Behind the scenes at our Vogue shoot

05 October 2012 | By Eli Wallis

What happens when you cross surf and Swan Lake? Impossible glamour! Publicist Eli Wallis gives us the inside story of our 50th anniversary shoot in the November issue of Vogue Australia. On sale now!

Dancers are well accustomed to the changes of environment that regular touring brings. Likewise, the company’s hundreds of costumes are often shipped off to foreign theatres. But recently, The Australian Ballet experienced a location like no other. In celebration of the company’s 50th anniversary, the creative fashion team at Vogue Australia took our dancers out of the theatre and into a quintessentially Australian locale – the beach.

A selection of 90 exquisite costumes, from traditional tutus and Prince Charming brocade jackets to contemporary barely-there leotards, were flown to Sydney in crates, tea chests, tutu bags and hat boxes. Eight lucky dancers traded their “theatre tans” (similar to one you’d get moon-baking) for sunscreen, sunglasses and a day in the sun.

With a sunrise start to the shoot, we assumed we would have South Maroubra beach to ourselves, but the first rays of sun revealed the black silhouettes of early morning surfers along the horizon. Star fashion photographer Will Davidson and ballerina Halaina Hills checked out the beach while the other dancers trawled the racks of costumes and had a caffeine hit in the make-up chairs. As the crew set up a make-shift sandy studio on the crest of a dune, Halaina warmed up with some Pilates stretches. In the soft morning light she glistened in a costume from the dawn of The Australian Ballet, a gold Raymonda tutu worn by legend Marilyn Jones.

Once everyone had found costumes and joined the crew on the beach, it became clear that the small sand dune set-up was the place to be. Realising we were in for a day of it, the fashion team relocated the must-have trailer contents to the dune, instantly creating a party-like gathering of tents, equipment and costume racks.

Having performed lead roles the night before, Principal Artists Amber Scott and Adam Bull arrived mid-morning to find the shoot well underway. Lending his artistry to Will’s vision, Artistic Director David McAllister directed the dancers into poetic formations as surfers landed on the shoreline behind them. The infectiously enthusiastic Jake Mangakahia leapt through the air from a mini-trampoline ground into the shore as David McAllister held out metres of sheer tulle in his wake. In the bright midday sun Amy Harris and Ty King-Wall struck poses in nude costumes, their bodies blending into the sand.

Adam, who was eyeing the perfect surf conditions as he waited for his next shot,  had already been in the ocean at his home beach, Manly, earlier that morning. One of the dancers pointed out that Adam’s tights were already wet from the previous picture and similar in material to bathers. Not needing any more encouragement, Adam slipped his shoes off and dived into the crystal green water as Will raced to capture the spontaneous moment on camera.

With the sun high in the sky and fresh sunscreen needed, we broke ready for lunch. Over a beach picnic in the shade of the tents, David McAllister shared with the Vogue fashion team the history of the costumes we were using.

After lunch the team decide to change location and move further down the beach. As the tide was low, a sand bank had appeared, and Will had an idea. He directed three couples, dressed in costumes that resembled classic swimming costumes of yesteryear, into the shallows. We were under instruction to keep the costumes dry, which is no mean feat at the beach with costumes that look like bathers. After several attempts at synchronised lifts on the shoreline, some of the costumes were already wet from the ocean spray off the breaking waves. Having given up on returning home with dry costumes, the dancers embraced the waves and played in the shallows without concern for the water or the gathering crowd. Had it not been for the blazing Australian sun and curious onlookers we could have been in From Here to Eternity.

Will had his shot, we had all had our Hollywood moment and the dancers had filled their pointe shoes with sand. The girls laughed at the thrill of dancing in the afternoon surf as they washed their shoes out in the sea.

Heading back to our tent party, we surveyed the remaining costumes. The afternoon sun was slowly setting, but there were still a few rays spilling across the dunes. Opting for warmth, the ingenious Vogue fashion team customised a pair of woollen legwarmers for Sarah Thompson by running a vegetable grater along the legs to rip and snag the fabric. When these were teamed with a romantic tutu, Sarah looked both graceful and warm.

The big beach outing had drawn to a close for the historic costumes and they were carefully packed away into touring crates. South Sydney surfers were catching their last rides of the day in the setting sun. But there was one more shot playing on Will’s mind. Amber Scott swiftly transformed into classic romantic heroine Giselle and ran to the rocky outcrop at the end of the beach. Will followed Amber as she glided along the shore, trailing a swathe of white tulle in the fading twilight.

See the magic final results of the shoot  in the November issue of Vogue Australia, on sale now