Australian ballet boy becomes passionate about opera | The Murray Valley Standard

Switching from one art form to another is a difficult career change that few people can achieve.

It requires transferable skills as well as lateral thinking and a propensity to learn quickly and on the move.

Luckily for Shane Placentino, cover director of three Opera Australia productions this year, he has covered those basics and more.

Born and raised in Adelaide, Placentino danced with the Australian Ballet for a decade, reaching the level of a leading soloist before performing with the Sydney Dance Company for six years under the artistic direction of Graeme Murphy and associate. creative Janet Vernon.

Then, in his mid-30s, he developed a lower back injury.

“All of Graeme’s choreography for the partnership was: lift, turn, push!” Placentino, 49, says with an awesome laugh about Zoom during a hiatus from the rehearsal for Turandot’s production of Murphy, which opens Jan. 12.

“So my back started to give way. But since I graduated from Australian Ballet School at 19 and joined Australian Ballet at 20, turning 36 into a dancing career. is actually phenomenal and something I’m grateful for. “

Even so, it was a big blow back then.

“Janet Vernon always told me that as a dancer you die twice, and I definitely went through a period of mourning after I stopped dancing,” Placentino said.

He soon began working as a stage manager and rehearsal director for the Sydney Dance Company’s new artistic director, Rafael Bonachela, who was appointed following the departure of Murphy and Vernon in 2007.

“But I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

Towards the end of 2007, he got a call from Murphy, asking if he would like to be an assistant director on his new Aida production for Opera Australia, although Placentino is modest enough to point out that Murphy first asked someone else.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” he laughs again.

“I was learning everything on the job, really, but we made Aida in Perth in 2008 and I didn’t screw up. Then we did it in Sydney and Melbourne and I rode it for Graeme in Adelaide and Brisbane. “

After conducting an opera revival in Sydney and Melbourne in 2012-13, Placentino returned to Adelaide to teach contemporary dance.

Then, in 2015, Opera Australia reconnected to say that they would be directing Scottish opera director David McVicar’s production of Gounod’s Faust and were looking for an assistant director and an assistant choreographer.

Given his experience and skills, Placentino was able to fulfill both roles.

“Three years later, Graeme and Janet asked me to be assistant director and choreographer on their new production of The Merry Widow by Franz Lehar.”

Looks like the universe – and Opera Australia – were trying to tell him something.

“I was just thinking, I really need to try this,” he says.

“So in 2018 I told Opera Australia Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini that I was going back to Sydney and that if there was more work I would be available. And it all happened from there. “

He has since been assistant choreographer / director on the Opera Australia production of West Side Story on Sydney Harbor in 2019, assistant director on the Murphy and Vernon production of Madama Butterfly in 2019 (of which he will direct a revival in Sydney mid -2022) and has conducted covers of Faust and La Veuve Joyeuse (2019-21).

Placentino also served as cover director and choreographer for Italian director Davide Livermore’s Aida production in 2021 in Melbourne and Sydney, although the final season was an overnight affair due to COVID.

“It’s been a huge learning curve, but I’m now at a point where I’m just as comfortable being an assistant or a cover director as I am doing a choreography.”

More than anything, he is grateful to Murphy and Vernon for the support and opportunities they provided.

“I first worked with Graeme in 1994 when the Australian Ballet created their production of The Nutcracker, so we have a long-standing relationship and we strengthened it when I joined the Sydney Dance Company. “said Placentino.

“I cannot stress how much of an influence and mentor Graeme has been to me.”

Murphy says he trusts Placentino because of their long-standing relationship.

“Shane understands our modus operandi and has a lot of leads on the board, both as a recipient of my direction, as a dancer and in terms of observing and imparting information as an assistant director and director. recovery.

“What’s crucial is that he has the ability to handle an opera choir, which is truly the biggest machine on earth – a monster with many heads,” laughs Murphy.

“And they trust him and love working with him.”

Placentino is currently rehearsing Puccini’s Turandot at the Surry Hills Opera Center in Sydney.

“In this opera, especially in Act 1, Graeme has the chorus that keeps moving,” he says.

“They’re like a Greek choir in that they’re always on stage, commenting on the situation they’re in. They do it through the text – by what they sing – but also by the way they act. and move. So I ‘I treat the choir like a corps de ballet. “

As the director of the cover, Placentino’s job is to replace the original director and choreographer – Murphy in Turandot’s case – working with the cast and the conductor to ensure the integrity and consistency of vision.

“I think about how a character has to get from here to there in the story and what emotions he has to display through movements, facial expressions and gestures,” he says.

“Just like singers try to project their voices deep into the theater, I try to do the same with movement and gesture without it sounding contrived or mundane.”

Until recently, Placentino tended to approach staging quite visually.

“It’s because, as a dancer, you listen to the music – the score – and memorize the movement. I never remember looking at a score to memorize a ballet,” he says.

“But in the opera world that’s how they grow up. They open a sheet music and sing the libretto. So I try to focus more on the text because that’s how you connect. and communicate with the singers, who are not necessarily trained in movement. “

One of the singers he will put to the test this year is none other than the world’s most requested tenor, German superstar Jonas Kaufmann, who will perform Lohengrin in Melbourne from May 14 to 24.

“When I found out just before Christmas that we had secured Kaufmann, I was both excited, scared, nervous and upset,” Placentino smiles.

A co-production between Opera Australia and the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, the romantic reinterpretation of Wagner’s medieval legend is directed by French director, author and actor Olivier Py who put the opera in Berlin after World War II .

“This is my first time conducting a cover of Lohengrin, or any German opera for that matter, so I’m a newbie in some ways, but I’ll just have to study hard and make sure I know it thoroughly. . “

A far cry from the Adelaide suburbs of the 1970s, when six-year-old Placentino and a younger brother noticed three little girls across the street doing ballet in a studio in their garage. .

“My brother was quickly forced to join them,” he recalls.

“After the soccer I was going to watch them and one day their teacher saw that I was doing the movements, even though I was sitting down, and said to me, ‘Why don’t you get up and do it. you don’t? “

“As an older brother, I had a bigger ego and I was like ‘whatever he can do, I can do it’.

“So I was there dancing with my brother for a while, until he gave up and started playing football, and I kept going.”

He never really stopped.

These days, Placentino has the cream of the opera world serenading him daily.

“I feel so lucky. I have the best job in the world because I’m in the studio and I hear them every day. You can’t buy this experience. So I love it.”

For tickets and more information, visit

Associated Australian Press

About Madeline J. Carter

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