Late ballet beginners and Prix de Lausanne entrants will love today’s interview; Patricia Zhou, Apprentice with the Royal Ballet, tells us more about starting her training at the Kirov Academy at the late age of 13 and her incredible experience at the Prix de Lausanne.
She has recently announced she will be joining Staatsballett Berlin as a member of the Corps de Ballet for the 2012/2012 season.
Hi Patricia, can you remember your first ballet class?
I can't. Sadly when I first started ballet, I didn't really focus on the dancing. I just remember playing with my friends in class and enjoying dance lessons for that reason.
That’s a good start! When would you say you started to think seriously of a career in dance?
I didn't actually ever consider a career in dance until quite recently. Growing up I used to play a lot of piano and I studied quite a bit as well. I'm sure if I hadn't gone the way I did, I would have still been doing something that had to do with creativity. I've loved art for as long as I can remember.
Dance is a great form of art so you’re definitely going in the right direction! Tell us about your training at the Kirov Academy?
My training there was so incredible. However, it was very difficult in the beginning as I was very much lost at first and I couldn't remember the combinations fast enough due to the lack of training prior to joining the Kirov. I I think because I was really apprehensive that I wouldn't be able to do what the teachers asked of me, I always got so nervous before class, even in my last year at school. With that being said, I truly feel that I was lucky enough to have teachers that expected a lot from me and pushed me everyday. Though it made taking class quite nerve wracking, I can't imagine my training any differently and would not want to change a thing about it.
You started your training slightly later than other dancers. How has it affected your training?
Well I obviously felt very embarrassed being the oldest in the lowest level and having no clue what was going on most of the time in the first few months. I did have to try my best to catch up with the rest of my classmates. Thankfully, I had the fortune to work with great teachers and was able to move up to the highest level within two years.
I do admit I started really working a lot harder in the past couple of years after I realised that I had a chance at being successful. However, looking back, what I used to think was hard work back then really wasn't... Still, I never had imagined that I would make it to where I am today after just a few years into ballet.
That’s very impressive indeed. What do you think has been your most formative experience?
I can't single out a specific one because I have had so many great experiences. Among them, having the opportunity to work one-on-one with a big handful of amazing teachers and mentors was the best. I think during private coaching I really grew up as a dancer and it helped me improve my technique a lot faster because of the constant attention. I was also lucky enough to have many caring teachers both inside and outside of Kirov who all sincerely wanted me to do well. Their nonstop pushing really gave me the drive to keep going.
You mentioned your mentors and some amazing teachers. What was the best piece of advice they gave you?
The best piece of advice I've ever been given is from my mom. And it doesn't apply solely to ballet, it's somewhat universal.
When I first started competing, she would always tell me to just enjoy the stage and do the best of my ability, instead of thinking about competing with others and placing. She would say that you can't suddenly be better than everyone if they have had more training and experience. At the competition, I would just compete with myself and was just happy to own the stage. Because of her advice, I was never nervous because I was just trying to do my personal best. In reality I was much more grateful that judges recognized my potential and talent than for the awards I won in the end.
Patricia Zhou at the Prix de Lausanne
Speaking of competitions, we’re very interested in hearing more about your experience in this area. One competition in particular must have opened a lot of doors for you: Prix de Lausanne. Can you tell us about it?
Among the four competitions I competed in, Prix de Lausanne was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had. It was so surreal to be there in the first place as I'd watched the finals on YouTube quite a few times and had always been in awe of the beautiful young dancers that competed there.
I had always imagined it to be quite tense and formal, but it was just the opposite. Once I got there all of the dancers were so nice, and the atmosphere was as relaxed as a ballet competition can get. Overall, it was very reassuring to know that everyone was there to make sure we all had an amazing week.
Were you not stressed at all then?
I admit as much as I am a very calm person in competitions, I was a little bit of nervous. As my teacher was not able to accompany me to the competition, I was on my own. The raked stage was also very daunting and we didn't get much time to adjust to it. However I've never been a super competitive person who has to win, so I just enjoyed the chance to dance for the audience and judges on such a famous stage. For me it was more about the experience and knowledge that I gained from being amongst the world's top young dancers.
Can you give our reader some tips on how to remain calm during a competition?
My best tip is: "Compete with the best of yourself rather than with others. Enjoy the audience, stage, and experience!"
What do you think is the best way to make an impression in competitions like these?
I think you just have to be yourself and really perform as an artist instead of a technician. I think if you can show the judges that you truly enjoy what you're doing and dance from within, that makes a lasting impression. To me, there is nothing more you can do.
How did you feel when you were told you had won?
I was very much humbled! I know that I wasn't able to dance to the best of my ability with the conditions given, so I was so grateful that the judges believed in me. I could not have been happier.
What did it mean to you?
It really meant a lot to me because I never thought I would compete in such a prestigious competition when I first started training at Kirov, let alone being placed. I was already thrilled by the opportunity to dance in the finals for such a big audience, and knowing all of my family and friends were watching from around the world was just fantastic.
It must have been a very special moment. You graduated from the Kirov in May 2011. Was your move to the Royal Ballet already negotiated or did it come later?
Well I got the apprenticeship through Prix de Lausanne in February, but I didn't know it would be for the Royal Ballet until the end of March. It was one of the happiest days of my life!
What is always a dream of yours to dance with the Royal Ballet then?
It had been my dream to dance with the Royal Ballet, so I was elated to see it on the choice list at the Prix de Lausanne. They have amazing repertoire and of course some of the world's most brilliant dancers, not to mention the fact that it is in one of the most best cities to live in!
Speaking on London, I suppose crossing the ocean to start a career in England was both exciting and scary. Tell us about the move and your first few months in London.
It was definitely very bittersweet to leave America to go to a country where I knew no one, but I was looking forward to starting my professional career, so I didn't hesitate at all.
The first few months were pretty lonely and scary to be honest. I am not the most outgoing person when you first meet me, so it took me a while to make friends. Working professionally was also very new to me, and it was difficult for me to figure out how everything worked. From casting to full calls, I was a bit lost at first. After a few months though I found my way and started to get used to everything.
You’ve been with the Royal Ballet for about a year now. What do you hope to achieve next season?
Well I am actually moving to Berlin in a few weeks to join the Staatsballett Berlin as a full member. I'm really excited and very much looking forward to be dancing there. I hope I'll get used to their way of working quickly and will be able to immerse myself in rehearsals and shows as soon as possible.
Congratulations! What roles would you like to dance there?
I would love someday to dance "Romeo and Juliet", "Giselle", "Swan Lake"... All of the tragic ones. I also dream of dancing Forsythe's "In the Middle Somewhat Elevated".
We would love to see your interpretation of these classics.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions Patricia. We’ve got one more for you: what are your plans for this summer? I suppose you will be resting and packing before heading to Berlin?
I get about a month break, so I'll have a good amount of time to get ready for the new season. However, I'm actually going to be dancing all summer. I am teaching in the US for the first time which I'm a little bit anxious about, but quite excited at the same time. I will also be dancing in the "Stars of Russian Ballet Gala" with both world renowned ballet stars and aspiring young ballet students in Michigan, so I will be training for that as well. The gala, which started three years ago, aimed at bringing world class ballet to Michigan has provided such a great opportunity for ballet students to train and perform with professional dancers from all over the world. The annual gala has brought so many great ballet stars from all over the world and grown bigger and bigger every year. This will be my third year being invited back and it is the performance that I look forward to being part of, so I can't wait until August!!
Fantastic! That’s a busy summer in perspective then. We hope you enjoy your time back in America and we’re looking forward to hearing and seeing more from you at Staatsballett Berlin!