Perspective: Interview with Avril Wieland, Peruvian Gold Medalist at Havana International Ballet Competition

Name: Avril Wieland
Age:16
Where do you currently live/train? Lima, Peru
What kind of pointe shoes do you wear? Russian Pointe, Rubin
What is your favorite ballet or variation? This one is an IMPOSSIBLE question for me. I think every piece has magic in its own way.

How and when did you get your start in dance?
When I was three years old, I started my dance journey thanks to my mom who took me to ballet classes in a nearby studio. I didn’t start training seriously until I joined Rosie Schottland Ballet Clásico some years later.


I know you’ve also had some experience training at Summer Intensives in the United States. Do you notice any differences between training in Peru versus The U.S.?
Yes! Something I really noticed is that the arts are unfortunately not considered so important in Peru, and, therefore, they are not very supported. That’s why the majority of students don’t really take it seriously; they don’t want to become professional dancers because they know that here it’s not a very sustainable carrier. In the U.S.A., I noticed that almost everyone takes it more seriously, and I found it very helpful for me to progress more during class because the teacher notices the interest of the students is bigger. Other than that, there are also many little differences because of the different cultures, languages, etc.

Avril Wieland © Teresa SifuentesAvril Wieland © Teresa Sifuentes Photography

 

When did you know you wanted to become a professional dancer, and why?
Ballet was not love at first sight for me AT ALL. At first, I didn’t get it. I was always distracted in class and couldn’t understand the beauty of it because I wasn’t trying to.

One day, a Russian teacher came to teach us a one week intensive. I will never forget her. She was the most graceful, delicate, and elegant person I’ve had ever seen before; she looked like a swan. After I saw her the first time, I was determined to impress her and learn as much as I could from her so that hopefully one day I can inspire another little girl as she did with me. At that moment, I absolutely fell in love with ballet and knew that this is what I want to do with my life.


What is your favorite part about being on stage and performing? 
Where should I start? EVERYTHING. The adrenaline, the warm lights, the energy, the applause, the spotlight… When I am on stage, I can forget about everything and about real-life problems. No matter how nervous I am before, when I am dancing on stage I’m transported to a magical world where I can be any character I want, and where anything could happen.


Do you have any funny (or embarrassing) stories from the stage or studio?
I have so many, you can’t imagine! For example, at Cuba I.B.C., I was running through my variation in front of everyone on stage. It was huge, so I wasn’t used to dancing with that much space. At one point, I was doing a manege, and, of course, I was making the circumference of the circle too big. So, my teacher started screaming at me, “Avril, run, RUN!” I started running through the huge stage to make it to the next section of my variation, everyone started laughing, and I just couldn’t understand why.

After the rehearsal, my teacher was asking me why I started running. I said, ‘You told me so,’ but he explained to me that he meant that I had to hurry, not actually run. Now we always remember that story and laugh at it.


Speaking of the International Ballet Festival of Havana, we hear that you won first place in 2019! Congrats! What was that experience like for you? 
It was probably the most amazing experience I’ve ever had! If I wanted to tell you about it with details it would take me hours, so I’ll try to make it short. I prepared for the competition by working harder than ever before with my amazing coaches, Alexander Santana and Rosie Schottland. Without them, nothing would’ve been possible. I was so nervous because my teacher, who is Cuban, told me how amazing everyone there was, so our goal was not to win at all; our goal was to go there to improve and to do the best I could do. I was amazed with the Cuban National Ballet School. It is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen, and I felt so grateful to be able to be there and to feel all the energy of all the amazing dancers who grew up there.

Besides that, everyone was simply amazing. I must say, I’ve never seen so much talent together, and the teachers were from another world. Even though it was a competition, everyone was so incredibly supportive. It actually felt, from time to time, like a festival. Also, thanks to the teachers who tried to make everyone grow - not just their own students.

At every performance, the energy back stage was incredible. Everyone rooted for each other so hard you could feel it onstage. Even though I had just met everyone one day before competing, it didn’t stop them for supporting me. I learned so much from performing on such a prestigious stage, which was so huge! It is the biggest stage I’ve ever performed on, so it was hard at the beginning to get used to it and to not feel saturated by the size of it.
Another thing that taught me so much was that there were three rounds; in the first, we had to show two variations. In the second, we showed another two variations, and at the finals, we could choose which two variations to repeat. If you were a gold medalist, you got to perform in the final gala one of your variations and a piece with the other winners, which we learned hours before the performance.
Overall, it was such an improvement process for me every time I went on stage. Every day, I tried to correct the mistakes I had made before, so that at my final performance, I did the best I could do. This system made me feel like such a professional dancer. Between every variation, we only had thirty minutes to prepare for the next one - or even less. I didn’t even know if I would make it through the first round, so it was such a surprise when they called me to perform at the gala! I had never felt so happy and rewarded before. I could keep talking about this for days, but we have to come to an end... So, overall, I found it the most unique, incredible, and special experience I will never forget and so very different from other ballet competitions!
Avril Wieland © Teresa Sifuentes Photography
Avril Wieland © Teresa Sifuentes Photography

 

What have you been up to over the last few months? How have you been able to keep up your technique during the pandemic?
I have been training at home and trying to give my everything despite the conditions. Sometimes it’s not easy to stay in shape with the little space I have, and it isn’t very motivational to dance through the screens. Throughout this process, my teachers have been so supportive and helpful to inspire me to continue to work.


Have you picked up any new hobbies or interests lately?
Honestly, doing online school has also been a very hard transition, and, of course, it is very time consuming. So, I haven’t had time to pick up any new hobbies.


I know you’re a Ballet Rosa ambassador! Can you tell us a little more about that and what you love most about their dancewear?
I love Ballet Rosa so much! I think everything they offer is so unique and beautiful. For example, the amazing and high-quality leotards, which make me feel secure and comfortable.


What is one product in your dance bag that you can’t live without!?
Right now, one of my dance bag must-haves is actually my face mask from Ballet Rosa. It’s so comfortable and pretty, and for a second, it makes me forget that I am using it because of the pandemic.


What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received (dance or non-dance), and from who?
I’ve received so much helpful advice through the years, which makes me so grateful to have been taught by incredible teachers. A piece of advice I always try to remember is to trust my hard work. By this, they meant that I should not have to panic or worry before performing; the work has already been done at the studio every day, so at the moment of dancing, I should trust myself and enjoy everything I worked for.


If you could meet any dancer in the world, who would it be and why?
Probably Marianela Nuñez or Alicia Alonso, but this is such a hard question because every dancer is so unique and has something to teach. I chose Nela because she inspires me to work my hardest to one day hopefully inspire others as she inspires me when she dances. She transforms the audience to another planet with her passion. I also chose Alicia Alonso because she inspired the character of Carmen, one of my dream roles. It would be amazing to get to know her version of it, and to have her explain how Carmen should be.

Avril Wieland © Teresa Sifuentes Photography
Avril Wieland © Teresa Sifuentes Photography

 
What is an element in your technique that you would like to improve the most?
I think I should really improve my consistency with turns, which has always been a struggle for me.


What are you most proud of in your dancing?
There are always things I have to improve because there is no perfection in ballet. But, something I think I really have worked hard on is probably my movement quality, which I think is an aspect that really makes a difference.


What is something interesting that people might not know about you?
I don’t know how interesting this is, but something that not many people know is that I used to also do gymnastics (artistic). Something else is that at the beginning of my ballet journey, I hated it and wanted to quit… which has, of course, changed now!


If you weren’t a dancer, are there any other careers you’d enjoy pursuing?
Yes. I haven’t thought much about it, but I am really interested in all things to do with design or art.


Our mantra at PointePeople is #FeelGoodDanceBetter. What do you do as a dancer to take care of your body? 
First of all, I always want to fuel my body so that I can do the best I can in rehearsals because this is such a demanding physical activity. We, as dancers, need a lot of energy to get us through the day. This doesn’t mean I eat healthy every day, of course; I treat myself some days, if not every day.

About stretching, I try to always do it after training so that my muscles are not sore the next day. Other than that, I always try to have a rest day once a week so my body can recharge for a new week.


What’s something you struggle with as a dancer?
My biggest technical struggles are my feet because I was born with flat feet, so I have to work really hard to make them look better. [I also struggle] a little bit with musicality because I get too excited and start rushing. If not technical, one of my struggles is that sometimes I compare myself to other dancers, which is not good because everyone is different and has their “one thing.”


Who inspires you, and why?
I really admire Gabby Douglas who is a gymnast, but her story is truly amazing. With no resources, she kept fighting for her dreams through hard work, consistency, and family support.


Do you have a dream dance company you’d love to join someday?
Royal Ballet is my absolute dream because of the magic I feel when I see them, the amazing repertoire they have, and many more reasons like their dancers, style, costumes, theater, etc. But, I would be honored to dance at any company, really. It would be really amazing to get to perform professionally anywhere!

Avril Wieland © Teresa Sifuentes Photography
Avril Wieland © Teresa Sifuentes Photography

 

POINTE PAINT Q&A

What do you love most about using Pointe Paint?
How easy it is to use, and that it doesn’t create a mess while painting. Other than that, I love the fact that it doesn’t affect the shape or the hardness of the shoe.


How was using Pointe Paint different from other methods of pancaking or dyeing shoes?
This paint doesn’t affect the shoe, which is something that I think no other method has with the same results; the colors are so intense and pretty.


What colors/shades have you tried? Did you use it for certain roles or performances? 
I used the Macadamia color to perform my Diana and Acteon variation several times.


How long does it take you to paint one pair of pointe shoes?
I didn’t measure my time, but it could not have been longer than five minutes.


What shade(s) of Pointe Paint would you love to try that you haven’t yet!?
I’m dying to try the Aqua shade because it is so intense and unique... but also the Victoria Paige Red because it’s such a classic!

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