31 October 2016 at 1.01pm | Comment on this article
The tap-dancers in Dmitry Shostakovich’s The Nose are a highlight of Barrie Kosky’s Royal Opera production. In a Broadway-esque interjection, a troupe of energetic dancers appear on stage, take centre stage and tap away in slick synchronization – but they are all performing in giant nose costumes.
‘We spent seven weeks rehearsing to work it all out’, reveals Australian dancer Cameron Ball, one of the ten men inside the noses. At six feet tall, he is one of the ‘leggier' noses in the line-up. The dancers also appear in several other guises, performing as showgirls, prostitutes and policeman in various scenes that make up the production. They match Shostakovich’s witty score which draws upon a montage of musical styles from tap to jazz and folk to slapstick.
‘I never thought my opera debut would be as a tap-dancing nose’ says Ball. ‘But opera is surprising. It’s very exciting to be a part of something so different and I think the audience will be entertained whether they are opera fans or not.’
Each dancer is harnessed into the nose and there’s a light mesh on the inside, so that they can see. Ball says that the noses even had to practice falling over, so that they were primed to get themselves up again should the worst happen.
‘We had to rehearse how we’d get up again!’ laughs Ball. ‘So if, god forbid, one of us trips, we know that we need to roll to the side. Getting dragged off stage by the legs wouldn't be a good look!’
It’s no surprise this kind of detail was considered during rehearsals of The Nose. With an on-stage cast of more than 80, each scene was carefully choreographed.
‘It’s a controlled energy and hyperactivity’, says Ball. Choreographer Otto Pichler had a clear idea of how he wanted the dancers to interact with the other characters on stage, and both he and Kosky encouraged each dancer to bring their personality to their performance. ‘The dancers are really there to inject an extra intensity, danger and excitement to the piece’, explains Ball. ‘It’s full-on, exhausting, give-everything-you’ve-got kind of dancing. It’s great.’
The ten dancers rehearsed separately before being brought into the stage rehearsals at the opera house where they integrated with the Royal Opera Chorus.
‘The Chorus are amazing’, says Ball. ‘One day, they are in their underwear for The Nose and then you see them working on Così fan tutte dressed head to toe in evening dress.’
Despite performing in musicals across the world, the scale of The Nose both surprised and impressed Ball. ‘It’s pretty mind-blowing that all the props and costumes were made in this very building – it’s been so incredible to be a part of bringing this mad vision to life!’
‘Barrie isn’t afraid to make bold, visually arresting choices', Ball says of the production’s director. ‘He likes things to be in your face. That’s quite liberating.’
Although he enjoys donning his nose costume, Ball’s favourite scene sees him and his fellow dancers dress as bearded showgirls:
‘Turning up to rehearse and putting on fishnets, a corset, heels and a big beard breaks the ice very quickly with your fellow performers!’
The Nose is a co-production with Komische Oper Berlin and Opera Australia.
It is staged with generous philanthropic support from Hamish and Sophie Forsyth, The Tsukanov Family Foundation and The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund.
Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk runs 12–27 April 2018. Tickets will go onsale on 31 January 2018.