Cupcakes & Conversation with Hannah O’Neill, Paris Opera Ballet
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
It’s different every day I guess. Whether it’s something I’m looking forward to rehearsing or simply because the sun is shining. I try and live day by day and take it as it comes. A coffee always helps though!
If ballet chose you, as many dancers say it did, what is it that has made you stick with it ?
I played lots of sport and did many after school activities; one of them being ballet, and I guess I couldn’t fit all of them in and ballet was something I never gave a second thought about giving up. Obviously I wouldn’t still be dancing if I didn’t enjoy it. As I have matured and gained more experience throughout the years ballet, to me, becomes more and more interesting and there is a hunger to discover more. I think that’s what has made me stick with it.
What are you looking forward to dancing during 2013 & what are the big challenges likely to be for you ?
After the production I’m dancing right now (Gustav Mahler’s 3rd Symphony) I just have La Sylphide left so I hope I will be able to step foot on stage. My biggest challenge before the end of the season would have to be the exterior Concours in July that I will be doing to hopefully win a position as a permanent dancer of the Paris Opera Ballet.
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
Swan Lake with Roberto Bolle.
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance?
Where I am dancing right now at the Garnier is pretty spectacular but I think dancing near the sea at sunset would be very nice also.
How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
I try my shoes on and figure out Right and Left first. Then I sew my ribbons which are a special stretchy type and then the elastics at the back of the heel crossed over so that my foot can never fall out of my shoe. I do a bit of bending and smashing next and then cut out some of the sole. I also always cut the satin off the block. Finally I pull the cords so they are a nice fit around my foot and voila! Ready to go.
What is your daily routine at the moment ?
I wake up around 8:15am and have breakfast and get ready, and leave the house at 9am. The first thing I do when I arrive at the Opera is COFFEE! I have class at 10am (sometimes 11:30am). If I have a Gala to practice for or a coaching lesson with my teacher I will generally work after class until around 12:30 but if not I might go to the gym. At the moment we have one rehearsal from 1:30 until 4pm for Mahler. I go out and have a late lunch and go back to the theatre around 6:30. As I am on stage at the very end of the ballet I get ready quite late. I go and get my make up and hair done around 7 o’clock. The show finishes around 9:30 so I get home around 10pm. I then wind down at home and I try and get to bed before midnight.
What do you eat during the course of a typical working day ?
For breakfast I usually have toast with honey or Vegemite. I have a sandwich or a salad for lunch. I eat anything and everything so for dinner it really just depends on what I feel like. I also don’t go without lollies throughout the day. They keep me going at the times where I think I’m going to crash.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?
Daniel Carter (all Black), Beyonce, Karl Lagerfeld, Roger Federer, Audrey Hepburn, and James Franco.
What would surprise people about you ?
When it comes to maths, I think in Japanese.
Who inspired you to dance ?
Family, friends, teachers and of course the beautiful dancers I look up to. There is no specific person who inspired me but with all of these important people in my life I get the most and best inspiration to dance, and of course in life too!
What is your best piece of advice ?
Stay healthy and always remember that spark that gives you your drive! Also to know that it’s okay to make mistakes sometimes. A friend of mine told me “you learn from your efforts!”
How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
It changes depending on which Acts or role I am doing but usually I go and get my hair and make up done and this is my down time to relax and calm my mind and body. I will then go and do a barre to wake up all my muscles and warm myself up and think through the dances I’m performing that night. I put my costume on, eat a jelly snake and spray my perfume and I go down to the stage.
How do you deal with the stress of performing ?
Normally I’m not an overly stressed type but I always imagine myself dancing the piece beforehand several times in my head which reassures me. Something I always tell myself is “no better and no worse than usual.”
Which role has tested you the most & how ?
Every role has its challenges but so far I think it would be the third Act of La Bayadere. The adage is pure control and doing it on a stage with 31 other dancers all around you is, I think, more difficult than dancing on your own. Keeping mentally strong was something I found very hard but I recently performed it in the Nureyev Gala and I felt much better and more confident.
If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create ?
A tutu with the most gorgeous lace, beads and trimming and a headdress to die for. I think for a Princess character. But the most important thing would be the shape. A pattern that is flattering on the body and that the dancer feels beautiful in.
What do you look for in a good dance partner ?
A sense of trust firstly, and someone I can communicate verbally and emotionally with on and off stage.
What is your favourite quote ?
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” Dr Seuess. This is a quote from the book Oh, the Places You’ll Go! One of my best friends gave me this book when I left ballet school to pursue my dreams as a professional.
Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?
I can’t really think of a step that jumps out at me as a signature step but my strong point is coordination, so although I do have to work hard at perfecting steps, the initial feel for a step comes quite easily.
A phrase I use far too often is … ?
“Sorry I don’t speak French very well…”
What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?
It would have to be dancing Ascension at my school graduation performance. I have never felt so alive and passionate on stage like that. It felt as if I was dancing for the whole world.
Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
I guess it’s a skill most of my close friends know about but I am an excellent bow-tier. When I was younger I was known as ‘the girl with the bows in her hair!’
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now ?
Dancing with the Paris Opera as a full time member of the company.
Who would you like to have a conversation with
What is your exit strategy, for the time when you stop dancing, and how did you plan it ?
I have only just started my career and I’m too young to be thinking of my retirement just yet. I take each day as it comes and prefer to look forward to the future ahead of me still as a dancer. Who knows what I will be doing. I could be a full time mother, be traveling the world or even be back at school studying! Time will tell.