A North Vancouver ballerina has danced her way to a major competition win, and made her dreams come true in the process.
Last weekend, Ashley Coupal, 18, completed a goal she had set for herself when she was just starting out as a dancer after she was named a prize winner at the Prix de Lausanne, a prestigious international ballet competition for younger performers.
“I feel so much gratitude toward everyone who’s helped me get to this position,” Coupal told the North Shore News from Orlando, Fla., where she’s been a member of the Orlando Ballet for the past two years. “Since I was a little girl it’s been a dream to compete in this competition.”
The annual competition, normally held in Switzerland every year, was held virtually this year due to the pandemic. Coupal is only the second Canadian woman to be named a winner at the competition in its 49-year history.
“This competition is very well-known in the ballet world – you could almost call it the Olympics of ballet. It’s very hard to get into,” she said. “I tried a couple of years ago and didn’t get in.”
That certainly wasn’t the case this year.
While the competition received hundreds of applicants, 82 dancers, ages 15 to 18 from around the world, were selected to compete, and only 20 made the finals.
Coupal was one of six prize winners who will receive an apprenticeship scholarship to perform with one of the competition’s partner companies from around the world – though right now she’s focused on her work with the Orlando Ballet second company and its production of Moulin Rouge.
“Things are a bit different here because of COVID,” she noted.
For this year’s virtual Prix de Lausanne competition, dancers had to send in a nine-minute video of their classwork, as well as two dance videos featuring a classical piece and a contemporary solo.
Coupal performed scenes from Giselle, a 19th century French masterwork, for her classical variation. And for her contemporary solo, she performed a piece called Rain.
“I thought of Vancouver immediately and wanted to bring a bit of Vancouver into my dance. I think that helped me make it more personal,” said Coupal. “I chose something that would mean a lot to me.”
Coupal, who attended Carson Graham Secondary, has been dancing since she was just a young girl. A graduate of Goh Ballet Academy in Vancouver, Coupal credits the institution – as well as the school’s director, West Vancouver resident Chan Hon Goh – with helping kickstart her career.
“Goh Ballet has had a huge impact on the direction my career has headed towards. I’ve been working so closely with Chan Hon Goh – she actually sent me so many encouraging messages throughout this competition week,” noted Coupal.
Goh, who was a finalist at the Prix de Lausanne in 1986 before her career really took off, said she was extremely proud of her former dance pupil's accomplishment.
“I know Ashley to be such a hard worker. She's driven, she's focused, and I couldn't be happier for her. She's persevered so hard. It's always been her dream,” said Goh.
Goh, who is a former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, said Coupal's success on such a grand stage for young performers shows how far dance has progressed in the region.
“To see somebody be so recognized and who received their training in Vancouver is a real testament to young dancers who are going through training right now to have even more hope of going internationally,” she said.
In 2018, Coupal was the first Canadian ever to win a gold medal in the World Ballet Competition finals.
After not being accepted into the Prix de Lausanne a few years ago, Coupal said she was thrilled to have had the opportunity to compete – and be named a winner – this time around.
“Every child wanted to do it as a little ballerina. Even getting the opportunity to compete and make it into the finals was a big deal for me,” she said. “This competition is quite important for whatever direction my career will go.”