Matthew Golding interview

Danspubliek spoke with Matthew Golding, now a principal dancer at The Royal Ballet, in May 2012. ‘You have to work as if you are going to be replaced.’

The touring bus of Het Nationale Ballet has just arrived in Rotterdam and most dancers move straight into the theatre. A few of them wait outside, taking a little break. The last person to appear from the bus is tall and slim and strolls towards the artist entrance. Matthew Golding (born in Regina, Canada) is a principal dancer and upcoming star with the Dutch ‘Het Nationale Ballet’.

Instead of becoming a Wayne Gretzky (ice-hockey star) you became a Wayne Eagling (ballet star). It took a while before you decided on becoming a ballet dancer…

“After having to give up my dream to become a hockey player I started doing tap and jazz. I did a lot of competitions and stayed in nice hotels. Later when I was fifteen I would watch videos with Carlos Acosta or Mikhail Baryshnikov, seeing the technique and what it meant to be a good male dancer. I realized I could do this and decided I wanted to be a high caliber ballet dancer.”

You can spot Matthew Golding during a rehearsal practicing many entrechat-six. The professional dancer has a strong sense of discipline.

“When I joined the Universal Ballet Academy, now the Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington, I got addicted to the Russian – almost military – style of discipline. Right away the teacher would say: ‘You come here, we train you and we will do something amazing.’ In one year I developed into a ballet dancer.”

Matthew started doing competitions such as the Youth America Grand Prix and the Prix de Lausanne. He won scholarships, which enabled him to go to The Royal Ballet School and the Studio Company of American Ballet Theatre.

“I wasn’t really strong technically in classical ballet. I would make my own choreography, using tap and jazz in a smart way. It was just me and my mother, I had no professional coach. Mainly based on my creativity I made it to the end of these competitions. I chose to go to The Royal Ballet School because of its excellent reputation. Also they give you the freedom to manage your scholarship money and I have a lot of relatives in England where my family originally comes from.”

Matthew danced at the Studio Company of American Ballet Theatre and in the main company for a few years. Looking back at those years he realizes he didn’t have too many chances to get stage experience. He was happy to move on and find a company where he would get that experience. Enter the Dutch National Ballet.

“You don’t really know a dancer until they are on stage: when they are in pressure situations. There are many good directors and a truly good director can find talent. It gives a company growth when talent is added. I was lucky when Ted Brandsen (artistic director Dutch National Ballet) offered me a contract: no-one would have given me as much right away. It started with Don Quixote, filming it and all the chances I was given after that.”

There is a young, Dutch dancer named Sem Sjouke, who after being in the Studio Company of American Ballet Theater has now been offered a contract at the main company as well. What advice would you give to him?

“You have to give it time. You have to show that you are reliable and have day-to-day consistency. He has to be honest to himself and know what he wants to achieve. You also need to be the fittest guy possible. In the end, all you need is experience. Once given a chance, you have to make the most of it. You may get very little time and have to go on stage for a rehearsal and people will say: okay, let’s see what you’ve got.”

How do you prevent losing the sense of discipline that you learned at school once you are in a company?

“Finding a right way of work, so your body is in a good rhythm. Being in a company there is always a risk of getting a little comfortable and not give all that you got. I never feel that this work is forever: you have to work as if you are going to be replaced. I was always hungry for opportunities, now I have them and I make the best of it.”

The old English name ‘Golding’ means ‘Son of Gold’. Matthew explains that Wayne Eagling (former star at The Royal Ballet and ex-director of Dutch National Ballet) bears the same Golding name. Matthew danced in his version of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (a co-production with Toer van Schayk). His travelling to Moscow now with his partner Anna Tsygankova isn’t the first time for them to do guest performances.

“We are quite busy outside the company, doing guest performances all the time. It is nice to do, but it is also very good money. Dancers don’t normally get paid so well: compared to sport athletes, the way we go hard on our bodies, six days a week. A salary doesn’t set you up for the future, so we have to think of that too.”

When you were younger you wanted to become a hip hop dancer and join talent shows. What do professional dancers think of television programs such as So You Think You Can Dance?

“Ballet dancers are highly critical. They look at who is or is not a professional dancer. But I think it is amazing what these programs do for dance: dance is now mainstream. A program such as So You Think You Can Dance had the highest ratings in the U.S. It was beating out American Idol. That is awesome. But it is a different kind of dance than ballet.”

Matthew Golding is performing Albrecht tonight in Giselle in which he dances with Megan Zimny Gray. How does he like the acting or mime part in dance?

“I enjoy it very much: I can do full-length ballets forever. Last year I did about twenty productions of La Bayadere, from Japan to Slovenia. It never tired me. I enjoy very much playing the character, getting away from yourself. There is something about being on stage, the adrenaline makes it all different.”

You have done different dance styles, recently working with Paul Lightfoot and Sol León for the 50th anniversary of Het Nationale Ballet. Even a well-known modern dance teacher was impressed with how you danced their work.

“Working with Paul and Sol was a great opportunity. I would otherwise never be able to do some of their work since they are at Nederlands Dans Theater. The movement material was very much what I felt comfortable doing and what Paul wanted. Both Hans van Manen, whom I worked with, and Paul Lightfoot know what they are doing and they take care that you look good.”

Matthew has just bought a place in Amsterdam and is painting, renovating, going to Ikea up and down. He likes the normal local life in Amsterdam, practicing Bikram yoga, swimming and jumping on a bike to go anywhere. Will he stay in Holland even if his nomination for the Benois de la Danse gives his career an extra boost?

“I enjoy being here and to have the freedom to go and come back by doing guest performances. You don’t realize what people think of dancers until you go abroad. In Japan you would find people waiting at the door and giving you presents: in Holland things are a little more low-key. The dance world is so connected. You know there are auditions going on, by word of mouth or on Facebook. It is easier for dancers to communicate now. Dancers always think or hear that things are better somewhere else. Anna and I think the grass may be greener on the other side in one way, but it is hard to find the whole package.”

May 2012

(photo Matthew Golding: Angela Sterling)

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