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10 Questions with Claire O'Neil


10 Questions with Claire O'Neil: An Extraordinary Person

Interviewed by Leah Maclean

Claire O'Neil is the Artistic Director and founder of Auckland based performance collective, Fidget Collective. In this interview she talks about their new work Extra Ordinary Folk and the processes of creating.

Introduce yourself and tell us what Fidget Collective is all about.
I am Claire O’Neil and I make dance performance. I am an educator of dance techniques, choreography and performance. I am a mentor for dancers and movers. I work in several places and with many people. Sometimes I just work at home (the long term contract) taking care of my two young girls. I have lived in Belgium. It now lives in me. European dance rocked my world. I discovered some ways to build concepts and methods for making performances. I have been a performer for choreographic directors here and abroad and have danced in many culturally diverse environments. I like the term Social Choreography.

Fidget Collective is a performance group that is taking on current interests, research and intrigue relating to the socialized body and dance performance. I have been asking myself “How can I make dances that consider what it means to be a citizen within a society with various concerns and issues?” I also ask: “What will this work offer to a public outside of the regular dance industry networks and enthusiasts? How can I reach into other communities? How can dance be a tool for aiding ‘betterment’ in our world?”

These questions feed my practice and desire to use dance as a vehicle for empowering the individual and encourage social, cultural and artistic exchange to advance future change.

Fidget Collective is organically grown.  It has been harvested in various places around Auckland and enjoys a nourishing crossroads of like mindedness. I like working with people I can carry a conversation with about life, politics, dance moves or just mundane subjects like the best breakfast cereal (which is Berry Berry Nice by the way)…

What is Extra Ordinary Folk and how did the idea come about?
I could say Extra Ordinary Folk started way back when I first started making work. Back when I started using theatrical elements and everyday situations and scenarios to fuel the movement vocabularies and create the choreography (Double Back, 1991 / Caffeine, 1993). It felt good to be referring to something (someone) we know most about – our ‘selves’. Extra Ordinary Folk is an ongoing extension in this desire to depict life immediately around us and use the socialized body to move with. I wanted a performance that has a regular day to day feel about it and explores the timelessness of social communities and their ‘ways’.

I love dualities (NOWhere, 2002) extraordinary or extra ordinary are perfect extremes to play with. They reflect my queries into what is considered ‘spectacular’ in dance performance? Can ordinary be extraordinary? And what is ordinary in a world of extreme distinctiveness? What isn’t extrordinary?

But to cut the story short… I’m closing a chapter related to my master’s studies that meshed concepts in sociology with my choreographic practice. It has been an incredible investigation that has brought me to a better understanding of the terms ‘habitus’ and ‘fields’, social environments, workspaces, our cultural ways and practices, our domestic life and public image.

Who is involved in the production and could you briefly introduce them?
Kristian Larsen is an ol’ buddy in the performance field and well known for his infamous ‘Bangers & Mash series (I hear a rumour it is coming back). Kristian and I understand improvisation performance as observers and doers. Adding to his dance and performance knowledge, Kristian is a sound designer. Bonus.

This is my first collaboration with Stephen Bain but somehow it feels familiar - probably because we have hung out here and in Brussels over many years of supporting, enjoying, and creating performance. Every work I have seen of Stephen’s leaves me chuckling and stunned at the same time. I like his appraoch to a stage design that finds its own curiosity, concept and relations with the physical body.

Tallulah Holly-Massey, Zahra Killian-Chance and Solomon Holly-Massey are established performing artists that I have known for many years. They don’t need fuss and bother… or an overpowering director (which I ain’t anyways). They move with clarity of identity. I love what they do and how they do it. Rosie Tapsell and Aloalii Tapu are younger dancers with already impressive performance tracks respectively. They are thinking bodies. They are improvisors. They are incredible movers.

Sarah-Louise Collins and I are a new collaboration as choreographer and producer. She does things with heart and humour. She is my best producer so far… She is my only producer so far.

Other people involved are guest performers - teenage girls and women in their seventies - organised through Jesse McCall and Pointy Dog Dance Company. Jazmine Rose Phillips is our second sound designer who is also a rad singer and performance artist. There are creative supporters/project helpers that will grow the collective to around 18 people. They are all cool people; they’re relaxed and easy going, with an open minds and attitude.

How did you select your collaborators?
A while ago I decided to adopt an instinctive and organic process to making dance. I try to keep how I connect to people and how a project evolves, intuitive and not difficult. It just happens. My collaborators are those who I connect with artistically and share a common language of approach to performance. We find each other. Some of the performers have been involved in previous studies and incarnations of this work. Others have arrived later but, to be honest, consistent and often coincidental contact has helped make decisions, along with an excellent improvisation skill base.

What is the best thing about this production?
I could say “its audience interactivity” but this is not about being the best thing, but more about being one of the better ways to experience dance today. It does not mean people have to participate, it merely suggests that you can if so desired.

I could then say “it is the intergenerational aspect” by having a small bunch of elderly and young folk dance together, but this also is not what makes it better, but rather a necessity for creating a far reaching experience and to represent the crossection of people in a community.

I could say many things. But ultimately I love movement. I think the unique feature of this work is the way we move in it. Extra Ordinary Folk uses societal ideas to inform the dancing vocabulary. The dance is intuitive, sensorial, textured, articulate, anamorphic and dynamic. It uses body mechanics as gateways to embodiment and as a means to explore diversity in physical experience. It has intentions to resurface other approaches and aesthetics so we can evolve ‘watching dance’ beyond highly trained bodies and set composition into ‘watching people’ with a deep understanding of movement and spontaneity.

I feel kinetically charged when working with improvisers. The decision making, the ways to deal with spatial and physical structures contrasted with an abundance of possiblities that ‘lack of structure’ can offer. Making this work is the best part; the process, the creative exchange, and the lonely space of making your role yet the joyous place of a community supporting you.

Other possible answers…

Movement Improvisation is a source for health, mobility and creativity.

No animals were harmed in the making of it.

It’s about you.

It is social choreography.

Why should people see Extra Ordinary Folk?
For its succinctness see above!

I think people (kids and adults alike) will connect to and enjoy watching the nature of abstract movement especially when it is reconstructing a slightly madcap community in a deconstructed township (think Dogville). The performance space contains taped zones - making rooms, workspaces and offices come alive with performance activity. There are funny scenarios, difficult or awkward situations and celebrational moments with triggers and systems for finding collective games and playful interactions. It is a performance that will ‘warm you’ whilst shifting your lens of experiencing dance.

I think people should see it because we are looking at what is means to be a citizen in societies full of differing opinions, bodily dispositions and perceptions of what is best for all.

Contemporary dance performance needs consistent exposure to different communities. My focus has been around West Auckland because it is home and I am interested in promoting contemporary dance practice and practitioners in this area. The ‘site performances’ in West Auckland are a way to define ourselves beyond the theatre environment and use the public space as a platform to express and connect.

You’re going to use this work as a way to celebrate NZ Dance Week (NZDW). Why would you encourage people to be involved in NZDW?
I am excited that Fidget Collective will be a part of the Auckland Live Aotea Square performance program and the opening of NZ Dance Week on April 21.

I try to encourage people to be involved in dance almost everyday but having a formalized time frame and program to promote all kinds of dancing is about bringing people together and sharing their interests and practices in dance. This not only exposes people in different dance engagements but also gives support and appreciation to unseen dance activities. Physical creativity goes hand in hand with a mindful mind and this should be a common activity for all people.

What do you most enjoy about working in the dance industry?
Even though I move around a bit with projects and different work engagements, I think the most enjoyable factor is when a dance relationship becomes a long term supportive, critical and honest friendship. This is a slow-burning enjoyment. Without these friendships and dialogues I could not manage as well to stay motivated in this industry.

What do you/Fidget Collective have planned for the rest of the year?
Post production will be a time to consider the immediate future pathways for Fidget Collective and this work. I am sure I will start digging my heels into another collaboration and idea that will take another two years to realize. Possibly I’ll clean my house out and finally try décor minimalism. Most certainly I will do some teaching, a choreographic course at UNITEC, some mentoring for New Zealand Dance Company, and a fair bit of promotional work for Extra Ordinary Folk – the Australasian Tour. Maybe I will go to Europe and reconnect with some collaborators there. I am determined to make pathways that put us on the map for international workshop exchanges with extraordinary dance practitioners.

Favourite dance piece you've seen in the last 12 months?
I like many works for different reasons. Unfortunately I missed seeing an array of performances in recent Auckand and Wellington Arts festivals due to being occupied by my role as rehearsal director for Michael Parmenter’s OrphEus, but I believe I would have been blown away by Swan Lake by Loch na hEala... Or would I?

I did recently watch Tender is the Night with two of my favourite performers Tallulah Holly-Massey and Kosta Bogoievski. It was a wholly satisfying work because it is experimenting with structured improvised dance. “Long Live experimental dance!” someone shouted at the end of it. Yep. That can be my favourite.

*Images: Amanda Billing

Fidget Collective opens Extra Ordinary Folk 25-29 April
Corban Estate Arts Centre, Auckland
Tickets available via iTicket

10 Questions with Claire O'Neil

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