By Elise West
This June, the acclaimed St Petersburg Ballet rolls into Melbourne to perform the iconic Swan Lake. It’s part of the company’s international tour, and getting the great big show on the road is all the work of Footscray local, Lizzie Coles.
Q. How did your career in theatre begin?
My love of ballet started with classes at the age of four. I was never very good but I could skip around the ballet studio faster than anyone else. I was also very lucky to have attended a number of amazing theatre performances from a very early age with my grandmother who had a strong appreciation for live performance and thought it an important part of life. I remember seeing 42nd Street at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth when I was five and thinking – I want to be a part of this – the excitement… the hush as the lights go down and the anticipation of the performance to come.
Q. How did you come to work with the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre?
I was very lucky to join Andrew Guild & Simon Bryce at Theatre Tours Australia almost a year ago. Theatre Tours produce and promote a wide variety of live entertainment including the internationally acclaimed St Petersburg Ballet Theatre. This is the fourth time that Theatre Tours have toured company and it’s an amazing opportunity to be working such a talented company… sometimes I have to pinch myself.
Q. What are your responsibilities?
Good question! Whatever needs doing at the time… I can be organising 52 performances to go on sale in three different countries one minute and buying power adapters for hair dryers the next. I do whatever it takes to make sure that the audience has the greatest experience possible.
Q. Swan Lake was first performed in Moscow in 1877. Why does this ballet endure?
The music, the beautiful choreography, the stunning tutus, the tradition… when people think ballet they think Swan Lake. And, to see the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre perform it with 55 dancers on stage and the amazing sets and costumes is unforgettable. I must have seen it dozens of times but there’s always something new that I see or feel.
Q. Do different national audiences have different responses to Swan Lake? Is a Paris audience different from a Cape Town audience?
I don’t think that the responses vary that much between countries. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy ballet so much – it’s a non-verbal language that translates across cultures. The response is always the same when the curtain rises and the audience takes in the stunning sets – they are awe-inspiring.
Q. Can you describe the logistics of internationally touring a ballet production?
Planning for this tour started over a year ago with venue bookings and of course rehearsals. The 55 cubic meters of freight left St Petersburg in early April and by the time it gets back it will have been on eight different ships, several trucks and 4 aero planes. Touring a company of over 60 people means that accommodation bookings are key. It can be very difficult finding appropriate accommodation that is close to the performance venues for that many people. When you’re coordinating freight, flights and accommodation for a tour to four countries with performances in 6 different venues you need to keep your wits about you!
Q. Are ballet dancers the highly-strung, sensitive individuals we seem to think they are? Can you tell us a funny story?
Not at all! The dancers of St Petersburg Ballet Theatre are some of the best in the world and like all professionals they take what they do very seriously – but while on tour we also have a lot of fun. We all work very closely together and some days a very long but being able to have a laugh together is what keeps you going. In terms of funny stories… I’m afraid to say that what happens on tour stays on tour.
Q. Ballet is firmly a part of Russian culture, but in Australia there is debate about the role of ‘elite’ art forms such as ballet. What role, in your opinion, do the classical arts play in a modern society such as Australia?
I think it’s a pity that ballet is considered by some to be elitist. For me, a performance like St Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake is pure entertainment. I believe that there should be as broad a range of entertainment available to the public as possible – all arts play an important part in a society.
Q. How did you come to live in Footscray?
I’ve always loved Footscray, so when a good friend of mine was in need of a housemate and I jumped at the opportunity to move.
Q. What do you miss about Footscray when you’re on the road?
The dumplings and the markets… and Yum cha… and the food!