Back to previous page

Education Resource Kit:
Meeting Karpovsky

- a contemporary devised theatre/dance work by Willow Productions

Dear Teachers

Thankyou for your enquiry. You can also download our Education Resource Kit as a 650k PDF file below. It may take a few minutes to load.

Education Resource Kit

Please note you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view and print this file. For more information, please email us.


1. Introduction

This resource is still in draft form but we wanted to have some information ready for teachers during our 2004 tour. Any suggestions would be very much appreciated. Please email Because of the nature of the plot of Meeting Karpovsky, there is some information we have not included here and there are some things in the resource best withheld from students until after they have seen the production. In section three we have suggested which parts should be given to students before they come to the play. Don’t forget the rest of the website for more reviews, photographs and tour itinerary.

2. Curriculum links


Unit Standard
Level 114169Explore mime skills

Achievement Standards
Level 190007(1.2) Use elements and conventions to devise, structure and perform a drama
 90010(1.6) Understand and reflect on drama processes and performance, applied to a new context
Level 290301(2.3) Use elements and conventions to structure, record and perform devised drama
 90304(2.6) Apply knowledge of, respond to and make judgements about drama processes and performance
Level 390609(3.3) Use elements and conventions to devise, script and perform individual drama
 90612(3.6) Analyse, apply and reflect critically on drama processes and performance in a new context

3. How to use the resource

Meeting Karpovsky is a contemporary devised work and this resource can be used:

  1. as a preparation for viewing Meeting Karpovsky (Sections 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 & 11)
  2. as a basis for lessons afterwards (All sections)
  3. as a preparation for external exams and the questions on live productions.

4. How we devised the play
    by Helen Moulder


Meeting Karpovsky was created by Sue Rider, Sir Jon Trimmer and myself, from a germ of an idea I had a few years ago. The aim of the project was to produce a new interdisciplinary theatre/dance work for Jon, a male ballet dancer and me, a female actor – in collaboration with an Australian director/dramaturg, combining our different artforms in a performance work which interwove acting, ballet and movement and with a soundscape of spoken word, music and silence. The play took over a year to complete, most of it in a part-time capacity, while we were working on other projects.

First ideas

I’ll have to confess to begin with, that I’ve always wanted to dance with Jon Trimmer. I knew I’d never be asked to be in a ballet – I’m not a dancer - and Jon, although he has had acting roles in opera and on television, has not worked in the intimate theatre, so I didn’t see how it would ever be possible. I first saw Jon dance in 1967 in the title role of Petrushka (see below) and then we worked together in 1985 in Maurice Gee’s children’s TV series, The Fireraiser, in which he played the title role. I was impressed then, not only with what a calm and centred person he was, but how exquisitely he moved, how at-home he was in his body - even his simplest gesture was beautiful. I thought how wonderful it would be to work with him on stage – perhaps some of that at-homeness would rub off on me. I guess I must have started thinking then, but ideas didn’t begin to emerge in my mind consciously till about the year 2000.

Telling someone

In August 2001, Cathy Downes, artistic director of the Court Theatre in Christchurch, and I were trying to find a play on which to work at the Court with Sue Rider, a wonderful Australian director whom we wanted to invite over. I told Cathy that I had had an idea for some time for a new piece with myself and Jon Trimmer, but had never summed up the courage to ask him. “Maybe he’s too busy – (he was still performing with the Royal NZ Ballet at 62 years of age!) Maybe he wont like the idea. Maybe he wont want to work with me!” All that. “Write!” Cathy said.

Asking Sir Jon

So I took the bull by the horns and wrote Jon a letter. I asked him if he would be interested in a play, which we would create ourselves, about a woman and a famous ballet dancer. We would use some of the great roles of Jon’s career, especially if possible that of Petrushka and weave them into the story-telling and it would be a sort of mixture of theatre, movement, dance and music.

Explaining the idea

I told him that I had a simple idea for a story. It would be about a woman who had always loved the ballet as an audience member and who was an admirer of a particular famous dancer whose large photographs she would have on her wall. The woman would have been knocked off balance by something in her life. Somehow the woman and the dancer would meet and through teaching her to dance, he would help her find her way back to centre. Other ideas included a room full of boxes which would be unpacked and a scene where the dancer served the woman tea in willow pattern teacups to gentle music from Bach’s St Matthew Passion. The main theme would be about balance - physical and emotional. I sent off the letter in much trepidation and Jon replied almost immediately. He really liked the idea and so did the Royal NZ Ballet, who agreed that he could work on the project as part of his 2002 contract. I was ecstatic.

Finding a director and dramaturg

I then sent the idea to Sue Rider in Australia. Sue and I had known each other when she was Artistic Director of La Boite Theatre, Brisbane and we’d worked together on several exciting projects in the early 90’s. I knew she loved interdisciplinary work, so was delighted when she was keen to help us wri te this piece and also direct it.

Arranging a performance space

The Court Theatre agreed we could have Court Two in November 2002, for the premiere production, so we had an idea, a cast, a director, a theatre and dates, but as yet no play. How would we write it with Sue being in Australia and Jon and I in NZ?

Finding a set and lighting designer

We decided to ask two well-known theatre professionals, David Thornley to design the set and Joe Hayes to design the lights. I had worked with David before and both Jon and I had worked with Joe.


Almost immediately we began to get together a funding application to Creative New Zealand for a workshop in July 2002 and the premiere production at the Court Theatre in November. It took a lot of work, but helped us put our ideas into words and look at the practical side of budgeting, marketing.

Beginning to create

We decided that the three of us would contribute to the process as follows: Helen would write the dialogue, workshop it with Jon and discuss with Sue Jon would choreograph the dancing and workshop it with Helen Sue would guide and contribute to the creation process and then put the whole thing together. First of all Jon and I met several times in September 2001. The Royal NZ Ballet gave us rehearsal space in the company studios in Courtenay Place. The first few times I was very nervous. What would we do. Would I try and dance with this famous dancer? How would we improvise? Our working title was “The Woman and the Dancer”. We had already decided that the woman would talk and the dancer would be silent, that he would communicate physically with mime, dance and stillness and that somehow we would find a way of communicating that combined acting and dance.

Beginning research

To break the ice we looked at a few videos of Jon’s roles, because it seemed sensible to use his career as a basis for the fictitious dancer’s life. We searched for appropriate roles for the play and made a list of seven possibles - Albrecht in Giselle, the Burnt Swan in Carmina Burana, Claudius in Hamlet, the title role in Petrushka, Widow Simone in La Fille Mal Gardee, Von Rothbart in Swan Lake, Herr Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker. We weren’t sure at this stage how any of them would fit in but decided to look at the stories to see if there could be any connections between them and our fledgling story. We found recordings of these ballets at the library and listened to the music. Well I did. Jon already knew them of course. I had to give myself a crash course in ballet music, stories and terms as my character would be an expert. I borrowed books from the library with titles like Writing a Play, 101 Stories of the Great Ballets, The Writers Guide to Character Traits, Dance Me A Story, A Dictionary of Ballet Terms, Anna Pavlova – her life and lots more.


We started improvising with the boxes. We didn’t know then what they contained, why they were there. We hoped that during the improvisation something would come up that would seem right. The woman would be deciding what to do with certain items. But who was she? What was her situation? Was she married, single, divorced? Did she have children, an elderly parent? What had unbalanced her? How would the dancer arrive? Who was he? What was his background? Where had the woman seen him dance? Would he be real? Would she meet him at an after show function and invite him home? Would he just turn up mysteriously? Would they dance? If so, why, how, what?

Communicating with Sue

After each session I would email or phone Sue in Australia (cheap calls on a Sunday afternoon!) and tell her what we’d been doing, and she would send back comments and suggest things to try.

Writing it all down

Everything we talked about we wrote down and I had a go at writing some dialogue. At the time, I was having fun writing limericks and wondered if it would be interesting if the woman herself might like making up limericks. I wrote some. I wrote down experiences from my own life and from friends’ lives not knowing whether they would fit in with the story or not. A woman off balance, struggling to find her way. A panic attack, rescuing a child, seeing my ex-partner in the streets of a foreign city, dreams, anything, everything.

What did we want to say?

We worked on a short statement, two or three sentences, summarising what we felt we wanted the play to say, deep down, underneath all the external and obvious things. Something philosophical. We worked very carefully on this, it took a long time, perfecting it word by word. I wont put it here however, as it was something just for us, to keep us on track. Audiences may find it or may find something else – but we don’t want to tell them what to look for.

Learning to dance

Jon and I tried out some dances, simplified by him so that I could cope with them, mostly from the ballets, but one or two from elsewhere. I enjoyed dancing with him very much and felt it was a great privilege. He was very patient.

More research

Sue suggested, amongst other things, that I research the willow as we were all very keen to use the willow pattern tea cups and we wanted to find ways to fit the willow theme into the play. I found all sorts of interesting things. That the willow is a traditional emblem of grief, that willow bark is used as an anti-inflammatory, that willows are regarded as a weed in many places having destroyed the native habitat of local wildlife, that the Chinese goddess of mercy – Kuan Yin – was often depicted holding a willow branch, that the willow pattern china had been invented by Josiah Spode in the late 18 th century, basing it on Chinese designs. Endless discoveries. What would be useful, what would be discarded?

Visiting Sue in Australia

I had planned to visit my sister in Brisbane in October 2001 and so arranged to have a few meetings with Sue at the same time. I took some of the dialogue I’d written, two draft scenes, a video of Jon and I ‘dancing’, tapes of ballet music and Bach’s St Matthew Passion. She and I met several times and we worked on the woman’s life, inventing back stories for her, trying out various characteristics to see if they would fit, inventing ideas for what was in the boxes, thinking about what might have hurt the woman, who the dancer was, how would he serve tea. Would the woman talk to the audience as a real entity or would her soliloquies be to herself? Would the photographs be up at the beginning or be put up? We went to the State Library on the banks of the Brisbane River and researched Kuan Yin, we listened to music, I pranced around Sue’s living room, trying out bits of dialogue. At the end of the week, we had a lot of ideas. What we needed now was a draft synopsis of the whole play to see how all our ideas might fit together.

Summary of the rest of the process

October – January 2002
We wrote a synopsis and prepared the funding application to Creative New Zealand. We called ourselves Willow Productions, the play Sylvia Fantastique and the characters - Sylvia Morton and Alexander Karpovsky. Over the summer, we took holidays but we were all thinking and gestating the ideas we’d had so far.

February - July 2002
Jon and I met regularly in Wellington working on our ideas and discussing them with Sue, continually adjusting the synopsis as the script took shape. We received notification that we were given funding by Creative New Zealand. We changed the title to Meeting Karpovsky. This was after a lot of experimenting, trying out ideas on friends and colleagues. We felt it had a mysterious quality and described what happened in the play better than Sylvia Fantastique.

July 2002
We held a full-time two week workshop at the Royal NZ Ballet studios in Welllington, with all three of us together for the first time. This was a very intensive working period in which the script was tested in space. One session was held with students of the NZ Drama School, exploring a combination of verbal and physical elements. The culmination of the workshop was a showing held before an invited audience of theatre and dance industry professionals and including our set designer David Thornley, who flew up from Christchurch. Audience members were invited to stay for a discussion following the showing and we also asked them to return feedback forms with more considered comments later. All of this was very helpful, with many encouraging and positive comments and much useful criticism, which helped the next stage of the creative process.

July - September 2002
We continued working on the script. Production details were sorted out - the set design, costume, lighting ideas; we found a stagemanager/operator – Geoff Nunn.

October - November 2002
Four week full-time rehearsal period and production week, during which the script continued to be adjusted.

November 9 - December 7 2002
Four week season at Court 2 Theatre, Christchurch. Some further changes were made to the script during the season.

December 2002 – February 2003
Further work was done on Scene One and a few other cuts were made, shortening the whole play by five minutes for the Circa Season.

5. The four wall posters

Sylvia has on her walls four large blown-up photographs of Alexander Karpovsky in various roles from throughout his career. Each character fits into the story of the play in some way. Having access to photographs from Sir Jon Trimmer’s career to use on the set was a wonderful resource. Here are the roles and a little bit about the ballets.

  1. Herr Drosselmeyer is the godfather to the central character, Clara, in The Nutcracker, a ballet with music by Tchaikovsky. Created in 1892, the ballet is now an annual Christmas tradition in many western countries. The story begins on the night of a Christmas Eve party and moves into Clara’s dream. Herr Drosselmeyer brings a nutcracker to the party as a present for his god-daughter Clara. He is also a magician and later mends the nutcracker when it breaks, performs other magic tricks and guides Clara in her dream to the Land of Sweets.
  2. Widow Simone is a character in the ballet La Fille Mal Gardee (the Badly Guarded Daughter). First created in 1789, this ballet was revived in 1960 and has become a popular part of many a ballet company’s repertoire. In the story, Widow Simone wants her daughter to marry a man she has chosen for her. Lise finds her own sweetheart and Widow Simone eventually relents. The role of Widow Simone is always played by a male dancer.
  3. Albrecht and Giselle. One of the most famous of all the Romantic ballets, Giselle is the story of an innocent young peasant girl who loves to dance in spite of her weak heart. She falls in love with another peasant who turns out to be Count Albrecht in disguise and already betrothed to another. When she discovers this, Giselle is driven mad by the experience, dances to her death and enters the world of the Wilis, ghosts of brides betrayed by undeserving suitors. Albrecht is racked with guilt for causing Giselle’s death and goes to find her.
  4. Petrushka. Petrushka, created in 1911 with music by Stravinsky, is one of the great ballets of the twentieth century. It is the story of a carnival puppet who comes alive and experiences human emotions. Petrushka falls in love with another puppet, the ballerina and competes for her affections with the third, a Moor. Petrushka leads a miserable life behind the show curtains, trapped in his body of straw and is treated very cruelly by the Charlatan, his creator. Eventually he breaks from his cell-like room, begins to attack the Moor, but realises he is only small and weak, and runs for his life. The Moor chases Petrushka in the late hours of the fair, and kills him. This enlivens Petrushka’s spirit, which triumphantly rises over the puppet theatre.

6. How the posters fit into the play

The character of Alexander Karpovsky is like Herr Drosselmeyer in that he could be seen as a cross between a godfather and a magician. He appears magically, is initially rather frightening and he helps Sylvia physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Widow Simone’s relationship with her daughter, Lise, relates to Sylvia’s relationship with her own daughter Anna. Sylvia wants Anna to be a certain way, cannot let her go and feels she has not looked after her properly. Sylvia also relates to Widow Simone as a woman living on her own.

Sylvia compares Albrecht to her husband, Charles, who has deceived her. She sees herself both as Giselle, the deceived woman with a broken heart and as Giselle’s mother.

Sylvia has chosen Petrushka – the puppet who learns to feel – as her last poster, because unwittingly, facing her pain is what she is learning to do. She feels like a puppet, with no control over her life, fighting, like Petrushka against her creator. When Karpovsky forces her to acknowledge her pain she is both afraid and angry with him.

7. Music

Overture to the Nutcracker - Tchaikovsky
Prelude from Giselle - Adam
Invitation to the Dance – Weber
Pas de Deux from Giselle
The Clog Dance from La Fille Mal Gardee – Herold
The Russian Dance from Petrushka - Stravinsky
The Mad Scene from Giselle
The Cell Scene from Petrushka
Erbarme Dich from the St Matthew Passion – Bach
The Glow-worm Gavotte - Lincke

8. Notes

Herr Drosselmeyer – a character in the Nutcracker ballet (see section 5)
Widow Simone – a character in the ballet La Fille Mal Gardee (see section 5)
Giselle and Albrecht – characters in the ballet Giselle (see section 5)
I have a new friend for you all - Sylvia’s first invented limerick – humorous verse with five lines and rhyming aabba
Senegal – country in Africa
Petrushka – The central character in the ballet Petrushka
“Oh Blithe new-comer” - quotation from Wordsworth’s To the Cuckoo
“Earth has not anything to show more fair” - opening line of Wordsworth’s sonnet On Westminster Bridge
Wisteria – a climbing flowering plant introduced into England from China in 1816
Willow pattern - a blue and white china, based on chinese designs, the main elements being a weeping willow, a tea house, a fence, a bridge, three people, a boat and two birds.
La Fille Mal Gardee – ballet, The Badly Guarded Daughter
Josiah Spode - the English china manufacturer who designed the Willow Pattern
Un danseur noble – a male dancer who is the partner to a ballerina

English Breakfast, Afternoon Darjeeling, Oolong – varieties of teas
Michaelmas - feast of the archangel Michael
Cabriole devant – ballet step
Pas de bourree derriere - ballet step
Margot Fonteyn, Mikhail Barishnikov, Antoinette Sibley, Lynn Seymour, Sir Jon Trimmer, Twyla Tharp – famous ballet dancers
Plie – ballet term - bending the knees
Wili - a ghost in the ballet Giselle
Port de bras - ballet movement – move the arms
First position - ballet term relating to position of arms and legs
Epaulement – ballet term
Foxtrot - ballroom dance
Frozen shoulder – loss of motion in the shoulder
Glucosamine – treatment for arthritis believed to rehabilitate cartilage
HRT - hormone replacement therapy, a drug for post-menopausal women
Pas de Deux - dance in ballet for two people

“I galloped, Dirk galloped, we galloped all three” – from Browning’s How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix
“Are you washed in the Blood of the Lamb?” – Salvation Army song, the lamb referrring to Jesus Christ
“They met, they wooed and made exchange of vow” - line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Fifth – ballet term relating to position of the arms and legs
Fourth – ballet term relating to position of arms and legs
Anna Pavlova - famous Russian ballet dancer. Visited New Zealand in 1926. The Chef of her hotel in Dunedin named the Pavlova dessert after her.
Dachshund – small sausage shaped dog
“That’s my last husband painted on the wall, looking as if he were alive” referring to Browning’s My Last Duchess – “That’s my last Duchess painted...”

Clog Dance - Widow Simone’s famous dance in clogs from La Fille Mal Gardee.
Lladro - a famous Spanish china manufacturer
Porcelain – a very fine earthenware
Pavlova’s Gavotte – one of Pavlova’s most popular dances, which she danced in NZ, to music by Lincke.
Ballerina – one of the other puppet characters in Petrushka, the one Petrushka loves.

Heart-burn – a pain in the oesophagus caused by rising stomach acid
ECG - electrocardiogram
Moor – the other puppet character in Petrushka
Russian Dance – the puppets’ dance in Petrushka, when they are first revealed at the fair.
Economic Development in the Third World - University Economics textbook
Quince – a hard yellowish pearshaped fruit
“I shop, therefore I am” referring to “I think, therefore I am” - Descartes
Armageddon – enormous world war (Biblical)

“There is a willow grows aslant the brook” – Shakespeare’s Hamlet
“On such a night stood Dido with a willow in her hand” - Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice
“On a tree by a river” - song from The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan
The Cell Scene – Petrushka’s desperate dance to escape, when he is thrown into his cell by his creator, the Charlatan. The walls are covered with pictures of ice and there is a huge photograph of the Charlatan.

Booths - another English china manufacturer
Kuan Yin – Chinese goddess of mercy often shown holding a baby and with a willow in her hand
Credit Scheme – micro credit schemes are used successfully in third world countries to loan very small amounts of money to people wanting to set up businesses.

9. What to look for – ideas for students coming to Meeting Karpovsky

  1. How the wall posters fit into the story
  2. Images: mother & daughter, willows, religious, China
  3. How the abilities of the two performers have been used in the creation of the work
  4. How the dancing is integrated in the work
  5. The set design, lighting, music, sound, silence, movement, mime and choreography
  6. Ways in which you learn about Sylvia and her daughter Anna.

10. Critical Response

See Reviews page.

11. People involved in the production

See The Artists page.

12. How to access the script

If you would like to have a copy of the script and the writing process of Scene One just print out this form and return it to us. Press the Back button to return to this page when you are done.