Auckland teen wins top global ballet competition

Teenage ballerina Hannah O'Neill's win at a prestigious international competition will serve as inspiration to other young New Zealander dancers, one of her former teachers said today.

O'Neill, 16, has taken top prize in the annual Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland from a field of more than 80.

The competition is for 15- to 18-year-old dancers who have not been in professional employment and many previous winners have gone on to star in major companies like the Royal Ballet.

Aucklander O'Neill began her training at the Mt Eden Ballet Academy, and director Heather Palmer described her achievement at Lausanne as "huge".

"What Hannah had done is a great inspiration to a lot of other young dancers in New Zealand," she said.

"It will certainly give them a goal and make them realise that these things are possible." Palmer said O'Neill showed evidence of a budding talent when she started as an eight-year-old.

She described her as a popular student, who helped the younger children, and believed she had the goods to make it to the top in the ballet world.

"She's always willing to learn and is never too important to listen to anyone, and that will stand her in good stead," she said.

"To achieve success in dancing you have to have a good attitude and quite a bit of inner strength, and she has that." O'Neill remained at the academy until early last year, when she moved across the Tasman to join the Australian Ballet School.

The scholarship she was awarded in Lausanne will help towards her four-year course at the school.

O'Neill is the fourth New Zealander to come away with a prize during the competition's 36 years.

She is the second to finish in first place, with Tauranga's Lisa-Maree Cullum also achieving the feat in 1988.

Cullum is now a principal dancer with the Bavarian State Ballet, having previous been with the English National Ballet and the Ballet of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin.