Growing up in North Vancouver, aspiring ballerina Ashley Coupal had a dream to compete in the Prix de Lausanne. The prestigious international ballet competition issues a yearly wall calendar, and from the time she was eight, Ashley cut out photos of her face and pasted them onto the ballerinas’ bodies – a sort of annual childhood vision board.
When the 2022 edition comes out, there will be no need for Coupal, now 18, to get out the scissors and glue.
Last weekend, Coupal earned a spot on the calendar, named a winner at the competition – one of only two female winners. She is only the second Canadian female winner in the competition’s 49-year history.
“I still feel like I’m on cloud nine,” said Coupal on Wednesday from Florida, where she joined Orlando Ballet’s trainee program in 2019 and in 2020 was promoted to its second company. “I was so proud to represent my country,” she added.
Because of the pandemic, this year’s competition was held virtually, with only the jury in Switzerland. Dancers had to submit videos of classwork as well as a classical variation and a contemporary solo – a piece that applicants had to learn by video, with no in-person coaching.
For her classical piece, Coupal performed Giselle. And for her contemporary entry, she chose a piece called Rain.
“One of the reasons I chose this is because where I’m from, Vancouver, it rains a lot,” she says. “It reminded me of home and I thought I could really connect to that. And I knew the texture of rain, I knew how to move like rain, how to flow like water.”
Coupal began dancing at the age of three, attending the Pink Petal Ballet preschooler program at the Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre. By the time she was six, she was serious about dance as a career and began studying with ballet teacher Catherine Long. Then she attended the Goh Ballet Academy, where she learned under the direct tutelage of school director and former National Ballet principal dancer Chan Hon Goh.
Coupal attended Carson Graham Secondary in North Vancouver, but did her last two years of high school online because of her dance career.
Since childhood, she watched the Prix de Lausanne competition at home with her family, dreaming of competing. Three years ago, she applied – and didn’t get accepted.
“But I had to stay resilient and I decided to try again this year,” she says. “I didn’t make it in the first time but I had something in me saying don’t give up.”
This year, 82 candidates were selected; 78 of them participated and 20 finalists were chosen. The finals were held last Saturday, with six winners selected. Coupal finished sixth.
The prize gives her a one-year apprenticeship scholarship and living expenses at one of the Prize’s partner companies. She gets to choose from among some of the top companies in the world, including the Royal Ballet in the U.K., ABT Studio Company in New York, the Australian Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada’s YOU dance program.
“It all started with a dream,” Coupal says. “And honestly, it was such a great feeling to almost tell that little girl that I used to be that I was able to achieve it.”
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