Poetic start to practice

Performer, choreographer, solo mum, student and contemporary dance teacher – Claire O’Neil has a lot on her plate.

Originally from Wellington, O’Neil is performing in Ross McCormack’s world premiere of Age, a dance work in the New Zealand Festival.

She is studying her Masters in Dance at Auckland University, but her interest in contemporary dance developed while growing up in Eastbourne.

“I started quite young with the pathway many go – doing tap and jazz – and in 1990 I went to the Performing Arts School in Auckland. I then spent 10-12 years travelling between Auckland and Wellington, moving to where the work was. You had to take the work to survive.”

Since then O’Neil has co-directed the Company Blue Vault , studied contemporary dance in New York and London, and taught at prestigious schools in Europe, where she has been for the past 10 years.

O’Neil found herself naturally drawn to contemporary dance rather than more show-business genres.

“I think people get scared of that word ‘contemporary’ – there is a bit of a stereotype existing that it’s a bit weird, but there’s many ways of approaching it and it’s about letting go.

“I don’t find the future of tap, jazz and ballet interesting because it always goes on to a competitive level and it’s a high entertainment aspect, but contemporary dance works a lot more with ideas and concepts and I find that very satisfying.”

O’Neil was six months pregnant with her daughter Iris when rehearsals for Age began.

“Being pregnant didn’t make it harder to dance. It was beautiful. I had a body double who helped out if I couldn’t do something but generally it felt easy.

“In fact, it was almost poetic having the big belly and the story being about generations,” she adds.

O’Neil says her tip for juggling all aspects of life is more simple than one might think: breathe.

“I realise that I could easily get overloaded and perhaps crushed by the load but I’m very much living in the moment. I prepare and plan but take each moment with ease and a positive outlook and embrace what comes towards me.”

Age opens this Thursday at Papa’s Soundings Theatre and runs until Sunday. Tickets $48 at ticketek.co.nz.

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