Trying to negotiate New York traffic is a nightmare at the best of times, so the thought of shooting four Australian Ballet dancers in white tutus, red lipstick and black sunnies crossing crazy Sixth Avenue might seem like pure madness.

Not if you’re photographer Lisa Tomasetti.

“I wanted to shoot four [Swan Lake] cygnets on the crossing in the busiest street of the most iconic city, and I said to the girls, ‘As the walk sign goes off you’ll have 10 seconds, so when I say so, jump, because we’ll only have three goes at it before there are buses screaming down on us,” Tomasetti says. “Then I looked around and a truck driver had got out and was stopping traffic for us, while a taxi driver wound down his window and yelled, ‘You’ve made me so happy!’ New Yorkers, I bloody love them!”

As the international tour photographer for the Australian Ballet, Tomasetti’s work has taken her to Paris, Shanghai and Tokyo, and put her in some incongruous situations. During the most recent tour to China she recruited a local “fixer” to translate for her in the hutongs – traditional communal courtyard dwellings of Beijing. “It makes me look at cities differently, I try to find side streets that aren’t so touristy,” she says.

Tomasetti has worked with the Australian Ballet since 2008, but also shoots production shots for the Sydney Theatre Company and Opera Australia. She does stills for television series and films, including The Sapphires and Star Wars Episode II. One of the most memorable images in Australian cinema history – a naked Geoffrey Rush jumping on a trampoline with cheerful abandon wearing only in an overcoat and white zinc in Shine – was Tomasetti’s.

When it comes to outdoor dance photography, Tomasetti is mindful the dancers are often on hard surfaces, so she works fast and efficiently to prevent injury to the dancers, who she says are unfailingly professional and amenable.

“There are some brilliant dance photographers, but I wanted to create that juxtaposition between the urban landscapes of these iconic cities and the classical finery. Even though the shots might be a bit humorous or kooky, they’re still technically respectful, and the dancers are often smiling, so hopefully a sense of their personality comes through.”

Lisa Tomasetti: the Australian Ballet on the International Stage is at .M Contemporary gallery in Woollahra until November 25.

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