INTERVIEW | LUCAS NEWLAND
While he has had some set-backs as a dancer, Lucas Newland is happy he channeled his passion for the industry into choreography and helping train the next generation of Australian artists.
Chris Duncan recently spoke with Lucas about his work in Las Vegas, the touring disco-show Velvet and upcoming rock-musical American Idiot. He shares his perspectives on evolving as a choreographer and why he wishes he had done more classical ballet as a student!
Q: What have you been up to lately? … You’ve choreographed Velvet?
Lucas: Yes, Velvet started about two years ago and we spent the last two years touring Australia and then went over to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We’ve just re-cast the show and recently set it up in Perth for the Perth Fringe Festival and it next tours 10 months all around Australia again. It’s a lot of fun! CLICK HERE for the VELVET AUS & NZ TOUR DETAILS
Q: Tell me a little bit about Velvet and what was your creative input?
Lucas: The cast is made up of the incredible Marcia Hines … I tell you she can sing! Her voice is timeless and she’s got so much power behind it she’s a true professional. The rest of the cast is made up of two awesome young ladies that are almost like her backup singers. We call them her ‘sirens’ and they have a couple of songs in the show and are the kind of glue that holds the show together … they’re in every scene. There’s another lead male and then about 4 or 5 different circus acts that make up the cast.
There’s a loose narrative throughout the show and it’s all about abandonment and freedom. It’s based loosely on a ‘Studio 54-seventies-New York’ kind of vibe … about going to see a show that makes people feel really great about themselves when they leave. It’s told through some great disco music … you don’t realise how incredible the lyrics are to disco music until you take away the beat from that song and listen to the lyrics … which are usually really awesome!
Q: So in terms of your creative input was it just choreography?
Lucas: I was brought on to do the choreography because I’ve worked on other circus-based productions in Vegas … so I think that kind of skill set as well as choreography mesh together to make me the right kind of guy for the job I guess! It was interesting making up the choreography, getting inspiration from traditional kind of disco styles and then interspersing it with more modern, current styles.
Q: For our readers, can you outline some of your previous work?
Lucas: I choreographed a show called Absinthe in Vegas at Cesar’s Palace which just got voted the best show of all time in Vegas history!! … which is pretty cool. Absinthe has been running there since 2011. After that I did another show over there called Vegas Nocturne at the Rose.Rabbit.Lie. which opened at ‘The Cosmopolitan’ and that was a huge kind of masterpiece and ran for 2 or 3 years. I guess, from doing those kind of shows that got me into this kind of ‘Velvet-land’ as well.
Q: Back home, you are now working on big rock musical American Idiot – tell us about it?
Lucas: I start work this week on American Idiot, which is really exciting. American Idiot is based on the music narrative in the album by Green Day. It’s my first big musical, even though this show isn’t a traditional type of musical. It opens in Brisbane so I am moving up there for a month to rehearse. It’s really exciting … we’ve just secured Chris Cheney who’s the lead singer of The Living End and Phil Jamison from Grinspoon. The cast is pretty amazing! READ MORE ABOUT AMERICAN IDIOT HERE
Q: What were some of the highlights of your earlier career?
Lucas: I’ve done a wide variety of things … I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself or say no to work so I kind of went from things like musical theatre to live TV performances to live theatre. I also hosted The Barney Show throughout Asia, which was a lot of fun! I did a whole heap of different things. I knew from a young age that I wanted to choreograph, and as I got older I realised I didn’t love performing as much as I loved to choreograph. As I got older I was definitely fine to not be the person on stage. Now that I’m older the thought of going on stage scares me.
Q: So what gave you your first step as a choreographer?
Lucas: Choreography is such a strange thing… young dancers think choreography is just about making up steps to music that they like. Ultimately, it’s about a client coming to you with a brief and saying ‘this is what I want you to do, this is the music, these are the dancers you’ve got, this is the costuming… let’s make something great!’.
So, I originally started as a teacher and enjoyed choreographing and making up content for the purpose of a class. Then, once I started working in plays and circuses with non-dancers is when I really found my passion for choreography… because that’s what ultimately choreography is… you’re not always choreographing for dancers, you’re choreographing more as a movement coach. Sometimes it’s with a singer who is not a good dancer and I think that’s where the art of a good choreographer comes in it’s own… from being able to connect with people that don’t have that really strong dance skill set.
I think young choreographers need to keep that in mind. It’s not always getting to throw on Beyoncé and jiggle around or to make up the most cutting-edge, current choreography … that’s not always where the work is.
Q: Who inspires you as a choreographer?
Lucas: When I was younger I didn’t want to watch other choreographers work because I didn’t want to feel like I was copying. Sometimes you don’t do it knowingly, but the steps feel familiar. As I’ve gotten older and become more comfortable with how I choreograph, I now feel good to watch other people’s work and see what I think works, or doesn’t.
I had a kind of choreographic breakthrough when I went over to the States one year and did classes with Wade Robson. Before that, I always tried to fill every half count and it was always a lot of choreography. From doing a few classes with him made me realise that I needed to sit back and look at what the audience is looking at and not be so self indulgent with trying to cover every single half count. You’ve got to kind of step away from what it feels like to execute and look at what it looks like from an audience perspective. So I think I was inspired by that realisation and it was a big change for me as a choreographer.
Q: And are you a bathroom singer Lucas Newland?
Lucas: I’m a singer everywhere! I will sing anything, especially in the car and around the office. I lost my voice at the end of last year for about 8 weeks and it was torture but I’m in full vocal health now and I’m back hitting my high notes.
Q: You’ve had some physical health problems. How has that affected you creatively?
Lucas: It seems I was never meant to be too much of a dancer, as I’ve always had some kind of problem with my spine. Over the last few years I’ve had two separate spinal surgeries and I think that it kind of put into perspective that I probably should have taken a bit better care of my body. In saying that, my doctor said my spine looks like that of a 70 year old!
I wish I had done more classical ballet to be honest. I feel like ballet is the gym for a dancer. I think that if I had have done more of that I would have had less injury. Now I’m kind of just getting back into yoga and Pilates and things like that to get some more strength and hopefully not have to have another surgery for another 10 years.
But I guess I’m lucky in a way that I had a passion for choreography and for business… so I have reorganised myself into something with longevity.
Q: So you’ve redirected your passions and energy?
Lucas: I kind of always knew that I wanted to be my own boss… So running Brent Street – that I knew inside out and back to front – is great. I can mesh my business interests with my passion for the performing arts industry and especially for training to achieve some really exciting things. It’s been two years, but I feel like I’m really just getting started! … I have huge plans for changing the way that people train in Australia and supporting dancers getting into the industry is my passion.