By Kristy Johnson.
Renowned Australian choreographer Stephen Baynes, most notably recognised for his work with The Australian Ballet, is lending his hand to the opera.
An epic new outdoor production of Verdi’s tragic love story La Traviata, will see 16 dancers become a part of the visual spectacle, taking place on Sydney Harbour this March. Perfect for first-time opera-goers, you can expect beautiful costumes, fireworks, spectacular sets and well-rehearsed choreography, all under a 9-metre chandelier made with Swarovski Elements.
Dance Informa sat down with Stephen during rehearsals to discuss the process and challenges of choreographing for the opera.
How have rehearsals been so far?
It’s such an unusual set-up with this amazing huge stage and quite an unusual configuration too. We’ve had a week out at Olympic Park with the singers, but this is actually my first time with the dancers today. And the dancers are great. It’s been good.
Is there any difference choreographing for an opera, as opposed to the ballet?
Oh yes. As far as making up steps, it’s not that different really. I think the particular thing about this situation is that in a way, the actual choreography is the actual steps. Whilst they’re important, we want to have something that looks good. It’s more like the atmosphere you create and how it’s going to combine with the chorus in this particular thing, how it’s going to come together as a whole. In fact, I didn’t really want ‘oh here come the dancers to do their little debut’. I want it to be really organic, but this party is a really out there party. It’s quite an underground type of thing and these people are all dressed up. They’re dressed up as gypsies and matadors, and they’re putting on a show.
During the audition phase were you looking for dancers with a strong contemporary or ballet background?
They had to have a bit of a classical background I think. It’s like singing; you need someone with that basic training. Contemporary wasn’t so important. It was more important that they had a good schooling and that they would be able to pick up the choreography. I wanted to see a lot of style and pizzaz and they came with that straight away.
Are the dancers from contemporary based companies?
A few of them have told me that they’ve worked with the opera quite a lot before. I think some of them are more commercial dancers, and a few girls look like they’ve come from contemporary companies.
Were you already familiar with the story of La Traviata?
Oh yes! I’ve seen the opera many, many times, so I certainly know it well, which was a help. If I was choreographing for an opera that I had never seen or heard before, that might have been difficult (laughs). I go to the opera a lot, although this is the first production I’ve actually worked on. I jumped to the challenge because I do like the opera.
And will you be returning to choreograph for The Australian Ballet in their 50th anniversary year?
Oh yes, I will be choreographing for Swan Lake. It premieres in September in Melbourne.
Get your tickets to Handa Opera On Sydney Harbour: La Traviata
To find special deals on accommodation, travel and dining packages, visit operaonsydneyharbour.com.au. Shows run from the 24th of March to 15th of April, and tickets are available through Ticketmaster.