When you’re making your professional musical theatre debut, you may as well go big. Like Phantom of the Opera. On Sydney Harbour. The annual Handa event, when Opening Night sees Sydney’s glitterati turning out in droves to witness spectacular productions co-starring the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, sparkling performance-perfect in the background.
That’s pretty damn big. And dancer come singer Tianna Koolloos doesn’t underestimate the enormity of it.
“Yes, it’s a huge debut,” she laughed. “A dream come true.”
But while it may be a quantum leap onto the illustrious overwater stage for the 20-year-0ld from Collaroy Plateau, it’s the result of a lifelong ambition and years of gruelling, hard work.
Tianna attended her first classes in classical ballet at the age of three, followed by performances in musical theatre with Stage Artz Performing Arts School. At 13, she left Mackellar Girls High to study ballet full time at Tanya Pearson’s Academy, punishing days dancing from 8.30 to 5.30 and completing long-distance education in between.
“I always wanted to become a ballet dancer, so I had to leave school to focus solely on it. It’s just what you do,” she said.
Was it at the encouragement parents, eager to see their daughter perform? Perhaps accomplish what they didn’t?
“No, not at all,” she laughed. “My dad is a builder and my mum is an accountant. Mum is tone deaf, my dad’s not that bad at singing, but he’s not great. But one of my older brothers has graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts, so who knows where it came from.”
Tianna spent her last year of study with the Conlan College and with the help of her tutors distributed show reels to as many dance schools as possible to enable her to further her studies. While she received many offers back, she settled on the Joffrey Ballet School, and at the age of 16 left for Chicago.
She stayed for two years and while she was too young to perform with the Joffrey company, she did score a role with the American Ballet Theatre’s production of Whipped Cream.
“I didn’t do much dancing in the role though,” she admitted. “I had a massive gumball thing on my head and the costume wouldn’t allow it. But it was a lot of fun.”
Tianna returned to Australia in 2020, thinking she’d stay just a few weeks before pursuing other opportunities overseas. However COVID hit, leaving Tianna resigned to staying put and in between auditions she works as a support worker at Fighting Chance, a job close to her heart with an older brother unable to walk or talk because of severe epilepsy.
Auditioning for Phantom last year was a job in itself. The first step to send a video of her dancing two solos and a “snippet” of singing. Three call-backs came, each requiring a video of selected choreography and song.
“My final audition was in person,” she said. “I didn’t have an agent at the time, so all the correspondence was directly with me and just before Christmas I was sitting on the couch with dad and one of my brothers, when the email came through that I had a role. Dad just stood up and swung me around in a massive hug and mum cried. It was a big moment.”
Tianna’s focus has changed a little over the years, with her first discipline more contemporary, followed by ballet and then “anything else thrown in”. As part of the ensemble in Phantom, she’s one of six singer/dancers, performing three songs, a lot of dance and “heaps” of costume changes. Rehearsals are not for the faint hearted, usually from 1pm to 10 pm six days a week.
“At first there was a lot of standing around,” Tianna said. “It’s not just cool choreography, we’ve got to fill the whole stage, so it’s working hard to make it look appealing to the eye.”
Meanwhile, while it will be tough to top performing in a Handa production of Phantom, Tianna definitely sees her future in musicals.
“Singing and dancing all together on stage stirs something inside of you, it gives you warmth,” she said. “You never understand until you do it. It’s an awesome experience.”
Read Wendy Kay’s review of Phantom Of the Opera on Sydney Harbour here.