Hannah O’Neill trained as a dancer in Japan, New Zealand and Australia, before being accepted into the Paris Opera Ballet in 2011 on a seasonal contract. After another seasonal contract in 2012, in 2013 she was offered a lifetime contract and rose through the ranks until, following a performance of George Balanchine’s Ballet Imperial in March 2023, she was promoted to the highest rank, that of étoile.
Watch O’Neill below as Myrthe in Giselle in an extract from a 2021 Paris Opera Ballet production.
Or for some brief footage that shows O’Neill in a different light, watch her in the third variation from the Kingdom of the Shades scene in La Bayadère from 2020.
And especially for my New Zealand colleagues, when O’Neill was interviewed in 2021 for the French weekly, Le Point, she said, ‘Je suis une Kiwi. Pour toujours.’ The interviewer, Brigitte Hernandez, then added, ‘Kiwi, comme le petit oiseau qui ne vole pas, cette grande beauté du ballet de l’Opéra de Paris? Eh oui! Et chaque année, avant de se présenter en tutu devant le jury du concours de hiérarchie du ballet de l’Opéra de Paris, Hannah O’Neill, visage énigmatique à la Brancusi, bras infinis, jambes sublimant les arabesques, enfilait le tee-shirt des All Blacks et exécutait un petit haka pour se porter chance.’
I had the good fortune to interview O’Neill in Paris 2012 for the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) as part of the Heath Ledger Project (sadly the project lasted only a couple of years). The interview appears on the catalogue of the NFSA—brief details at this link. Below are two images I took of O’Neill after the interview had been completed, one at the Pont neuf, the other in the foyer of the hotel where the interview was conducted.
In September I continued my interviewing program for the National Film and Sound Archive’s Heath Ledger Young Artists Oral History Project with two interviews with graduating students from the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA). Tim Rutty, seen above rehearsing an aerial rope routine, is specialising in aerials and has his eye on work with Circa.
Laura Kmetko, featured on NICA’s 2014 poster below, is specialising in contortion handstands. Following an appearance in the opening number at the Festival mondial de Cirque du Demain in Paris in January 2013 she hopes to pursue her career overseas.
As we anticipate Wayne McGregor’s Chroma as part of the Australian Ballet’s 2014 program, I was interested to read about an exhibition called Thinking with the body, Wellcome collection currently showing in London until late October. A thought-provoking article about McGregor generated by this exhibition and written by Sarah Kent appeared on the arts desk site at this link.
Is it true, as Kent writes, that ‘focusing on fluent, high-energy motion devoid of emotion produces dances that feel sterile despite the brilliance of the technique’ I wonder? Below is a brief clip in which McGregor and composer Joby Talbot discuss the creation of Chroma.
Interview: Canberra Close Up
In September I was delighted to have the opportunity to talk to Alex Sloan, presenter for 666 ABC Canberra, on her radio program Canberra Close Up. The interview is available at this link.
Press for September
During September I had the opportunity of reviewing shows that were not dance focused. It loved the experience of going to the theatre for non-dance reasons, which is something I rarely have time to do.
‘Don’t skip this beat’. Review of STOMP ’13, The Canberra Times, 5 September 2013, ARTS p. 8. [Online version no longer available].
‘Beauty re-Bourne on the silver screen’. Preview story on the film version of Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, The Canberra Times, 7 September 2013, Panorama p. 15. [Online version no longer available].
‘Caught between two worlds’. Review of The Book of Everything, Canberra Rep., The Canberra Times, 17 September 2013, ARTS p. 7. [Online version no longer available].
‘The freedom for dancing’. Review of Footloose, Supa Productions, The Canberra Times, 17 September 2013, ARTS p. 6. [Online version no longer available].
‘Ballerina’s globetrotting life’. Obituary for Anna Volkova Barnes, The Canberra Times, 18 September 2013, ARTS p. 6. As a PDF.
‘Russian feast a real cracker’. Review of A Festival of Russian Ballet, Imperial Russian Ballet, The Canberra Times, 19 September 2013, ARTS p. 8. [Online version no longer available].
‘Winton’s tale of grief challenges and confronts’. Review of Tim Winton’s Shrine, Black Swan State Theatre Company, The Canberra Times, 28 September 2013, ARTS p. 20. [Online version no longer available].
Graeme Murphy’s Romeo and Juliet was a controversial addition to the repertoire of the Australian Ballet in 2011. It has been one of the most discussed productions on this website and I recall being pleased when I was able to watch a recording where I could rewind sections to appreciate better both the choreography and the dancing. That ‘rewind experience’ was, however, on a plane and looking at a tiny screen was not ideal. Now the ABC has released a DVD so we can now have the luxury of watching the production at our leisure. It features Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson in the leading roles.
I have received some photographs from the opening of Valery Voskresensky’s Ballets Russes exhibition in Moscow. I am curious about the two costumes on either side of the world map as shown above. Scheherazade and Prince Igor? I welcome other comments of course although they are difficult to see due to the lighting.
Mr Voskresensky, who received a number of awards at the opening of the exhibition, also sent a link to an article in Isvestia and as I know there are some Russian speakers amongst readers of this site here is the link. There are also some very interesting costumes shown in one of the Isvestia images.
Heath Ledger Project
In August I was delighted to record an interview with NAISDA graduate Thomas E. S. Kelly. Kelly gave a spirited account of his career to date. Kelly graduated from NAISDA in 2012 and has since been working as an independent artist. His work has included several weeks in Dubai with the Melbourne-based One Fire Dance Group when they appeared at Dubai’s Global Village celebrations earlier this year.
Press for August
‘Symmetries’. Review of the Australian Ballet’s Canberra program, Dance Australia, August/September 2013, pp. 44; 46. An online version appeared in May [but is now no longer available].
‘The vision and the spirit’. Review of Hit the floor together, QL2 Dance. The Canberra Times, 2 August 2013, ARTS p. 8.[ Online version no longer available].
‘And the awards go to…’. Article on the Australian Dance Awards. The Canberra Times, 6 August 2013, ARTS p. 6. [Online version no longer available].
‘What happens when two worlds collide’. Story on Project Rameau, Sydney Dance Company and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. The Canberra Times, 31 August 2013, Panorama pp. 6–7. [Online version no longer available].
Australian Dance Awards 2013: Lifetime Achievement and Hall of Fame
Ronne Arnold and his Contemporary Dance Company of Australia in ‘Spirituals’, 1971. Photo Roderic Vickers
The 2013 Australian Dance Awards will be presented in Canberra on 5 August. In advance of that date, recipients of the two major awards, Lifetime Achievement and Hall of Fame, have been announced. Ronne Arnold is the recipient of Lifetime Achievement and he is seen above with members of his company, the Contemporary Dance Company of Australia, in a finale to one of their shows.
I was a student with Joan and Monica Halliday when Ronne began to teach there in the 1960s and, while I was far from a jazz dancer, I took Ronne’s classes and also followed him one year to an Arts Council Summer School. He was (and no doubt still is) a wonderful teacher and I continue to treasure memories of those classes. My brief story about him for The Canberra Times is at this link. [Update 28 April 2019: link now no longer available]
An oral history interview with Ronne Arnold, recorded in 1997 and 1998, is held by the National Library of Australia. Cataloguing details are at this link. (Note of caution: the transcript, although classed as ‘corrected’ in the catalogue, still needs a number of corrections here and there!)
The recipient of the Hall of Fame award is Alan Brissenden whose book Australia Dances. Creating Australian Dance 1945–1965 (co-authored with Keith Glennon), has been invaluable to me in many ways since it was published in 2010 by Wakefield Press. He too will receive his award on 5 August.
Heath Ledger Project
In mid-July I was lucky enough to record the first of the interviews with NAISDA graduates for the Heath Ledger Young Artists Oral History Project. Beau Dean Riley Smith graduated from NAISDA in 2012 and is now dancing with Bangarra Dance Theatre. He gave a wonderfully frank interview, punctuated with much laughter, and it was a thrill to see him perform in Blak the next night at the opening of Bangarra’s Canberra season. I was impressed with the way he immersed himself totally in the production and admired his exceptional physicality.
Beau Smith interview. Heath Ledger Project, 2013. Photo: Brooke Shannon. Courtesy National Film and Sound Archive
The interview was conducted in a studio at the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra surrounded by all kinds of sound equipment being used for restoration projects (which does not make an appearance in the recording!), as you can see in the image above. Another NAISDA graduate, independent artist Thomas E S Kelly, is to be interviewed for the project during August.
And as an update to the project in general it was a thrill to hear that Hannah O’Neill, who was interviewed for the project in May 2012, was placed first in the Paris Opera Ballet examinations this year and has been offered a permanent (that is lifetime) contract with the Paris Opera Ballet. A singular achievement and one that demonstrates not only O’Neill’s exceptional talents but her absolute determination to make it in the company she regards as the best ballet company in the world.
In addition, the other Australian Ballet School graduate interviewed for the project in 2012, Joseph Chapman [now going by the name Joe Chapman], tells me that, although his first eighteen months with the company have been ‘challenging’, performing has been a real highlight for him.
Cecchetti Society Conference 2013, Melbourne
At the beginning of July I had the pleasure of chairing a session at the 2013 Cecchetti Society Conference in Melbourne. The session concerned the National Theatre Ballet, a company that gave its first performance as a fully-fledged company under the directorship of Joyce Graeme in 1949.
Former dancers of the National Theatre Ballet. Cecchetti Society Conference, Melbourne 2013. Photo: Wendy Cliff
In the photo above I am standing behind the eight participants on the panel, all former dancers from the National Theatre Ballet: (seated left to right, Lorraine Blackbourne, Jennifer Stielow, Dame Margaret Scott, Athol Willoughby, Norma Hancock (Lowden). Phyllis Jeffrey (Miller) Maureen Trickett (Davies) and Ray Trickett. Each of the participants had wonderful stories to tell of their time with the company and the session could have gone on for many hours.
There is still much to be written about the impact of Ballet Rambert in Australia. Here, however, is an article, an overview of the Australian tour, which I wrote for National Library of Australia News in December 2002.
Press for July
‘Tragedy without end’. Review of Big hART’s Hipbone sticking out. The Canberra Times, 5 July 2013. [Online link now no longer available]
‘New direction respects company’s past’. Review of Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Blak. The Canberra Times, 13 July 2013. [Online link now no longer available]
‘Moving body of work’. Article on Ronne Arnold as the recipient of the 2013 ADA Lifetime Achievement Award. The Canberra Times, 30 July 2013.[Online link now no longer available]
In July The Canberra Times also published an article I wrote on Paul Knobloch although for reasons of copyright I am not providing a link.
Symmetries has come to and gone from Canberra. What a wonderful program it was and people are still talking about it. As a friend said, ‘It had the WOW factor’, and those who missed it are sounding regretful. And I was amused to find Monument alluded to in Ian Warden’s column on the lack of poetry in the Centenary of Canberra celebrations. ‘…the sad fact is we have marked this year almost entirely in prose (with the odd ballet about a building thrown in, of course)’, Warden wrote in The Canberra Times. Such is the instant fame of Monument in Canberra.
The National Film and Sound Archive now has an update to its Heath Ledger Young Artists Oral History Project website. On this site you will find details of those young artists who have been interviewed to date, including extracts from the interviews in some cases. My interviews with Joseph Chapman [now using the name Joe Chapman] and Josie Wardrope have some lovely footage included.
I am currently negotiating interviews with two recent graduates from NAISDA, which I hope will be added to the archive in the next few months.
Press for May 2013
In addition to articles and reviews relating to the Symmetries program, other press articles in May include a preview of Liz Lea’s InFlight for The Canberra Times, and also for The Canberra Times a profile of choreographer Garry Stewart, which unfortunately was published more as another piece about Monument when in fact it also dealt with G and other aspects of Stewart’s work.
In addition, some of Australia’s best known contemporary dancers took part in the Dublin Dance Festival in May. The Irish Times published a story about the event in which Jordan Beth Vincent and I had some comments, although it is not available online.
In May, on a very grey Parisian morning, I continued my interviewing for the Heath Ledger Young Artists Oral History Project with an interview with Hannah O’Neill. O’Neill is currently dancing on a seasonal contract with the Paris Opera Ballet, having dreamt of dancing with this company since she was a young child.
Hannah O’Neill at the Pont neuf, Paris, May 2012
O’Neill graduated from the Australian Ballet School in 2011 and in that year she also auditioned for the Paris Opera Ballet. She was placed fourth in a field of over 100 and as a result of the audition received a seasonal contract. Confident and articulate and looking every inch the dancer, she is taking Paris in her stride. She has recently had her contract extended until the end of July when she will have to audition again for a place in the company. In the meantime she is looking forward to a forthcoming season of La Fille mal gardée.
Meryl Tankard at the Cannes Film Festival
Over the past few years Meryl Tankard has been focusing her considerable talents on film making. She graduated from the directing course at the Australian Film Television and Radio School in 2010. It is a testament to her success in this endeavour that a short film she made called Moth was shown in May at the Cannes Film Festival. A glance at the program for the non-competitive Australian and New Zealand section of the Festival, Antipodes, puts her in exceptional company.
Tankard’s website has the following to say about Moth:
Moth is the story of three young women’s determination to be free, and is inspired by the stories from many reform schools in Australia in the 60s and 70s, and the brutal methods used to discipline the girls.
Pablo Picasso’s curtain for Parade
It was a surprise to discover hanging in the still quite new Pompidou Centre in the north-eastern French city of Metz the curtain from the 1917 Ballets Russes production of Parade. Conceived for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes by Jean Cocteau and first performed in Paris in May 1917, Parade had choreography by Léonide Massine, music by Erik Satie and costumes and settings by Pablo Picasso. The curtain is hanging in an exhibition entitled 1917, which has drawn together an array of visually disparate items, including some associated with war as well as with art in many of its manifestations. 1917 sets out to question the links between destruction, reconstruction and creation in a decisive year of World War I.
Curtain for Parade (detail). Photo: Michelle Potter
The exhibition carries some additional items relating to Parade, including a program and some interesting photographs of the 1917 cast. But it was, of course, the curtain that attracted my attention. Although it is of monumental proportions, it is quite an intimate, even gentle piece of art. Its colours are soft and blend easily with each other and the picture is built on exceptionally complex, allegorical imagery. In gives no clue to the strident characteristics of the performance and the antics of the dancers in Parade whose role is to attract an audience into the circus tent, which we see before us on the curtain.
I was in the fortunate position of being able to see a performance of Parade in 2005 when it was staged by the Ballet of Bordeaux at the Diaghilev Festival held in Groningen, the Netherlands. The article I wrote for The Canberra Times about the Festival was also published online by the magazine of the ballet.co site. Here is what I wrote about Parade:
Leonide Massine’s Parade was one of the most anticipated works of the festival and it did not disappoint as a significant collaborative work of the period. With designs by Pablo Picasso, libretto by Cocteau and music by Erik Satie, which incorporated the assorted sounds of a siren and a typewriter and several pistol shots, Parade was created in response to the well-documented demand from Diaghilev to Cocteau—’Astonish me!’ It was also inspired by the Cubist movement in the visual arts and brought Cubism off the canvas and into the theatre. Set outside a travelling theatre with the slight narrative centring on the attempts of the characters to entice an audience into the show, the work premiered in 1917 in Paris and was recreated by the Joffrey Ballet in the 1970s. In Groningen it was performed by the Ballet de Bordeaux and, while it will perhaps always remain slightly eccentric, its apparently simplistic and unadorned choreography is a perfect foil for its idiosyncratic designs and music.U
I was not in Canberra in May when Liz Lea presented her latest staging of 120 Birds. It also had a brief showing in Sydney at Riverside, Parramatta, after the Canberra season. Lea has a site that gathers together reviews of 120 Birds, including those for the 2012 Canberra/Sydney staging. In addition, here is a link to a preview piece I wrote for the one-woman version of 120 Birds, made for the National Gallery of Australia early in 2011 in conjunction with its exhibition Ballets russes: the art of costume.
New York Public Library
Over the past two months I have been following with considerable interest the upheavals at the New York Public Library, which have been reported upon in The New York Times and other outlets. The most comprehensive background account of the situation is ‘Lions in winter’ by journalist Charles Petersen and appears in n+1 at this link.
Many have wondered why I left New York in 2008 after eighteen months as curator of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, given that it appeared to be the job of a lifetime for me. Well the issues that led to my resignation are complex (and it was not to get married as one report suggested!), but the majority can be grouped under questions of professionalism and accountability (or lack thereof in my opinion) in certain areas of the Library. In addition, I was dismayed by attitudes to curatorial autonomy, which in most cases did not fit with mine. It should, therefore, be fairly obvious where my opinions lie with regard to the present discussions.
Whether the Dance Division, and other research divisions at Lincoln Center, will be affected in the short or long term by the new plans reported upon by Petersen and others is not clear. However, I believe that the Dance Division is now but shadow of its former self and has been heading this way for some time.
In April I conducted two more interviews for the National Film and Sound Archive’s Heath Ledger Young Artists Oral History Project. This time, with cameraman John Parker, I recorded interviews with two emerging circus artists currently in their final year of training at the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) in Melbourne.
Josie Wardrope is specialising in hand stands and swinging trapeze—she loves the feeling of flying—and in the group activity of risley. The term ‘risley’ sent me to a dictionary as I was researching for the interview and I discovered it is ‘a circus act in which an acrobat lying on his back juggles barrels or fellow acrobats with his feet’. It is named after a 19th century circus performer, Richard Risley Carlisle. Post-interview, watching Josie in a one-on-one trapeze session with her coach, her words about loving the feeling of flying were made visible. Exhilarating!
Simon Reynolds gave up his childhood dream of an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics after seeing a performance by Cirque du Soleil. Now he aspires to a contract with this company at the end of his training. At NICA he specialises in contortion hand stands, tumbling tight wire and the group act, teeterboard. I have to say he is somewhat outstanding on trampoline as well. Watching him execute a series of mid-air twists and turns as he moved the length of a very long trampoline in a NICA rehearsal space was breathtaking.
A typical day for these two young people is long and arduous but neither can think of anything they’d rather be doing. Both are full of praise for those who coach them, who bring to NICA the skills that they have honed in circus companies from around the world, including China, Russia and Argentina. Both are utterly determined to make a career in circus. Both are also in rehearsal for their 2012 mid-year show Lucy and the lost boy and agree that it is the performance side of their training that spurs them on to perfect their technical skills.
My reflections on a visit to Jacob’s Pillow in 2007 elicited a response from Norton Owen, director of preservation at the Pillow. He mentioned, amongst other things, a DVD called Never stand still. It chronicles life at the Pillow and includes material relating to Gideon Obarzanek. The words of the title, ‘Never stand still’, are in fact those of Obarzanek, which he used in an interview for the DVD and which were then taken up and used as the title. Below is a promotional clip for the DVD.
In April I had the huge pleasure of recording an interview with Gailene Stock, currently director of the Royal Ballet School, London. I was inspired to suggest that an interview with Stock be made for the National Library of Australia’s Oral History and Folklore Collection after visiting her in London last year to talk to her about her recollections of working with designer Kristian Fredrikson. There was such a positive work ethic at the Royal Ballet School that I felt there had to be the hand of a strong and committed person behind it all. And there is—a director who cares deeply about what she is doing. And of course Stock had an impressive career in Australia as a performer, teacher and director before taking up her current position in London. Here is the link to the National Library’s catalogue record, although a summary of the interview is not yet available. [Update: The full interview is now available online. Follow this link]
Paul de Masson as Colas, with artists of the Australian Ballet in La fille mal gardée, ca. 1976. Photo: Walter Stringer. Courtesy National Library of Australia
It was with deep sadness that I noted the death of Paul De Masson in Melbourne on 12 January 2012. In July last year I recorded an extended oral history interview with Paul for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program. It was a real privilege to have him share so many of his thoughts on his dancing life, which crossed continents and crossed paths with so many other renowned artists. Being well aware that his time was limited and thus without fear of any repercussions, Paul was beautifully honest and frank throughout the interview. And his ability to mimic the voices of his colleagues, which he did frequently as we recorded, and his ability to look back and both laugh at himself and be proud of his achievements, make wonderful oral history.
Paul was for a while on the faculty of Hamburg Ballet and held the work of John Neumeier and the dancing of the company in high regard. He thought it was a shame that Australian audiences had not had the opportunity to see much of Neumeier’s choreography and joked that if he were wealthy he would bring the company on tour to Australia. Well, in something of a twist of fate, Hamburg Ballet will visit Brisbane in 2012 bringing two of Neumeier’s best known productions, Nijinsky and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Paul joined Hamburg Ballet around the time Nijinsky was being created.
I will always admire too the honesty with which Paul commented on posts on this website, especially on the Australian Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet season. He was one of a kind.
Heath Ledger Project
In January I recorded an oral history interview with Joseph Chapman for the Heath Ledger Young Artists Oral History Program. Chapman graduated from the Australian Ballet School in 2011 and, following graduation, was offered a contract with the Australian Ballet. He began work with the company in January. Chapman was nominated for the project by one of the foundation partner institutions in the Heath Ledger Project, the Australian Ballet School.
The Heath Ledger Young Artists Oral History Project is administered by the National Film and Sound Archive and is designed to capture the thoughts, hopes and dreams of the next generation of Australian creative artists across a wide spectrum of the arts. It is named for the late Heath Ledger whose death at a relatively young age left us with little record, in an oral history context, of his life as an actor.
I had the pleasure of working with a cameraman on this occasion with interviews for the Heath Ledger Project being filmed rather than being audio only occasions. Chapman’s interview was recorded in one of the studios of the Australian Ballet School and it was a satisfying collaborative experience to make the bare space look inviting and the interview more than simply a ‘talking head’. Much credit goes to the cameraman, Michael Barnett, for a great visual eye and to Chapman for articulate responses to my questions and being what Barnett referred to as ‘a one take wonder’. No need to double back at all!
The Australian Ballet School was asked to nominate two of its 2011 graduating students to participate in the project and, in addition to Chapman, the School nominated Hannah O’Neill currently performing in Paris with the Paris Opera Ballet. Plans are underway for an interview with O’Neill.
Both O’Neill and Chapman performed leading roles with the Dancers Company on its 2011 regional tour of Ai-Gul Gaisina’s Don Quixote. In Hobart during that tour they were photographed together for The Mercury.