It’s been 10 years since Spartacus was staged in Australia, with the image of Stephen Heathcote in that harness entering the great Australian canon of homoerotica. Now a new generation of dancers have joined the cast, including principal dancer Matthew Trent (oh, and his boyfriend, who is also in the cast).
We’re sitting in the bowels of the Opera House, Trent is sweaty from the morning training, and during the interview a ferry, a cruise ship and the HMS Bounty replica all glide past the window. The suggestion of journeys local and global is reflected in Trent’s story, given that he’s performed in London and New York but grew up in Kyogle. Then he lets slip that his experience has been a bit Billy Elliot, referring to the 2000 film about a young boy pursuing a love of dancing under oppressive circumstances.
I grew up in a small country town in northern NSW -¦ and later got a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School, says Trent. I guess the parallels to [the film] Billy Elliot are with a northern mining town in England -¦ I don’t see myself as Billy Elliot but a few other people have decided that.
Sadly (in a sense), the comparison ends there. Trent tells me that his parents were extremely supportive, and that there was no covert dance practice. The biggest hurdle came from his own confidence and candour.
I used to run around telling everyone what I did and I thought it was great, smiles Trent. A lot of people didn’t think that -¦ I used to sort of hide out, or go home for lunch so I didn’t have to hang around in the playground and get bashed up. But luckily I left at 14 -¦
I was just doing what I wanted to do and couldn’t see that there was anything wrong with it. So when I came up against people who thought the usual clich?thing of, you know, [it’s] sissy, poofy, I couldn’t understand what that was all about. He laughs. Naively, I guess!
Covent Garden followed, with Trent dancing in works by MacMillan, Ashton and Balanchine, as well as a sojourn in New York, before (with strains of Peter Allen in the background) he headed back to the Anti-podes. After eight years with the Australian Ballet he says he couldn’t be happier, relishing a challenging and broad repertoire.
I’ve been really spoiled, because there’s a lot of roles here I never thought I’d be able to do -¦ and I’ve been given the opportunity to do them, says Trent. And now he gets to play the villainous Crassus.
He’s an arrogant prick basically! laughs Trent. It’s a good role, it’s a good character. And also, clearly, a good ballet.
It’s more of a rock eisteddfod, basically! says Trent. If people come along thinking they’re coming to a ballet, they’re not. Everyone’s wrapped up in leather, with weapons and stuff and a lot of flesh showing.
Uh-huh. So can we talk about the ever-so-subtle homoeroticism in the production?
It’s definitely there -“ as soon as you get a stage full of men dressed in leather G-strings and harnesses and things, it just sort of lends itself to that sort of thing, smiles Trent. And that’s fine by all of us. It’s sort of fun.
Obviously gay people read more into it because they want to and that’s fine, whatever you want get out of it is fine.
Spartacus runs from Tuesday 9 April to Monday 29 April at the Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House. Tickets may be booked online at www.australianballet. com.au or by phoning 9250 7777. We’re giving away a double pass to the performance on Tuesday 16 April at 7:30pm. Simply phone 9380 5266 after 11am on Friday 8 April.