On tour with The Australian Ballet, photographer Lisa Tomasetti had a brainwave.
“It just came to me when I was in Paris on that first tour to take the dancers to the streets: for their interior world to meet the exterior,” Tomasetti says. “What I love about taking them to the streets is that they get to play. It’s an unusual take on a traditional ballet portrait and we get to see the public’s response to these incredible athletes.”
She was more accustomed to general performance photography when she suggested to The Australian Ballet’s artistic director, David McAllister, that she travel with the dancers to Paris in 2006.
As an admirer of her work, he agreed and she has been the company’s official tour photographer ever since. She pushes the dancers and they trust her enough to comply.
“I learnt on the job, got more involved and the Ballet had such a good media response from the photos that we went from there.”
About 50 of Tomasetti’s photographs feature in a new book, The Australian Ballet on the International Stage. The publication is timed as a tribute to McAllister’s final year at the company and he has written a foreword.
“He taught me so much about reading the beat of the orchestra to work in with the dancers and it’s about respecting the years and years of training,” Tomasetti says.
Here, the photographer reflects on some of her favourite shots.
Tiananmen Square, 2018
“Dana Stephensen (soloist) was in the beautiful bluebird costume from David McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty and I really wanted to photograph her in front of the iconic photo of Mao Zedong to capture that east/west feeling. It was a holiday in Beijing on the day of the shoot so there were thousands of people and Dana was walking from the theatre with me in her pointe shoes. She was about to step on stage so I grabbed her quickly.
“I asked her to do a leap and a quirky man appeared doing the peace sign in shot. We were taking a few shots when a policeman came up to us and he wanted to take my memory card. The other police on approach were fine with it so this was terrifying. I said to Dana ‘run’. So we ran away, she was still in her pointe shoes.
“Still, I love the pure joy on Dana’s face and I like the fact it was so difficult to photograph but we got a good result.”
NYPD, taken in Times Square, New York, 2012
“On these tours I can only scout for locations that are 15-20 minutes from the theatre because the dancers have such hectic schedules. We were doing Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake at the Lincoln Centre so I took (former) principal artist Reiko Hombo to the streets and I saw this policeman who looked like something out of style casting. I mean, he was even eating doughnuts. I said to Reiko, ‘I’m going to get you to jump’. I told the policeman to look straight down the lens and he looked totally disinterested which was just what I wanted.
“I offered him tickets to the ballet, I offered him a copy of the image but he didn’t want anything. He wasn’t impressed at all. I guess a policeman in New York has seen it all.
“For me, it’s always about the narrative of the arts running through the urban landscape. The more gritty and every day, the more interesting the juxtaposition with the ballerinas so I’m really happy with this archetypal image.”
Cygnets On 6th Avenue, 2012
“The dancers had just been interviewed for a TV show so I asked David if I could take them to those teeming streets.
“We got to the intersection of Lexington and 6th Avenue and it was perfect because I wanted to get that sense of a concrete metropolis. It’s an incredibly busy intersection so I told the girls that as soon as the lights stopped, I’d run to the middle, and they could come to the middle as soon as they got the ‘walk’ signal. We worked out the pose first and we had two attempts until the marketing person yelled at us to get off the road.
The dancers were so up for it and they were so happy. One taxi driver turned around the corner and shouted at us that we’d made him so happy and a truck driver got out to stop the cars for us. There were a bunch of young girls waiting at the lights to thank us.
I get into a zone with these photos. I don’t want to get hurt or put myself into ridiculous danger but there’s a real adrenalin rush to get the shot and once you get it, it feels like a wonderful celebration.
Shinagawa Station, Tokyo, 2014
Lana Jones (Gaudiello) only had a few minutes to do the shot and the station was near the theatre. What I loved about that location is that it had a big arc and all the commuters formed a sea of black heads who were like the black birds in Swan Lake with Lana as the blonde, white swan gliding through the air.
She just took two steps and did her grand jete. The Japanese people are so polite that they kept trying to give her space and bowed to her but I actually wanted them to get closer. We were there at peak hour so there were hundreds of people and Lana was so brave. I always promise David the dancers won’t ever come back injured but you have to think on the run and go with what you’ve got.
The Australian Ballet on the International Stage, $85, can be pre-ordered by contacting the photographer at www.lisatomasetti.com.au and will be in bookstores mid-November.