Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Tonia Looker Talks Dance, Premiere of “Giselle” in North America

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Principal dancers Gillian Murphy and Qi Huan in Royal New Zealand Ballet's "Giselle," which has performances January 31-February 2 at The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. (Evan Li)

Principal dancers Gillian Murphy and Qi Huan in Royal New Zealand Ballet's "Giselle," which has performances January 31-February 2 at The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. (Evan Li)

The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) is embarking on a two-week tour in four major cities throughout the U.S., including a stop in Los Angeles this weekend.

RNZB’s making a North American premiere with “Giselle,” and they’re bringing this show to The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Four performances are scheduled January 31 through February 2.

“Giselle,” first staged in Paris in 1841, includes a live orchestra with music by Adolphe Adam and choreography by Johan Kobborg & Ethan Stiefel (after Marius Petipa).

Stiefel also serves as RNZB’s Artistic Director.

“Giselle” is a romantic ballet of “how the power of forgiveness and redemption can overcome the anguish of love and betrayal.”

Tonia Looker is one of the RNZB dancers in “Giselle.” Looker debuted with the company in 2008; she’s performed in “RED,” “Peter Pan,” “La Sylphide,” “Romeo & Juliet,” “Petrouchka” and “The Sleeping Beauty.”

In an exclusive interview for Living Out Loud, Looker spoke about her career, RNZB, work with Stiefel, “Giselle” and much more.

Living Out Loud: How did you first get involved with dance?
Tonia Looker: I started when I was 3 years old. I basically could just not keep still.

LOL: You were awarded a scholarship in 2007 to train with the School of American Ballet in New York and Toronto’s National Ballet School. How was that experience, and how did that affect your career moving forward?
TL: That changed me quite dramatically, actually. I only had experience with dancing on one side of the world. I got to see my first snow. It was also very humbling to meet so many new people and dancers, and seeing a new take on dance, a new perspective. You also forge life-long friendships, and I’m still in contact with a lot of those people I met on that trip. It was great.

Tonia Looker

Tonia Looker

LOL: Over the years, what would you consider to be the biggest reward from practicing this profession?
TL: Definitely performing. When you get on stage, you get to basically give out all the hard work you put in the studio, and you claim the reward that is performing.

LOL: How has your experience been working for the Royal New Zealand Ballet?
TL: Working here in New Zealand has been wonderful. We’re very lucky that we also have the opportunity to travel and perform overseas like we’re about to do. One of my fondest memories is definitely performing outdoors in France.

LOL: You’re originally from Australia. How similar or different is it from New Zealand?
TL: There are some differences, definitely. It might be hard to tell, but the accent is different.

LOL: What can you tell us about your experiences working with RNZB’s Artistic Director, Ethan Stiefel?
TL: It’s wonderful getting to work with Ethan. We were all star-struck when he joined the company because he’s one of the most famous names in the ballet world. We couldn’t believe he was coming all the way over here. It’s been wonderful having him here. He brings a very positive energy to the studio, and a very motivating person to have as an artistic head.RNZB Giselle - Myrtha (Abigail Boyle) and Hilarion (Jacob Chown) CREDIT ...[1]

LOL: ‘Giselle,’ is premiering this weekend in Los Angeles. What can you tell us about this production?
TL: ‘Giselle’ is one of the most classic forms of ballet. The story is very beautiful and touching. It’s a love story, and there’s a love triangle involved. It’s all about creating new love and broken hearts. It’s quite powerful and we have after-death scenes. The costumes have been very well-made. We have a lot of colorful costumes in the first act, and we also feature the long, classical ballet tutu skirts in the second act. A lot has gone into this, and it’s a slightly different version from the original.

LOL: Why should people watch ‘Giselle’?
TL: I would say that the musical score and the story alone is well-worth experiencing. It takes you on an emotional journey just watching it. It’s a great thing to be able to see.

LOL: Have you ever been to LA before?
TL: No, I haven’t. I’ve stopped by the airport but that’s about it (laughs).

LOL: How much are you looking forward to coming here and performing?
TL: I can’t wait. The company has never performed in LA before. You see and hear so many things on TV, you almost expect to see something out of ‘Entourage,’ you know? It’s just a bit surreal. I can’t wait to actually see LA.

LOL: What are some of your hobbies? What do you do when you have some free time?
TL: I always like to keep busy so I cram as much as I can into my free time. I actually study photography on the side, and I have my own blog ( where I post my photographs. I also post about what life is like as a dancer, and dancing in New Zealand.


Royal New Zealand Ballet
Friday, January 31 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, February 1 at 2 & 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, February 2 at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $35-128

The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 972-0711

Marvin Vasquez is a Senior Staff Reporter for Living Out Loud - LA, covering lifestyle, entertainment and sports. Follow him on Twitter: @geo_la
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