"It is extra special to undertake this role and build on Yoko's foundation."
Meet Cara O'Shea, the Associate Artistic Director of the Academy of Northern Ballet.
Cara originally trained with London Junior Ballet and went on to train at Northern Ballet School in Manchester. In 2007, Cara joined Northern Ballet as a classical ballet teacher and has since worked very closely with Yoko Ichino, becoming Head of Lower Pre-Professional Programmes and Deputy Artistic Director before being promoted to Associate Artistic Director in September 2023.
We spoke to Cara about her experience of transitioning from dancer to classical ballet teacher to now undertaking the role of Associate Artistic Director.
What are you most looking forward to about this role as the new term begins?
I think the start of each year is always an exciting time. There's so much energy from the students as the term begins. It is extra special to undertake this role and build on Yoko's foundation.
At the moment, we're really trying to raise the profile of the Academy and show that it is the place to train for classical ballet. We're also trying to challenge what we currently do, looking at what works well and improving on that. Building on the holistic approach that Yoko created and looking at the latest technology to enhance our training programmes.
What first inspired you on this journey within the ballet industry?
For me, I found the artistry of ballet the most inspiring. Northern Ballet, at its heart, is a narrative, story-telling company.
I love that you can make yourself a character and tell stories through movement. I remember when I was small I watched a VHS recording of The Royal Ballet's Don Quixote with Tamara Rojo as Kitri, on repeat. It's really all about the artistry, and characterisation. I find that very inspiring.
From dancing and training to becoming a teacher and now a director, how have you adapted between these different roles over time?
Across each role there are similarities - especially in terms of being organised and prepared. As a director, I think it's important to think about the whole picture and how one decision can affect many people.
When you're a dancer, you're often taught to focus on yourself (your technique, your training) but when you teach and direct you learn to put yourself last and to think about the dancers, the students and their families.
Is it challenging to adapt from dancing and teaching to now directing a ballet Academy?
I've been working in the Academy for 16 years and I felt that through Yoko's mentoring it was a natural transition.
I've definitely been filling up my notebook a lot since undertaking the role, but I've loved having the opportunity to create relationships around the building and interact with all the different departments within the organisation - I think this is really important.
What advice would you give to your students who hope to pursue a career as a ballet dancer?
As all students are so different and unique, its difficult to give one piece of advice to them all. I think advice needs to be tailored to each student as they will each have their own set of strengths and weaknesses.
More generally, I would say its important that they have a healthy balance with their approach to training. To look after themselves because it can be tough.
You will meet fantastic teachers who focus more on the artistry of ballet and those who are great with teaching technique - having the right combination is important.
Also, to enjoy it and remember why you started. Remember that feeling when you were three years old dancing around in your living room.
What do you enjoy most about working at Northern Ballet?
I like the spirit of the Company and the people. It's such a friendly place to work, with good energy and we're all willing to help each other. There are of course changes over the years, but everyone is there for one another in the Academy.
To find out more about the Academy of Northern Ballet and upcoming events visit northernballet.com/academy
Header photo by Emily Nuttall, other photo by Justin Slee.