Choreographer Jennifer Rooney: I want to take off round Ireland in a campervan

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going This week: Choreographer Jennifer Rooney

Gail Bell

Up and at it – what is your new morning routine? How has it changed?

Every day is different - sometimes I am up with the lark and raring to go and other days it's a slower start. I am not used to routine, really, as every job I do has a different schedule. I'm currently working on Northern Ireland Opera's musical Into The Woods, which will be staged at the Lyric next month. It's such an iconic Sondheim show and I'm working with a large cast of talented performers who need to warm up each day, so we get straight to work at 10am every morning.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

I have porridge every day and throw some fruit and nuts into it to make it more interesting.


The old favourite: soup and a sandwich at this time of the year.

Evening meal?

Usually something with chicken - maybe a curry or roast dinner. I also love lasagne, so that will be on the evening menu every now and again.


Have you been able to work from home – if so, how have you found it?

I did some online teaching, but it wasn't ideal because not every student has an appropriate amount of space to work in. However, I was able to have all meetings via Zoom which was great. Luckily, I could liaise with Cameron Menzies, artistic director of Northern Ireland Opera, entirely online during the first lockdown when he was in Australia.


Best/easiest lockdown meal?



Weekend treat?

Sitting watching a film with a bag of popcorn is just the perfect treat.


How have you kept physically and mentally fit during lockdown?

I walked every day to the beach and back. I also did my own dance warm-up and followed some workouts on YouTube. I like to incorporate some choreography time into my day, so over the past month I have been prepping movement sequences for Into The Woods.


What has been your daily outdoor exercise?

We have found lots of new places to walk over the past two years in terms of forests and beaches.


How do you relax?

I binge-watch Netflix, FaceTime friends, listen to music or read a book.


Teetotal or tipple?

Now and again, a little gin is lovely, but I don't drink often.


What book are you currently reading?

A book about 'Inspirational Journeys Round Ireland by Camper Van' by Martin Dorey. I don't have a camper van but have aspirations to do a tour of Ireland in one as soon as things become a bit safer.


Best Netflix?

I loved Sweet Tooth, Good Girls and Young Sheldon. I like escapism and nothing too serious.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself?

This is a tricky question, as I know myself pretty well... Perhaps, because I have missed it so much, I have realised that I actually really need to work. I love my job and it is intrinsically linked to my identity.


On a scale of one to 10, where have you been in relation to cabin fever and where are you now?

Luckily, I didn't ever get too bad with feeling claustrophobic because we are fortunate to have a garden and nice places to walk, but I do miss travelling to England to see family and friends. At the minute I am working, so don't have time to think about it, but I want to get on the boat as soon as my current project is completed.


What are the three things you missed most during the beginning of lockdown?

Seeing family - they live over the permitted distance so we did not see them for months and missed out on seeing close family in what turned out to be their last year. I missed getting into a dance studio and dancing with people and also going on holiday.


Where will you go and what will you do when restrictions are fully lifted?

You will find me on a warm beach somewhere. I will also go to London and see every show that I can, as well as seeing all my friends.


Biggest gripe?

People not wearing masks and being totally oblivious of spatial awareness.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

I think there has definitely been a shift in my priorities - family now comes before work. I also have gotten into the habit of framing things in a different way - if something is bothering me, I take a minute and just weigh up the possible reasons rather than react. It's something I am trying to take forward with me into the future.


Any new skills or hobbies?

I have acquired some roller boots, a paddle board and a body board and these will all get used as soon as spring has sprung. I have very good intentions.


What would you like to see change for good when this is all over?

There has been a movement towards companies and theatres taking notice of the value of freelance artists and I would like to see this continue. The Arts Council NI has been very encouraging to me as a freelancer, in both their financial support, advice and in supporting my work for companies like Northern Ireland Opera and Maiden Voyage Dance. It can often be a pretty lonely working life as a self-employed artist, so this makes all the difference.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

It has made me aware of how fragile we all are and that each day can bring news that we were not expecting.

Jennifer Rooney is movement director for Northern Ireland Opera's production of the Stephen Sondheim musical Into The Woods, which opens at the Lyric on February 3 and runs until February 27.

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