Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Bold Moves opens in Wellington tomorrow night and tours nationally until Sunday 15 September. To celebrate, express caught up with RNZB’s Executive Director Lester McGrath, a ‘bold mover’ in his own right, he helped bring theatre to Auckland’s waterfront and has produced shows all around the world. He talks to Oliver Hall about his career highlights.

For you what have been the most notable differences from working at ATC to working at RNZB?

The Royal New Zealand Ballet is a national flagship company which tours from Kerikeri to Invercargill, so everything is designed for touring.  We also perform in much bigger theatres than those performed in by Auckland Theatre Company.  It is exciting to engage with communities around the country, although I hope we can strengthen our presence in the main centres as well. The processes of managing a performance arts company are similar though, and the magic of performing before a live audience is always exciting. 


What are the key challenges of your role at the RNZB?

I work closely with the Artistic Director and I lead the team which supports the artistic vision and leadership of the organisation.  The challenges are similar to those faced by all performing arts organisations.  The world we live in is changing rapidly and organisations need to adapt to these changes.  Customer expectations are markedly different from what they were ten years ago.  The art form is also evolving and there is increasing competition for audiences.  I think the RNZB is well placed to take these on these challenges and the future is bright for the company.

During your tenure at ATC you made some pretty ‘Bold Moves’ of your own, most notably helping to bring the ASB Waterfront Theatre to fruition. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired the idea for the theatre and what it took to make it happen?

It took a massive amount of effort from many people to bring this dream project to fruition over an eight-year period.  There were hundreds of people involved in one capacity or another, and we simply couldn’t have done it without everyone who was behind the project or contributed to it.  

Auckland had suffered from not having a dedicated mid-scale venue for theatre and dance, and ATC had long struggled with venue availability. We also wanted to create a contemporary space where people from all walks of life would feel welcome.  It is heartening to see how people have responded to it, now that it has been open for a couple of years.  Annual events such as the New Zealand International Film Festival also bring new audiences to it, which is a real bonus. 

What are the greatest positives and greatest negatives about being a gay man working in the arts?

I guess the arts has always been a welcoming environment for new ideas and people who bring different perspectives.  It attracts creative people, as well as people who want to make a difference to the world we live in. It can be a very affirming environment when the work you create connects and resonates with audiences.   

What do you think is the most pressing issue facing NZ’s Arts Community at the moment?

Funding is always an issue, as well as advocacy for why the arts matter and what they contribute to a healthy society.  In some places around New Zealand, there are infrastructure issues which prove challenging, particularly when it comes to suitable venues and production facilities.  

What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the NZ gay community at the moment?

I think the answer would vary depending on who you ask, as people draw on their own experiences and we are a diverse community.  Rights for Transgender people, high rates of gay teen youth suicide and violence against LGBTQI people come to mind.   

Why should express readers be getting excited about RNZB’s Bold Moves?

Fabulous dancing first and foremost!  It is a programme of works from choreographers in the 20th and 21st century boldly pushed boundaries to capture the zeitgeist through dance. Watching the works of George Balanchine, William Forsythe and Andrea Schermoly is like diving into a book of perfectly formed short stories – each one so rich and engaging that you want to read them over and over again.


RNZB’s Bold Moves features brave, bright and beautiful works from George Balanchine, Willian Forsythe and Andrea Schermoly. These dance works define nearly a century of dance.

Tickets are available here.

Check out rehearsal footage here.