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East and West collide in Madame Butterfly

East and West collide in The TOWER Season of Madame Butterfly, a tragic tale of love and betrayal presented by the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Danced to Puccini's score, with choreography by Australian Stanton Welch, it is a richly shaded and passionate rendition of the famous love story. Set in Japan on the eve of the 20th century, the ballet revolves around the beautiful geisha Cio-Cio San, known as Madame Butterfly.

She sacrifices everything for love: renouncing her faith and her family to marry Lieutenant Pinkerton. What begins as an arranged marriage is little more than a onenight stand for him, but for Butterfly, it means much more. He deserts her, only to resurface years later with an American wife. Abandoned and betrayed, Butterfly is left with one honourable course of action.

Welch burst on to the international dance scene in the 90s and has since secured a place as one of the most celebrated talents in the contemporary ballet scene. Marrying classical dance with dramatic flair, he gets to the very heart of the tragedy. The ravishing wedding night pas de deux, a performance standout.

Says Welch: “Everyone at some point in their lives has loved someone more than they were loved back. “I have tried to follow closely the opera’s storyline, changing only what I thought necessary to achieve the same dramatic effect through movement.” …MORE

Asked why he set about transforming one of the world’s most loved operas to ballet, Welch says he wasn’t the first to have the idea: “Years and years ago, Frederick Ashton wanted to do Madame Butterfly. So John Lanchbery condensed the Puccini score for him. However, it never happened because at that time the music was still under copyright. Butterfly is also the first opera I ever saw with my father, who told me that one day he was going to do a ballet on it. It never came about, and so I did it. Opera fans will be offended by the lack of voices, but dancers deserve the chance to dance to Puccini's gorgeous music.”

Lanchbery’s arrangement of the haunting score imaginatively uses different instruments, notably the cello, in place of the human voice. Peter Farmer’s sets evoke the mystery and languor of 19th century Japan, providing a picturesque backdrop for the passionate, dishonest relationship between Butterfly and Pinkerton. First performed by the Australian Ballet in 1995, Madame Butterfly has become a signature work for Welch, with companies in the USA, Singapore and Canada including it in their repertoire.

The Melbourne Age pronounced it “a triumph", and The New York Post said the work was "a vividly compelling piece of dance theater". The TOWER Season of Madame Butterfly will be a homecoming tour for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, following its prestigious six-centre, six-week tour of the UK. The season opens in Wellington on 23 July. For more on the company, visit


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