follow his "choreographic calling", forming the Mark Baldwin Dance Company in 1993.
FrENZy, already a hit in New Zealand, brings to life Split Enz's greatest hits, including "Shark Attack", "Charlie", "Poor Boy", "Dirty Creature" and "Six Months in a Leaky Boat". How does Baldwin make a three-minute pop song work for ballet? He set about graphically illustrating the songs, with a little help from Tim Finn. "The stage will be packed with about 28 dancers," says Baldwin. "It relies on buoyancy" Pointe shoes, silver tutus, and zoot suits, in designs by Tracy Grant, will capture the humour of the band.
"The track 'Nobody Takes Me Seriously' sees a lonely guy on stage," Baldwin says. "'Six Months in a Leaky Boat' is about a couple and their relationship. 'Shark Attack' is about a man who has been dumped by several girlfriends. 'I See Red' has angry people dancing. It's like a rock concert, with ballet.
"This piece cured me of my snobbery. I have choreographed to the great classical composers, but when it was suggested that I create a ballet to the music of Split Enz - I thought, why not?"
Royal New Zealand Ballet triple bill, Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1 (020-7863 8000) tomorrow and Wednesday; then touring (www.nzballet.org.nz)Reuse content