Sunday, 5 June 2016

Meet Danielle Gould of the Hungarian National Ballet

Danielle Gould
(c) 2016 Danielle Gould: all rights reserved

Every so often a dancer stands out from his or her peers and commands attention. That happened at Budapest Opera House on Sunday, 17 April 2016 in the Puss in Boots divertissement of Sir Peter Wright's production of The Sleeping Beauty when the white cat appeared on stage.  Here's what I wrote in my review of the performance:
",,,, the young Canadian dancer Danielle Gould ,,,,, danced the white cat. It is not an easy character role particularly with a heavy cat mask. She has to be both human and feline: flirtatious at one moment, they playful slapping her partner at the next. It is one of my favourite divertissements of any ballet. She danced it well winning the hearts of the audience."
As I had attended the show as part of a contingent from the London Ballet Circle I was invited by Sir Peter, our patron, to meet the cast back stage. It was there that I introduced myself to Danielle. I congratulated her on her performance and asked her for this interview which she kindly agreed to give me.  My questions are in italics and Danielle's answers are in plain type.

Danielle. Thank you for this interview. I see from your website that you were born in North Vancouver which I understand to be a municipality within the Vancouver metropolitan area. Is that where you spent your childhood and adolescence?

"Thank you Jane, I am excited to be able to share my stories and adventures through your interview. I was born and raised in North Vancouver, more specifically in a even smaller part of North Vancouver called Lynn Valley."

"I was there once. I remember a narrow suspension bridge across a ravine. I was there for picnic or barbecue during a lawyers' conference in 1998.  It was a wet and windy evening and we had to cross the bridge which was slightly unnerving as the flimsy and slippery wooden walkway swayed under our feet."

"It was a fabulous place to grow up as it was a smaller community and to this day many members of the community are still supporters and fans of my dancing. I started in a small school there and Lynn Valley was certainly my childhood home. As I got more intensive with my dance training into my adolescence I did not spend as much time in Lynn Valley."

"Would you like to say something about the place or places you lived while growing up, your home and family?"

"Well of course I am so very lucky to have a extremely supportive and encouraging family that certainly helped me along the road from local school to professional training schools to professional ballet dancer. Also, driving me from academic school to ballet to competitions and everything in between. I also would spend a lot of time when I wasn't dancing on Roberts Creek Beach on the Sunshine Coast where my grandparents live."

"Do any other members of your family participate in ballet, other types of dance or the other performing arts?"

"Surprisingly none of my direct family has any involvement in the performing arts or ballet specifically. But now after all these years of watching ballet I think my family can understand it on different level and comprehension, especially my mom."

"What would you say were your main cultural influences while you were growing up? For instance, did your mother, other family members or school take you to ballets, plays or concerts? If so can you remember what you first saw and what most impressed you as you were growing up?

"My mom would take us often."

"How and why did you take up ballet?"

"Well this is a funny one.

I was a very energetic child, I didn't sit still very well and I liked to 'beat to my own drum'. I had a few lessons of gymnastics. Most went well except that the strict Russian teacher was always telling my mom to make me sit still or 'go out and run me beforehand - like a dog!' Then one lesson it was 'Bring your Teddy to class day' so I decided to bring my rubber snake.  When I pulled it out the teacher screamed and said: 'This is enough.'  I was too hard to handle.

So my mom, distraught at the thought of finding me another way to burn of the energy, was driving by the local dance school and saw a sign for 'Enrolment starting now.' I was too young for the youngest ballet class but the director had me demonstrate some exercises. She said: 'Fine, yes we take her.' And that's how it all began!"

"How old were you when you took your first lesson?"


"Did you like ballet when you first started?"

"I don't remember a time when I was not excited for ballet. So as far as I can remember I always liked it."

"When did you realize that you were particularly good at ballet?"

"The combination of usually being the youngest in my class, frequently asked to demonstrate exercises combined with feedback from ballet exams being highly marked. I would say that around age 9 or 10 I realized that I loved ballet, and I recognized that it came naturally to me. Though my ability was often recognized, progress did not come without hard work from a very young age.

There was always someone in all my classes or levels growing up that little bit better then me, or just maybe got that first place while I got the second. For someone who is a perfectionist and also very competitive I think having a bit of healthy competition always helped me to set goals and get better day by day. Its fun now to think back, as a lot of those girls that I started competing against from a young age have also gone on to professional careers."

"Was there a teacher in your early years who recognized your talent and encouraged you?"

"Yes, I had a few. Most importantly though Astrid Sherman and Melanie Dance."

"I see from your biography that you attended The Goh Ballet Academy and Pro Arte Centre in Vancouver. Which came first and how long did you spend at each ballet school?

"When the two teachers that I had been taught by already for a few years in Lynn Valley left to open their own school Pro Arte, I followed along.

Pro Arte started when I was 10 and at that time it was a small group of students with a lot of personal attention. For many of the years that I attended Pro Arte consecutively for summer intensives I attended Canada's National Ballet School in Toronto.  Every year they invited me to study there but I was not ready to make that move.

When I was 13 and completing my third summer school they once again invited me to stay offering financial support so I decided to stay. Then when I was age 14 -17 I attended the Goh Ballet academy."

"Were there any teachers at either school that inspired you at that stage?"

"When I made the transition to Goh Ballet Academy there were many teachers there that truly inspired me and helped take me to the next level.

At that time at Goh Ballet I was very lucky to have the opportunity to be taught by a variety of teachers as well. Mostly morning classes I would be taught by two of the teachers who were dancers with National Ballet of China. Then most of my coaching and other classes were with Vera Soloveyva and Nikolay Levitsky with whom I am still very close with to whom I speak often even now. They truly refined my technique but also were the two amazing coaches that helped me to succeed at competitions.

Also I studied and completed all my exams for the Royal Academy of Dance with Lynette Kelly and Fiona Smith. I completed all my exams to catch up in two years as well as received my Solo Seal and compete at the Genee in 2010.

Most importantly though during my time in the school the artistic directors were Choo Chiat Goh and Lin Yee Goh. Both of them nurtured us like a family. Especially Mr. Goh as for him the most important thing was artistry. I would spend many extra hours in the studio working on the fine details, everything from the finger tips to where my eyes were focusing on a certain step.

"Did you dance in any shows while you were there and what were your favourite roles?

"Training at Goh Ballet gave me countless opportunities to perform various repertoire and especially two performing tours through China. I performed my first full length ballet at 14 as Lise in La Fille mal gardée, as well many pas de deux from various repertoire.

I was also the premier cast of Anna-Marie Holmes's brand new production of The Nutcracker for the Goh Ballet. Uniquely for Vancouver to call its own Nutcracker. I was the Snow Queen and Dew Drop. This was an amazing experience for a dancer at such a young age.

Some other of my favourite repertoire which I performed while I was in school would have been the second time we toured China. I danced The Talisman pas de deuxLes Sylphides (Chopiniana) prelude variation and pas de deux and Yellow River."

"Training for excellence in ballet demands a lot of time. discipline, determination and energy that most young people are unable to give. What motivated you to persist?"

"The love of it.

Yes I had days where I have been so frustrated or angry with how something went, but for me I always had the motivation to wake up the next day and get back in the studio, which comes from true love and passion.

I feel when you love something enough and your passion for it is true that you don't have to search for the motivation as it is something that just comes naturally.

Ballet, if you don’t truly enjoy it and feel passionately about it, it is very easy to just give up because it is not easy,  But that's also what makes it interesting. No matter how good something was there is always some detail to improve, even it is simply just a personal opinion on one step. That is how you can go in every day and do the same exercises at the barre and never ever feel bored. Ballet is anything but boring."

"Did you ever compare your life to that of other young women and ask yourself: 'Why am I putting myself through all this and for what?'"

"No I always was happy with the choices I made, I would never go back and change the path I took. I won't deny that there have been choices that may not exactly have been the right ones and felt like the end of the world in the moment. But, looking back now, they all made me stronger and mean nothing now just a moment of time from the past adding to the story we call life."

"You mentioned your dance training at The National Ballet School of Canada in Toronto. At what age did you enrol in that school?"

"I started attending the summers schools there when I was 10 years old.  As I said earlier, the School asked me to stay on in Toronto every year for three consecutive years but I never felt ready. When I went to the summer school  for the third time at age 13 I decided to stay for the full year. So for my grade 8 school year I spent it in the school there. But I returned to Vancouver after that year to attend the Goh Ballet Academy."

"Toronto is a long way from Vancouver with a very different climate. How did you find your first winter in Ontario?"

"It's nice to hear someone finally to say: 'Toronto is a long way from Vancouver' because it truly is. Many people who have never been to Canada think well it's in the same country it can't be that far. Well it is... Canada is big! So yes."

"I know. I've flown across Canada and the USA several times.  The journey takes several hours.  Also, one should never forget that Toronto (unlike New York. Boston or Washington DC) is a long way from the eastern seaboard. As you say, Canada is big. You must have been young which is why I asked the question."

"I was still very young when I moved there for the year. The winter was different then Vancouver, as it was very very cold. But I liked it much better as it was brighter and sunnier then Vancouver with its never ending greyness in the winter. I love the sun so I enjoyed the change of climate."

"Toronto is also a great metropolis with theatres, museums and concert halls. What did you most like about Toronto?

"I certainly enjoyed my time in Toronto. I loved that there was nearly always something happening and so many events and museums and things to see. Being in the school and still fairly young we got taken as groups to most companies' performances. That was when I realized even more how much I wanted to be a professional ballet dancer. In Vancouver, though we have many good ballet schools, there is no professional
classical ballet company to look up to for inspiration."

"Was there a teacher in Toronto who inspired you?"

"Well I would say that all the teachers I meet with there inspired me. Both in ballet and in academic subjects. My year in the private school for the students of NBS was fabulous."

"And of course you saw all those performances by the National Ballet of Canada and visiting dance companies."

"Yes the School would take us to see most of the performances of the company. I was also extremely excited to get the chance to watch the Erik Bruhn Competition."

"Were you inspired by any particular ballet or dancer at that time?"

"Not particularly. I think I was still too young to watch just one person or ballet. Even now I couldn't name one ballet or dancer that I specifically connect to or feel inspired by as I tend to have many ways of finding inspiration."

I may see one dancer and feel inspired by their emotion and another by there technique, I feel it's very important to watch ballet or any form of dance and art being performed with a very open mind, to learn from it and therefore find inspiration."

"You mentioned a lot of performances with the Goh Ballet Youth Company. What was your favourite role?

"I danced many roles and pas deuxs that I loved as I mentioned earlier. But I think my favourite was performing the full Talisman pas de deux on our second tour of China. It is a fairly difficult pas de deux both in technique and the artistry and I loved that each time I performed it.   I developed both myself and the role. it was a good challenge especially with the intensity of touring many cities in China."

"I see that you entered the Youth America Grand Prix which has launched the careers of many fine North American dancers. Tell me how you came to enter that event?"

"I actually entered the event in a bit of a unconventional way. But that's no surprise as often I do things differently. It's good to be unique. Anyways, most dancers attend one of the semi finals somewhere in the world and then from there, the top three are selected to go to New York City for the finals where there are many opportunities for scholarships to schools as well as company contracts. Since I didn't have the money to attend a semi final location. I decided to send a video to the semi final video submission round and was lucky enough to be selected.

"I believe you reached the finals in New York City and did so well that you were offered a scholarship to the John Cranko School in Stiuttgart."

"In New York the performances and classes went very well and I was selected for the final round in New York as well. I received offers to several places but the one that I accepted (and I am thankful for to this day) was the full scholarship to John Cranko Academy. I remember being offered it and not really knowing what to say or think. I mean I knew about how amazing the dance scene in Europe was and I had heard lots about John Cranko School, but coming from Vancouver I was thinking of staying in North America. But I just took a chance and accepted the offer for Stuttgart and have never regretted it."

"Germany is even further from Vancouver than Toronto in a different country with a different language and a very different culture to that of Canada.  How did you adapt to living in Germany?"

"Well yes, it was a big culture shock. But one I embraced and enjoyed all the same. My road to move there was a bit rocky as I moved straight from the performance tour with Goh ballet in China to Germany. After two and a half weeks of performing in China there was not enough time to come home before flying to Germany.

I had to fly directly from Beijing to Stuttgart but sadly at Beijing airport I was scammed by the airline and they would not let me board unless I paid $1,000 dollars or got rid of one of my two suitcases. I had pre checked and confirmed that I could bring two but they insisted otherwise. I had no help and no phone and no one who spoke English. I had no idea what to do, because moving to Germany I needed my belongings.

Eventually I just stuffed more into one suitcase, wore far too many layers of clothing in the Chinese heat and stuffed two carry-ons full. I gave away all my snacks from home and all the lovely gifts from all the hosts in each city to some Chinese who didn't speak English but were very happy to receive them.  It had to be done because I was not missing that flight. I had to get out of China.

Eventually I made it to Stuttgart. At first I found it very new as I was living in one of the girls' dorms for the scholarship girls which was one apartment and shared by 6.  This was a new experience for me as the 6 of us came from very diverse and different backgrounds and cultures. There was one Canadian (me), one Chinese, one Korean, one Mexican, and two Brazilians. Though we got along very well it was just very different. As I am vegan sharing a kitchen was an experience I shall never forget.  There is a lot of meat in typical German food and all my room mates loved meat products. But, on the other hand, I loved using my free time on Sundays to grab the train and just go exploring, no car needed in Europe."

"Again were there any teachers who inspired you?"

My teacher in the Academy was very strict and strong at times I can admit now that there was times there that I really didn't like her at all. But now I can look back and see that even though she usually made someone cry in the class or told us we were all horrible it was all for the best and to make us stronger and better dancers."

"While you were in Stuttgart you were spotted by the Hungarian National Ballet and invited to join them. Can you tell us the circumstances in which you were invited?

When I was in my second year in the academy and it was time for auditions, the Hungarian National Ballet was the first one I attended in the very beginning of January. I was offered the contract and it was for me to start as soon as my visa was ready. I was feeling very over school and ready to start work so I accepted. There was a small amount of risk involved as the company here accepts you, and this is for everyone, on a three month trial period and there is no guarantee of a continued contract. But as you can see it paid off as three years later I am still here with repertoire and interesting experiences under my belt."

"How did you find the transition from student to full time member of a company?"

"For me, the transition was not that big of a change or very difficult as during my last two years at Goh Ballet I was performing and training intensively with both the Academy and the Youth Company. Then when I was at the Cranko Academy I understudied for two ballets with the company and so I already had a feel for it. I love being on stage and being busy, so the intensity of the performing schedule didn't feel like a big change for me at all."

"How do you like Budapest as a city?"

"As a city I absolutely love Budapest. It's stunning. Structurally the architecture throughout the entire city is beautiful and there is always something going on. Festivals, events, pop up store, new cafe and design shops on every corner. It's a booming city.  I have certainly seen the growth in just three years - especially due to the huge rise in the popularity of river cruises and the desire for tourists to discover the cities that are not the mainstream destinations in Europe, the more Eastern European hidden gems. Though I am enjoying the growth of tourism bringing innovation and change in the city, it has definitely caused some inflation which makes it difficult with our salary."

"What do you like most about Budapest and Hungary?"

"I have enjoyed the city and of course performing in the beautiful Opera House. As well, considering Hungary is a fairly small country, it has a variety of unique natural attractions to explore. I love being outdoors and have enjoyed several trips to Lake Heviz which is a natural mineral lake fed by a deep thermal spring and its waters have natural healing properties. It's one of the largest thermal lakes in the world. I also enjoyed visiting Lake Balaton, nicknamed the Hungarian sea, and its beautiful wine country. Also, the very large stalactite caves in the north of the country in Aggtelek National Park and the famous Danube bend in Visegrad."

"What do you miss most about North America?"

"I do miss some of the modernisms of North America as well as being able to literally find anything you could want at any given moment. As well, being from Vancouver, and the west coast of North America in general, there is an addiction to being a yogi kale eating health nut, which I totally am. In Eastern Europe the way of living naturally and the term veganism is still fairly new but slowly growing. And plainly sometimes I just miss everyone completely understanding me and speaking English."

"Tell me about a typical day in the company from the moment you report for work to when you go home."

"I wake up shortly after 07:00, have breakfast and get ready. I get to the Opera for 09:00 and class starts at 10:00 and finishes around 11:00 or 11:15. Then we have morning rehearsals that finish around 14:00. If we have a performance in the evening we finish then for our break. Otherwise if we don't have a performance we have another block of rehearsals from 14:30 to 18:00. Then, if it hasn't been a particularly busy day I usually go to the gym or have pilates. Then it's home for dinner and relax before bed."

"They say that Hungarian is the most difficult European language for a native English speaker. Do you have to learn it for work? If so, how are you progressing?

"Well it is a challenge but I have embraced it and have tried to learn it. My first year in the company before a lot more foreigners came, I did take lessons, as they spoke mostly Hungarian. Those lessons helped me to learn the basics and now I can understand quiet well when they speak in rehearsal or I can make basic conversation for shopping and going to the markets. But I won't deny that it is very hard and the level I am at now I have plateaued as to go further I would have to intensely study the grammar which is very difficult and would take a lot of time."

"Tell us how you keep in top physical condition. The exercises you do and the food that you eat."

"Well I have been vegan and a passionate health nut for many years now and thrive on this type of diet. I feel it works very well for myself and enjoy studying nutrition on the side and hope one day to help others learn the healthiest ways to live and eat. I also love to do yoga and pilates on the side and as well as swimming and routinely go to the gym and saunas."

"Tell us about the ballets and dancers who inspire you now and why?"

"Many different ballets and dancers for various reasons. We would be here all day for me to name and explain each one."

"What is the role that you have enjoyed most while you have been with the Hungarian National Ballet?

"I think my most recent role that I really enjoyed was dancing and performing the White Cat in The Sleeping Beauty. But I also enjoyed dancing the Russian Pair in The Nutcracker and  one of the two lead sylphs in La Sylphide. These are the specific roles I enjoyed dancing but any time I am on stage I am enjoying it let it be a soloist part, pas de deux or corps de ballet, though of course I prefer to be performing solo or pas de deux for, as everyone knows, corps is much harder."

"What are your interests outside work?"

"Outside of ballet I have a passion for travel, nature, exploring local farmers markets and design markets. I also love to do yoga and pilates. Also, if I want just to relax I love to go to a good cafe for tea or coffee and write or read blogs."

"Do you like film, music, books or the other arts?"

"I love to make my own jewelry and have been making it for many years now. I also enjoy the occasional movie here and there and I am a fan of magazines. I don't sit still very well, so usually my free time is still in some way active."

"How about cooking, travel, clothes?

"All three… travel is a must, as I mentioned above its a passion of mine. I have gotten very good at finding ways to visit places on a budget but still enjoy every moment of it. When I travel or even living here in Budapest I love to learn as much as I can about the culture the customs and traditions.

I absolutely love fashion as well, so even when I am traveling I like to observe the unique styles and trend in various places. But I love my clothing, just as each time you step on stage you are performing for the
audience and committing to the character, I feel clothing and fashion is a way to express myself off of the stage."

"Do you play any sports?"

"Not in particular, since I like to be active I am up for any challenge. Since my dad and brother are mountain and road bike racers, if its a family bike ride its more like the tour de France. I also enjoy hiking and long walks.

Coming from Vancouver where we are surrounded by nature we are raised in the woods."

"What are your favourite activities, films, books and music?"

"I do not have a set preference depends on how I am feeling in the moment, give it comedy, romance, action or adventure movie. Or in terms of music, I am open to every style and enjoy a variety."

"Returning to ballet, what roles would you most like to dance and why?"

"The roles I have on my goal list classically are definitely Juliet, Manon, Aurora and Giselle. I love ballets with a story where you can transform and immerse yourself completely in the character. It's so important to have good technique but ballet is more then just technique which would just make it a sport. It's an art and the emotion is why people come to see a ballet. They want to be moved and feel emotions which will only come through if you are 100 percent committed to the character you are portraying."

"Is there any choreographer or director you particularly wish to work with?"

"Not specifically.  The opportunity to have a piece created on myself would be a goal I hope for one day."

"You have already choreographed some work for your company which I admire greatly. When did your interest in choreography arise?

"I have always had an interest for choreography. Since a very young age I would spend hours in my basement just improvising to music and choreographing pieces. I remember creating choreography for my elementary school's talent shows. Also in our local dance competitions they had a category where the judge would chose a piece of music and you would have the chance to hear it once and then go on stage and improvise to it. For me creating movement to music has always come very naturally and I enjoy it. I usually start by finding a piece of music that I feel either moved by or that evokes certain themes or messages or that I simply just like and then the movement just comes to me."

"Who has influenced your as a choreographer?"

"I wouldn't say anyone has directly influenced me, but of course I keep my eyes open and watch as much of the new works by other international choreographers as possible. This helps to keep my mind full of inspiration for what is new and up and coming in the world of dance and ballet, be it from very modern to neoclassical to new full length classical ballets."

"Which dancers would you like to work with and why?"

"I couldn't name specific people but the best way to answer that would be with the type of dancer I enjoy working with, someone who is dedicated and curious. Someone who is interest and open to new challenges and ways of moving."

"Would you like to say a little bit about each of the works on the 'Choreography' page of your website: 'Between the Balance', 'Complexity' and 'Without Words'?

"So my first piece for the company here for the young choreographers' performance was Without Words. This piece was a play on the three wise monkeys, see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Mostly about those themes coming through and I was also moved by the music.

My second piece, Complexity was more about the music. I absolutely loved that piece of music. Therefore it was the complexity between movement and music as well as shapes starting in the boxes of light and finishing in them.

My most recent piece was a bit different then I usually work. The music was chosen for us and this piece was a collaboration piece with another dancer in the company. This was my first time to co create a piece with someone.  Although I am happy with the finished product it was a interesting experience."

"Are you working on a new ballet now and if so can you tell is about it?"

"I have ideas for a new ballet as well as music that I hope I have the opportunity to set and perform soon But sadly at this time due to lack of funding for the young choreographer performance I am not sure I will have the chance in the coming future."

"What advice would you give to:

  • a small boy or girl in Canada beginning his or her dance studies?"

Learn as much as you can, practice and never give up. But also enjoy time with family and don't put too much into competitions. Sometimes I did and learnt the hard way. You never know how one person's opinion will affect the results and it is really not the end all be all. Just use them as a learning experience and opportunity to perform on stage. "

  • "a 14 year old who knows that he or she is good and wants to take his or her studies further?"

"It is not about the school, it is about the teacher and coach that is working directly with you on a day to day basis. You want to find the right coach that is going to help you go the distance in both technique and artistry."

  • a young man or woman in the National Ballet School or a similar major ballet school in another country? or
  • a young man or woman who has his or her first job as a professional dancer?

Learn everything, especially if you are a cover or understudy. You never know when you may have to jump in. I know its hard to stand in the back corner for hours trying to learn it, but it pays off eventually. And watch, watch as much as you can, watch the other corps, the soloist, principals, how they work, rehearse and perform, its all learning for your own future."

Thank you so much Danielle. I am sure that all my readers will join me in wishing you all the best."

Finally, here is a photograph of Danielle in the outdoors that she loves so much.

Danielle Gould, Hungarian National Ballet
(c) 2016 Danielle Gould: all rights reserved

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