Twelve Questions: MaryJane O'Reilly

MaryJane O'Reilly is a co-founder of the Limbs Dance Company, choreographer of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Auckland and the Millennium Dawn Ceremony in Gisborne. Her new dance company Flagrant Productions is bringing sexy back to dance and this month she is being honoured by Tempo, the dance festival she ran for years.

MaryJane O'Reilly says the physical side of being a dancer is very important. Photo / Sarah Ivey
MaryJane O'Reilly says the physical side of being a dancer is very important. Photo / Sarah Ivey

1.You're just back from taking your neo-burlesque show to the Edinburgh Festival. What's a nice 63-year-old like you doing choreographing erotica?
Who said I was nice? I just did it to make money for the [Tempo] festival really. I wanted to make a show that made some money so I did sexy and naked, and it's funny too. It was about getting that half of the audience who don't come to dance much any more, to come again. You know that half? The half that find the non-verbal stuff quite difficult? Men.

2.Is leading an erotic life important to you?
Oh yes. As a dancer the physical side of being human is really, really important. Being sexy and sensuous is very important to me. You notice you become invisible after the age of 48 or so. You have to be extra stroppy to be noticed as you get older, if you want to be noticed.

3.Why do so many Kiwis still speak so fondly about Limbs?
There's lots of reasons really: it captured the spirit of that age. And we were incredibly gorgeous and sexy and beautiful and funny. It was contemporary dance as the public hadn't seen it before.

I often say now that if we'd been relying on our [dance] peers to fund us we wouldn't have been funded but there were people on the funding agency - like Ray Columbus - who loved us.

4.There was backlash from more traditional dance - was it a brave thing to do?
No. We were just passionate about dancing and knew if we lived here we had to make our own stuff. We did brave things, though - dancing at Paremoremo Maximum Security prison. We took our clothes off there - well, we took off our baggy overalls to reveal our unitards. The prisoners were stunned. They went "whoa" at first then were very quiet. We danced at a Headhunters party too.

5.What happened to contemporary dance after Limbs?
It got very serious. Society had changed too. In the 90s especially we weren't so into sexy. We had the crash and dance got scattered from this narrow focus on one company into multiple projects being funded. People like Douglas Wright, Michael Parmenter, Shona McCullough, all were funded for works. There was a lot of death, Aids and everyone being deliberately ugly. Dance itself was flourishing but it was under the radar. It's taken 25 years to again get funding.

6.Dancers spend much of their lives being judged on their bodies. How did you cope with that?
It was agony from the age of 12. I was always watching what I ate because I was going to be a ballet dancer. I got a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in London and was always trying not to eat and consequently at times was quite podgy.

I know now my body suits working really hard physically and as I've got older I've settled down in my weight.

7.Is it harder to maintain your weight as you get older?
I'm a great believer in posture and alignment. Pull yourself up from your ears, as if you've got Spock ears, and stand on the balls of your feet and engage the stomach. Attitude, posture and alignment. That's the key to ageing well.

8.Did discipline come easily to you?
Oh no. I'm naturally hedonistic. It's just that I wanted to be a dancer more than I wanted to have fun. And I was shy in my teens. It was easier for me to say "I can't go out with you because I have dance classes tomorrow". I didn't have a big social life as a teenager.

9.You met your husband Phil O'Reilly in London. Did the discipline go then?
I bumped into him walking along the road coming back from ballet school. He was out looking for a job on the same street. We'd gone out briefly back in Wellington. Three months later we both needed a flat so moved in together, thinking we'd take it one day at a time. That was 43 years ago. We went travelling for five years and had a very hedonistic lifestyle. There was no dancing - not even at parties.

10.What's the secret to such a long marriage?
A thick skin and a short memory.

11.You got a new tattoo on your trip to the Edinburgh Festival. Why?
When my daughter Morgana was 5 we agreed when I was 50 and she was 15 we'd get tattoos together. Of course when she was 15 I thought it was too young but we did. My dad was horrified. I got this new one in Dublin. Phil has got the same one, which is a bit corny. It's a Celtic knot. Under his he's got written in Gaelic "home and family".

12.Will you always dance?
My mother is in a wheelchair with rheumatoid arthritis and I was diagnosed with it 12 years ago. I couldn't do much for about five years - no yoga or pilates. I really thought I wasn't going to ever dance again. But we started learning salsa which I thought I could do as it was walking and a little bit of hip and the guy who was teaching said "come on MaryJane, you can dance again". I'm on medication now which helps.

- NZ Herald

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