‘Find the fun and enjoyment in what you do; It’s important to work out why you dance, what makes you tick’
NZSD graduate, Sharni Spencer, was born in Lismore NSW and grew up in Tamworth and Newcastle. She began dance classes at three years old and studied at Sally Kefts School of Dance and Marie Walton Mahon Dance Academy before joining the New Zealand School of Dance. Sharni joined The Australian Ballet at the beginning of 2008 and was promoted to Coryphée in 2012. She was the recipient of the Khitercs Hirai Foundation Scholarship in 2012, and used it to spend three months rehearsing and performing Giselle with Dutch National Ballet. She was promoted to Soloist in 2017, to Senior Artist in 2020, and then to Principal Artist in 2022.
What’s your highlight from your time at the New Zealand School of Dance?
I have to say picking a highlight is hard! I have such fond memories of the 2 years I spent at NZSD. I really appreciated the positive and supportive environment. Once you join a professional company, you realise the luxury of time you had at school to work on things! It’s such a huge time of growth, and so important to be able to experiment, fail and discover. It was also a really special time to bond with my year group. You are on a real journey of ups and downs together; for most of us, we were away from home and learning how to cook and care for ourselves, alongside all the dancing.
A particularly memorable highlight for me was performing Romeo and Juliet Balcony Pas de Deux from Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, with former NZSD graduate, dancer and now choreographer Craig Davidson.
Why did you audition for NZSD?
I auditioned to join NZSD because my dance teacher, Marie Walton Mahon, said this was a great school. I had recently returned from overseas after completing a term at Elmhurst School for Dance in Birmingham. It wasn’t the right fit for me at the time, and I left feeling a bit unsure of what direction to take and whether I should continue with dancing at all.
I took a class back at my dance school in Australia and realised how much I loved dancing and made the decision to continue with dancing. Marie suggested New Zealand School of Dance might be a better fit, so I packed my bags and headed over to audition last minute with the 1st Yrs who were beginning in 2006. It fortunately, turned out that after auditioning, I could start immediately!
What inspires you to dance and move?
Music always inspires me and moves me to dance. I also love the physicality of dancing and the nitty-gritty of the work day in and day out. I love to perform, how it makes me feel and how freeing it can be to get lost in the movement or a story, but it’s the rehearsal process really makes the performance satisfying for me. I also love that there is no end to learning; there are so many aspects to dance that you are constantly inspired.
What have been your highlights since graduating from NZSD?
A recent highlight was my promotion to Principal Artist with The Australian Ballet. The promotion to Principal Artist is an onstage tradition at the Australian Ballet. I was dancing Columbine alongside guest artist Daniil Simkin (Principal Artist with the American Ballet Theatre and Berlin Staatsballett) the night of my promotion in Alexei Ratmansky’s production of Harlequinade. It was such a wonderful experience to share the stage with Daniil, and when Artistic Director David Hallberg came out and announced my promotion at the final curtain call, I couldn’t believe it.
What advice would you give to aspiring dancers?
To work hard at what you do but also stay open and curious; there is always an opportunity to learn something in any situation. Find the fun and enjoyment in what you do; It’s important to work out why you dance, what makes you tick, and what really inspires and motivates you intrinsically because there will inevitably be ups and downs throughout your career, and to have those things behind you gives you resilience and grit through the highs and lows.