In Conversation with Wellington's Deirdre Tarrant

Who are you? 

I’m Deirdre Tarrant, spelt D-e-i-r-d-r-e (bane of my life) and I suppose I am a passionate, Wellington Dancer at the bottom of the line, but that has actually led me into choreography and directing Footnote, of course, for thirty years.
All the way along I have had the studio on Cuba Street, so Cuba Street is “the haunt”. I love teaching and it’s very nice being able to come into the studio and work with students. It's been particularly good with COVID in a way because I think that young people just need continuity and ballet is

Deirdre wears Stella Blouse in Salt and Pepper Stripe.

How did you find yourself in the dance industry? 

Right back at the beginning my mother was an artist and Tuesday was the day she had an art group and I think I went to ballet because that meant she didn’t have to pick me up until half past five, it was a really practical after school care. Those were the days well before anyone had thought of an after school club at school. I loved it, but there was never any real thought that I was going to be a dancer, I was always going to be a doctor and now I feel as though I should rush off to Ukraine and be helpful. 

When I was thirteen I passed my intermediate exam and got a very good mark, I think I probably stunned the teacher and my mother and my father, but my father was very strict and he thought that dancing was slightly questionable, something that people did in night clubs. He said “ you can keep dancing as long as you are top of the class” and those were the days where you did what your parents said and didn’t argue the rights of the young people.

Then I got a scholarship to go to London and was allowed to go as long as I got a degree first. 

After getting my degree, I went to London and was over there for six and then two years. There was only ballet or musical theatre in New Zealand and then suddenly in England there was something called ‘Cunningham and Graham’ and I became very devoted to contemporary dance. 

I travelled and danced for nine years and meanwhile I had two sisters that ran my studio here, so the studio never really stopped. To have a career that was really my own in a time when really you didn’t do that was pretty unusual, everything was learnt on the job and I loved it! 

Where would we find you on a Saturday morning in Wellington? 

Right here. In fact right now at the moment I am teaching the beginners grade one class which I haven’t taught for twenty five years. I could count on my hand the amount of days that I haven’t been in the studio on a Saturday. Saturday is the big day, really. 

It’s the day when the scholars (the top end of the ballet school) don’t have school and so they’re just such a different energy. When we are working for shows or any big city events, Saturday is the day for rehearsals. 

Before that, at half past eight I’d be at Milk Crate for an egg sandwich and a coffee and for a long time, even now, I can’t get to the studio without going past Customs to pick up one of the donuts so my loyalty is heavily towards egg sandwiches and donuts. Oh and actually I love Custom’s almond toast. Floriditas too – what’s not to love? 

Deirdre wears Poppy Sweater in Navy.

What is your favourite event that Wellington holds or has held in the past? 

Well, that’s a loaded question. The thing about that is that there hasn’t been many that I haven’t been involved in; politically I am not going to choose a favourite. 

Let’s say the longest involvement has been the Christmas Parade, my children have all been in the Christmas parade, including all my sons and my oldest son is fifty! I used to have about 200 or 300 kids in that parade and they weren’t just from the studio, I would get the local scouts involved and so on too. 

Otherwise Newtown Festival is a biggy (I am a sucker for the music), also CubaDupa and Cuba Carnival. We used to go down the street on a big float and everyone would be out on their verandas to watch. Chinese New Year is another one – I love the big crowds and also our end of year shows that we always have at the Opera House. I do love the really big community family and I feel very strongly here that the students need to experience that as it’s what they’ll remember forever. 

What’s the best piece of advice someone has ever given you? 

Well, it’s not going to be “you can do anything you want to do”.  

I think probably the best piece of advice I’ve heard funnily enough is “No decision is a bad decision, but make a decision”. Once you’ve made a decision don’t dwell on it, it’s just as super to be wrong as it is to be right because success is made up of a multitude of failures. 

Who’s your biggest inspiration? 

There’s lots of them but when I was young I just wanted to be like Margot Fonteyn, she was the most famous ballerina. She’s from Panama and went to London to be a dancer and changed her name. She was the impossible dream. She went from being in a country where she barely knew what first position was and finished up being a prima ballerina. 

She really pushed her career into places which weren’t guaranteed success. Some people are really good in their career where they are and choose to stay there and some really push the boundaries and she was one of them. 

There is also a writer called Richard Ford who’s American who wrote a book called Independence Day and that’s kind of always stuck with me as a way of using words to inspire people and that thing of always digging a bit deeper than the surface. 

Have you got any exciting plans for the Tarrant dance students?

Heavens no. Survival. 

At the moment we are lurching from day to day and I am very proud of the fact that we haven’t cancelled any classes. We did Wellington’s Parking Day which was a massive thing, the first time we have had secondary school students because usually they’re at school. COVID has meant nobody is at school, or if they are not it’s not such a big deal because it’s all online anyway. I feel that the secondary school students are probably much more affected than we are giving them credit for, because they’re at an age where they need some kind of certainty and there isn’t a lot anymore.  

The subliminal pressure usually in my experience is often not the vocalised pressure. It’s not the exam on Friday that’s the pressure, it’s bigger pressures or really stupid smaller pressures and maturity brings an ability to structure those pressures. I am famous for being extremely competent under pressure which you have to learn to do. It’s about having a team of people around you that you totally trust to deliver and that you can later have coffee at customs with.