Stomping in slippers to Nirvana

Shaaron Boughen: Lisa O’Neill

Lisa O’Neill

Lisa O’Neill

Lisa O’Neill leaves her backyard in Brisbane for “the UK’s hottest international contemporary dance festival.” New Moves (New Territories) 2000 in Glasgow is hosting a radical exchange of work with some of Australia’s most exciting contemporary choreographers—Sue Healey and Phillip Adams, Lucy Guerin, Trevor Patrick, Dean Walsh and Lisa herself.

“When I saw these people I was performing with I did a bit of homework and found out that they’re all in the limelight, but they’ll be there with their work and I’ll be there with my slippers, stomping to Nirvana, and I just laughed.”

Nikki Milican, the Festival’s Artistic Director, travelled to Brisbane to see local work and responded to O’Neill’s uniqueness with a request for a 20 minute work to go into the New Moves Australia component of the festival. This is the first time her work has been seen outside Brisbane despite the choreographer having a solid repertoire of 16 works.

“I love what I do so much I’ve never taken the time to promote myself or push my work into anyone’s face. I would not work anywhere else but up here. I can isolate myself and there are no trends to follow.”

O’Neill’s earlier reference to slippers and stomping indicates her close connection to the Suzuki actor-training method which has heavily influenced her development as a contemporary dance choreographer. She has trained 3 days a week for the last 6 years under Jacqui Carroll’s guidance with Frank Productions Austral-Asian Performance Ensemble. O’Neill first came into contact with Carroll in her teens at the Queensland Dance School of Excellence and then at Queensland University of Technology as a student.

“I believe in having a teacher—you always need someone with their eyes on you constantly and Jacqui has…She’s incredibly articulate and she really knows my body—she’s been teaching me since I was 14 years old. That’s a really long relationship. She’s watching me always, suggesting things all the time so I feel safe knowing that someone’s working on me.”

O’Neill is developing a work titled Sweet Yeti for Glasgow which draws on 3 separate solos made for 3 different venues over the last 3 years! “I’ve called the piece Sweet Yeti ‘cause I’ve been working with this Yeti character for a couple of years. I’ve chosen movement material from Yeti in e minor which I did in 1996 at The Cherry Herring, a solo piece from Marble which I did as part of the Brisbane Festival in 1997 and another short solo which I did for The Cherry Herring’s Cityscapes in 1999. All of those works centred around a particular character—myself, my stage persona. Also all of those pieces were actually done in completely different environments and were quite site-specific; Yeti in e minor was created in a cage, Marble was done up against a wall and the Cityscapes piece was in an outdoor environment against a wall of glass. I’ve got these 3 solos done against a wall but they’re very different emotionally and in content because of the environment I was in at the time. So I’ll be developing all those solos up against the one wall for the theatre in Glasgow.”

There is an overt fascination with walls here which O’Neill readily acknowledges. She uses walls in her work as points of departure, support structures, forces of captivity to define spatial qualities, old friends or simply for their visual and architectural stature. It may have something to do with another obsession—her desire for structure both in her work and her working environment.

“I’ve always had a full-on thing about structure. I’ve always structured things. The movement vocab may have been different but I always had a set structure for it to take place in…The Crabroom and The Cherry Herring were a godsend for me. A place to create in. The Crabroom (The Cherry’s predecessor) was where I first started Yeti and I was terrified—I’d never done a solo before but from there I did 3 more and 2 for The Cherry Herring who have always been supportive. I enjoy being in Frank because there is the structure—training every week. I don’t know what I’d do without it. I haven’t done a dance class in 5 years. I’m just training in another way now. Because I have that structure I feel confident independently.”

O’Neill has a busy year ahead. Alongside Glasgow, she has a choreographic commission for L’Attitude 27.5, Brisbane’s new Powerhouse program for independent artists, a collaboration on a laser show, MYRRHA, with Diane Cilento as director, the remounting of Transit Lounge with Keith Armstrong (a multimedia adaptive technology animation set-up), a programme of new work by 3 Frank women, and Frank Production’s own Hamlet in Japan at the Shizuoka International Arts Festival.

“Even though I started out wanting to be a famous Australian dancer in a big company, that never happened and that’s okay. I thought to myself I would do anything to be a really good performer—I would go through anything…do that stomp every day for 10 years so I can stand there on stage and look fucking amazing. That’s what the stomp is for—the stomp is just to find stillness.”

When asked about future directions for her choreographic work, O’Neill replied “I think my work is becoming more simplified. Every piece seems to have less vocab in it. It’s getting more streamlined. But besides choreographing and creating works I’m trying to improve myself as a performer which I do through the Suzuki training. That’s my main objective—to be able to stand in front of an audience one day and not do anything and have it work.”

New Moves (new territories) 2000 will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, March13 – 25 2000. The International Choreographic Laboratory will be held in Adelaide as part of the Telstra Adelaide Festival, February 28 – March 11 2000, and in Glasgow.

RealTime issue #35 Feb-March 2000 pg. 31

© Shaaron Boughen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2000
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