Although originally from the Canary Islands, Daniel Palmes (20) lives in the French capital, Paris, a city he moved to in order to study at the Ballet School of the Opéra national de Paris. After being a student there for five years, Daniel graduated with a Higher professional Diploma for Dancers and has performed in numerous shows, such as Le Corsaire. During a sit-down interview with The International Angle, Daniel tells all about his experiences of studying ballet in Paris and the pressure that comes with it.
Interview by Zara Garrido Jimenez
Question: Tell us, when did your journey as a dancer begin?
Answer: My parents have always said to me that I learnt to dance before I could even walk. When I was younger, I would always blast music and just start dancing to it, it felt good. My parents could see that I shared a great passion for dance and that’s when they decided that it would be a good idea to sign me up for lessons. So, when I was just five years old, they enrolled me at the best place dance school there was, and still is on the Island: the Choreography Center of The Grand Canary Island. There, I was lucky enough to have been taught by Carmen Robles, Anatol Yanowsky and Laura Romano, these are individuals that have taught well-known ballet dancers who currently perform at The Royal Opera House (London), Het Muziektheater (Amsterdam) and Boston Ballet.
Q: So, how and why did you make the jump from the Canary Islands to the city of Paris?
A: Well, my school in the Canary Islands was only a preparatory center, so after teaching you all they have to offer, they help you move on to something bigger and more professional. Something that is only found in big cities such as Paris, New York or London.
For my application for the Ballet School of the Opéra national de Paris, I did a video audition, and, after a few weeks of silence, they finally got in touch with me and asked for me to do an in-person audition in front of a jury. There they are watching your every move and evaluate your techniques and level. Shortly after, the director informed both me and a friend that we had secured a place and would be starting in September.
Q: Why did you pick Paris over the other cities?
A: For me, it was a no-brainer. I felt like cities such as New York, and Boston were too far away. Also, I truly believe that the Opéra national de Paris is the best company and dance school that there is out there, not only because of its amazing teachers and past alumni, but also because of its value and prestige it holds globally.
Q: When you were studying at school, what routine did you have as a dance student?
A: Every day was similar. From Monday to Thursday, we would wake up at around 7 am and go down for breakfast. After that, each student would go back upstairs and prepare their bag with the essentials needed for the day., at 8, we would go to a different building where we would have normal school classes such as Mathematics or English. Then, from 12 to 13:30, we had a small lunch break. From 13:30 onwards we had ballet classes which would each last for a minimum of 1h and 30 minutes. Before the class, each student had to arrive earlier to be able to warm up and stretch properly. After these classes we would sometimes have dance classes that weren’t ballet or, sometimes, we would have a “perfecting techniques” ballet class, but this would all vary depending on the day. Then, to finish the day off we would have dinner at 19h. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays were our free days.
Q: Were there many international students at the school?
A: So many! People from all over the world come to study at the school. From Spain, London to Italy, there’s so much variety. It is known as a school that only wants the best of the best, so their demand is extremely high.
Q: What were the ballet classes like at the school?
A: We had barre exercises, which lasted 30 minutes, and then for the rest of the hour, we would do something called “floor-barre” which is repeating the same exercises that we had done during the initial 30 minutes but, of course, without the support of the barre, something that requires a lot of balancing skills. These floor-barre exercises would allow us to be much more artistic and, let’s say, performance-like.
Q: What is the level of requirement like?
A: Extremely high. I do have to admit that it’s thanks to the teachers, that I had back in the Canary Islands, that I had sufficient mental and physical preparation. In Paris, you are in a state of constant competition, not only against your peers but against yourself as well. Each year, at the school, we would go against our peers in an exam to see who would remain in the school and who would be asked to leave, this put a lot of pressure on us to be at our best at all times.
Currently, when performing for the Opéra national de Paris, you are required to give all you have to offer, you must be at your best at all times and your “bad days” cease to exist.
Q: What have you learnt from your experience as a ballet dancer in Paris?
A: I’ve learnt the proper way to express myself through dance and the techniques that are necessary to carry it out. I’ve also learnt what it truly takes to be a good performer, and what the behind-the-scenes look like of a ballet show. I’ve also learnt what it’s like to live in a completely new country where you don’t know anyone or the language that is spoken there. But, most of all, I’ve learnt what discipline truly is and means.
The Ballet School of the Opéra national de Paris is immensely prestigious and considered to be one of the best dance schools worldwide. In fact, to be able to dance for the Opéra national de Paris, it is mandatory to have attended previously the school. Some of the most notable former dancers have been Manuel Legris, Agnès Letestu, Claude de Vulpian, Carlotta Zambelli, so on. For this reason, the French city is known for its immense ballet culture and life.