Two art forms, one narrative, Luca Ionescu talks type and ballet

Published:  August 3, 2015
Gemma Pass

Contrary to what many people may think (and have been exposed to) ballet is a progressive art form that changes as much in its style and technique as any other visual art form such as illustration, typography or painting. In the same way that not all paintings look like something out of the Renaissance, not all ballet looks like a traditional take of Swan Lake. While this may be completely obvious to a dancer or someone well versed in the arts; for many of us who haven’t seen a diverse range of ballet styles, the painting analogy enables us to challenge our existing perceptions and think outside the box.


For the first time in Australia, this emphasis on seeing ballet in a new way has been pushed to the forefront with the introduction of a new series of unique artist-dancer collaborations revealed to announce the 2015 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award nominees. Considered to be the most prestigious prize in Australian ballet, it has uncovered some of The Australia Ballet’s brightest stars, including seven previous winners who have risen through the ranks to reach Principal Artist status. Featuring leading Australian and international artists and designers such as renowned typographer, Luca Ionescu, who has worked with the likes of Nike and Baz Luhrmann on the art direction, branding and typography of The Great Gatsby; the unique collaborations between the dancers and artists will allow Australians to explore the exchange between different art forms and tell the dancers stories.

desktop caught up with Luca and award nominee, Amanda McGuigan, where we had a chat about their unique collaboration and the relationship between their two creative mediums.

Like ballet, typography is a means of communicating. What was your approach in telling Amanda’s story?

L: Amanda is so full of energy and passion for her craft that we immediately had a connection. For the video we combined the energy from Amanda’s live performance into freestyle lettering that described her feelings about dance, as well as a large sculptural quote “Dark Without This” which is the way Amanda describes what life would be like for her as an artist without dance and freedom of expression.

Image by The Australian Ballet

You have recently collaborated with Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann on his esteemed production of The Great Gatsby; did you find that designing for motion graphics helped you to effectively articulate your ideas within the ballet medium?

L: Our approach was definitely of the mindset to capture the motion and spirit of dance. Our approach using 3D lettering was one of the mediums we used for Amanda to perform amongst the sculptures thus combining dance and typography. Also, the unique advantage of this collaboration is Amanda’s presence and performance in the space. Unlike a regular client brief where you are taking inspiration from stills, video or written material- it’s all happening there in the moment … her movements and energy was inspiring our immediate visual output.

Image by The Australian Ballet

Do you think the work of all typographers could be translated as well to the ballet medium and the story you wished to communicate?

A: I’m fortunate to have met and worked with a number of great artists in my life, but it’s rare to find someone who has a gift of bringing the artist out in someone else. Luca came from a really sincere place and we instantly connected. He understood that the way I feel about my art form is more than just the physical realisation of technique, steps and movement; it’s emotional. He somehow managed to capture that in our collaboration.  He aligned my words, lines, shapes and movement with his art form and gave them beauty, emotion and a sense of permanency.

So do I think another typographer could of produced the same results? No.  He did it perfectly and that’s a reflection of why he’s considered one of the best in his field.

Image by The Australian Ballet

How do your approaches, methods, and strategies differ from Luca’s? What did you learn from each other?

A: What I found really surprising throughout the experience of working with Luca was not so much the differences but the similarities in what we do. In both our art forms we start from a place of structure and technique- the director’s instructions to Luca on a project, and the choreographer teaching a dancer a new ballet. This is just the base. The tipping point is when you have the technique but push the boundaries further.  I feel true beauty lies in the artists’ personal touches that make it unique to him or herself.  How they communicate their emotions, story and feelings through their art form defines them.  Otherwise it would just be letters and steps. The lesson I learnt from him was to find power in my words. As a dancer we are communicating all the time through our bodies emotions, through his understanding of words he helped me articulate how I really feel about what I do.

How have you seen choreography in ballet change over the course of your career to appeal to an expanding and diversified audience?

A: Of course choreography is evolving; it’s been extremely exciting in recent years as ballet is more recognised. It’s being pushed to the forefront of various mediums in the entertainment industry; attracting amazing choreographers and artist from other industries. Musicians like Mark Ronson and the White Stripes, fashion icons like Victor and Rolf-all collaborating on making new works and pushing dancers to new limits. All this helps in attracting newer audiences. 

For a look at the other artist-dancer collaborations, visit here 


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