Young dancer puts best foot for­ward


Fresh from danc­ing in the Im­pe­rial Rus­sian Ballet Com­pany’s tour­ing pro­duc­tion of The Nutcracker in the Re­gent on Broadway last Novem­ber, Levin dancer Tilly O’Neill is ex­cited by her new year chal­lenges.

In Oc­to­ber, the 13-year-old, a pupil of Palmer­ston North’s Mau­reen Ax School of Dance, suc­cess­fully au­di­tioned in Welling­ton as an As­so­ciate of the New Zealand School of Dance.

Ev­ery year, the As­so­ciate pro­gramme iden­ti­fies a num­ber of stu­dents from around New Zealand who have the tal­ent for a ca­reer in dance per­for­mance, and feeds those promis­ing dancers into the NZDS.

Not no­ti­fied of her place un­til mid-De­cem­ber, O’Neill had as­sumed she had missed out and would have to try again this year.

‘‘There were so many other amaz­ing dancers, I was sur­prised when I found out I was picked.’’

Apart from the com­pe­ti­tion, the au­di­tion was ex­tremely de­mand­ing.

‘‘There are lots of rules - it’s re­ally strict. They line you up and ask you to do dif­fer­ent stretches,’’ she said.

‘‘There was one hour for the ballet au­di­tion and one hour for con­tem­po­rary. It was re­ally hard and some of the steps were quite dif­fi­cult to pick up.’’

Those se­lected for the pro­gramme get to at­tend four week­ends of tuition in Welling­ton through­out the year, as well as sev­eral mas­ter­classes with the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Her dance teacher, Mau­reen Ax said for The Nutcracker O’Neill was asked to per­form an en­hanced pirou­ette known as a fou­ette rond de jambe dur­ing the chil­dren’s Christ­mas scene.

‘‘It’s quite an ad­vanced step in ballet,’’ Ax said. ‘‘When I saw what [the Im­pe­rial Rus­sian Ballet] wanted, I thought a mem­ber of the com­pany would be per­form­ing it.’’

O’Neill, who has been com­ing to Ax since she was 7, ac­quit­ted her­self well, and de­spite the lan­guage bar­rier, thor­oughly en­joyed the ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘‘[The Rus­sians] were re­ally friendly. They gave us lots of high­fives. It was good watch­ing them warm up and per­form.’’

Thirty-eight of Ax’s pupils took part in the per­for­mance.

O’Neill, who com­mutes to dance class from Levin five days a week with mum Lisa and older sis­ter Ruby, is now pre­par­ing her­self for the next round of Palmer­ston North dance com­pe­ti­tions in March.


Tilly O’Neill 13, is an As­so­ciate of the New Zealand School of Dance.

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