Making cultural connections and communicating with others on a grand scale is what most makers and directors of movies dream about. What sort of alchemy is involved in creating a great work? What magical power does it take to transmute something many would see as of little value, into a substance of great value? How do we all find the key to dancing our own way to success on the great stage of life?
A Life Lived in Fear is a Life Half Lived*
Baz Luhrmann, fresh from his dazzling telling of F Scott Fitzgerald’s tale of love, loss and betrayal The Great Gatsby, is trading mansions, millionaires, Hollywood and its many hills to return to his roots at Sydney, the place where his own enriching journey in life and art began as a student in Sydney at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA).
Together with a talented team of his creative colleagues Baz Luhrmann’s going to stage, produce and present Strictly Ballroom The Musical, an all dancing all dazzling theatrical version of his successful and now classic hit movie. It will commence in Sydney in March 2014. Tickets on Sale at 9am on Monday 12 August.
Like all competitive students in training to have a place in the entertainment industry, Baz Luhrmann had a dream as small boy growing up in rural Australia and drew on his own knowledge of the world of dance to imagine this story, one that he had been involved in all of his life. Luhrmann’s parents danced in Ballroom competitions and his father’s movie theatre helped a youthful Baz to foster his own creativity until he arrived at NIDA, where as part of an exercise he told his poignant tale about a boy and a girl.
Made in 1992 featuring Paul Mercurio as Scott Hastings and Tara Morice as Fran of renowned excellence, the film was all about two people together taking a great leap of faith proving that anyone can fashion the future they want so long as they don’t live their life in fear. This all new, singing and dance production will showcase all the magic of the music from the original film, as well as additional compositions.
At the Sydney launch for the musical Baz Luhrmann noted ” I think the simple truth is that, despite all the sequins, outrageous hairdos and classic Hollywood musical plotting, the simple message that there isn’t only one way to cha cha cha, and that within us all we have the true potential to dance through life with our own steps is something that appeals to all of us. The message that life doesn’t have to be strictly ballroom is something I hope to have our audiences carry with them as they dance down the aisles.”
It was a perennial story; girl meets boy, and girl falls in love with boy and wants to do anything to help him, support him and please him. However he barely notices her, especially among the sequinned society in which he moves where preposterous prejudices and presuppositions often seem to rule people and their lives.
Together they soared, sparkled and stylishly danced the Pasa Doble, as well as their way into the hearts and minds of millions of people in different cultures all around the world in a fabulous production designed by the girl who had taken Baz Luhrmann’s own heart at NIDA, Catherine Martin.
Baz Luhrmann certainly has that special something, that defining characteristic, which enables him to reach beyond what most people think they see to create a world in which they can not only see, but want passionately to be part of. He understands that the most serious quest in life is the never-ending quest for love and acceptance.
Luhrmann has commitment to excellence and his creativity has not only inspired his whole generation, but also ensured that we all sat up and took notice of his genius, one that he has since proved many times despite ‘entertainment’ critics often giving him a hard time.
In Australia arts and culture play an essential role in the life of every Australian and today creativity is central to Australia’s economic and social success. It’s a little known fact that the cultural sector is a significant and growing part of the economy and actually generates more revenue and employs more people than many other essential industry sectors, including agriculture, electricity and gas, which is why this project has government support.
George Souris, Minister for Tourism, Major Events and the Arts, said at the launch “The world premiere of Strictly Ballroom The Musical is one of the most anticipated entertainment events on the NSW Events Calendar. We are expecting enormous interest from Sydneysiders and interstate and international audiences who will no doubt flock to Sydney for this theatrical extravaganza when the show opens in March 2014.”
Mercurio and Morice were both very convincing as they came together and became an invincible force. The film originally received a long-standing ovation when it played at the Cannes Film Festival, where an agent of Rank Films promptly snapped up the UK release rights.
Who will ever forget the ugly duckling Fran who turned into a swan? She was at first barely noticed against the bevvy of beauties on the ballroom dance floor, with her plain dress, pimply face with no make up, flat shoes and long lank hairstyle as she learned to sachet, cha cha, samba, rhumba, quick step and finally triumph and dance a terrific tango of love.
Fran’s all about helping Scott to overcome his fears about ‘breaking the rules’ of the dance code that he so desperately wants to succeed within.
He has the moves, the magic of crowd-pleasing steps and much more, but in the end after a serious of tragic but hilarious mishaps, he finds that he does not have the partner that he needs to dance with in the competition and win.
This is a role Fran so desperately wants to play and as she helps him he helps her right back. Can they both rise to the occasion? What will it take for them both to fulfill their dreams. Every obstacle you can think of trips her up until eventually it happens in the place where all aspiring ballroom dancers of Scott’s milieu seek to win, the finals of the Australian Pan Pacific Championships.
This is where officials, led in brilliant bullying style by ‘Barry Fife’ played by celebrated Aussie actor Bill Hunter, try desperately to stop Fran and Scott showing off their brand new moves and breaking the code of the Australian Dance Federation.
Fortunately they don’t succeed because everyone is finally on Fran and Scott’s side.
It was his mother (Pat Thomson) who first filled Scott with fear, transferring the guilt and shame she felt when his own father (Barry Otto) ‘broke the rules’ of the dance code so many moons ago. This secret has burdened the family for most of their lives, and about a time when the prejudiced people around them cast them out into a pit of lost pride.
Fran we learn has had her own crosses to bear, but she works so hard to surmount all her own challenges we can’t help but admire her. Revealing a wisdom that belies her years, she does all she can to make Scott ‘see the light’ too so that he will be true to himself and surmount his fears.
These happen in secret at night in her family’s house, which was actually a set built onto an existing railway station in Sydney.
Fran and Scott’s success together means that all those around them who have been harbouring secrets and shame can finally all be released from the pain of the purgatory so that they can once more feel pride in achievement.
To win Fran and Scott passionately dance a stirring Paso Doble, which was a style of dance originating in southern France just after World War II. It took the ballroom dancing world by storm, modelled on the sound, drama and movement of the role of the Matador in a Spanish bullfight.
In this final scene Scott is wearing the film’s most expensive costume, a dazzling sequin encrusted matador style jacket, which took some six weeks to make, above sleek black high waisted pants and shoes imported from Spain for the movie. Fran is wearing a fabulous ‘red’ dress, taking the part of the matador’s cape.
The music for Scott and Fran’s final great Paso Doble was like the rest of the music in the movie, integral to its success and guaranteed that everyone watching’s emotions were running high.
Time after Time, Love is in the Air, Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps, the Blue Danube Waltz, Standing in the Rain, Tequila and Happy Feet all had everyone wanting to dance as if no one was watching.
The Pasa Doble written by the Spanish bandleader, who wrote music for his band to play at bullfights in Madrid Pascual Marquina Narro (1873-1948) and Mariano Tallada – Marquina, the España Cañi is one of the most famous of all the instrumental pieces in Spanish music history.
This particular rendition had everyone clapping and stamping their feet in encouragement. It was arranged and played by Australian musician and composer David Hirschfelder and his wonderfully named Bogo Pogo Orchestra.
While there were key Australian notable dancers in the movie among the principal cast, including Paul Mercurio, Todd McKenney, Antonio Vargas, Sonia Kruger, and Leonie Page, Tara Morice who performed so admirably, was a non dancer before making the movie.
The most wonderful piece of trivia to know about the movie is that Baz and his talented team shot the final scene of the film first and at a real dance competition during the 1-hour lunch break! He’s indomitable.
Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom the movie struck a resounding chord back in the day, one that has resonated long and loudly ever since. It was a story for all Australians in the land born as an English penal colony, which by the 1990’s, had evolved into a multicultural land of opportunity, one in which layers of diversity and the motifs and elements of other cultures were enriching us all.
From its early beginnings as a classroom exercise at NIDA, which met morphed into a play staged by The Sydney Theatre Company featuring Baz Luhrmann, Strictly Ballroom became a triumph of both art and industry when he made it a movie. Now that he’s turning it into a musical commencing in Sydney on 25th March 2014, at the Lyric Theatre, it will surely will be one that will bedazzle us all.
Good on you Baz and Catherine it’s hard not to imagine that the show will be simply sensational and a credit to your ongoing success. You have become vital role models and an inspiration for all young Australians looking to succeed in the creative world.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013
Tickets on Sale at 9am on Monday 12 August
Venue: Sydney Lyric, The Star
Dates: Previews from Tuesday 25 March, 2014
Opening Night Saturday 12 April and Performance Times: Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday at 1pm & 8pm, Thursday at 8pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm and Sunday at 3pm
Strictly Ballroom was one of the most successful Australian films of all time, earning more than $80 million at the box office. It was winner of the Prix de Jeunnesse and runner up for the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Strictly Ballroom also swept the field at the 1992 Australian Film Institute Awards (AFI’s), gaining 13 nominations and winning in eight major categories
*Quote: Baz Luhrman’s Strictly Ballroom the Musical