Published: June 21, 2012
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Meet SBF Member Hannah McDonagh, a dancer from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, who is a striking example of passion, strength and determination, the kind that won't let anybody or anything stand between her and her dream. A series of unlucky events forced Hannah to put a stop to her plans of pursuing a career in classical ballet. However, where many other people would have just given up, she found the power inside her to turn the tables and change the course of her artistic life, enabling her to reach her goal of performing on stage.
Read Hannah's interview and find out about how her career has taken shape to be part of the cast of Yma...
Hannah McDonagh

Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Hannah at age 5
  • How old were you when you first started dancing and what inspired you to take it up?
    Quote ...I've been away from home since I was 11, so I'm used to that, but at Friedrichstadt-Palast we tend to stick together as we have so many things in common...
    Hannah McDonagh: I started dancing when I was five, which is probably quite late compared to some people. My mum always wanted to dance, but she never had the opportunity to and when I was in nursery school I saw a photo of the owner's granddaughter in a ballet tutu and I expressed an interest to learn. So Mum took me along to a school, just once a week - I don't think that she thought it would have turned out like it did. When I was 11, I auditioned for White Lodge, The Royal Ballet School and moved to London. At the time, London seemed like a million miles away, but I had a great time and stayed there for 5 years. Unfortunately I had some quite bad injury problems and I had a lot of surgery on my right ankle and it got to the point where the school told me that I couldn't do ballet or pointe work anymore. I thought that my life was over and I gave up dancing completely for 5 years!

  • When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career as a professional dancer?
    HMD: About four years ago I started thinking about dancing again. I realised, as awful as it was, that I couldn't do ballet, I still wanted to dance and would try a different angle. So I went to Laine Theatre Arts and did a two-year course in musical theatre, which really broadened my horizons and actually got me back to where I was when I was very small, rather than just doing ballet.

  • How long have you been at Friedrichstadt-Palast and how did you get the job?
    HMD: I came straight here to Berlin from Laine's. I had a friend from London who was already working here and she told me about an audition. I'm 5' 10", so I was struggling with my height to work in musical theatre in London, so I came to Berlin for the audition and I've been here for 19 months now. In the beginning I had a contract for Friedrichstadt-Palast covering a girl who was on maternity leave, but now I've got a rolling contract. We get two weeks off in February and four weeks in the summer.

  • What is your role there?
    HMD: I would say Dancer, but we do so many different dance styles. I'm part of the ballet ensemble, but there is a lot included in that role.

  • What does it feel like to be part of Yma at Friedrichstadt-Palast?
    HMD: It's just fantastic, it's like being part of a big family. I've been away from home since I was 11, so I'm used to that, but here we tend to stick together as we have so many things in common. We spend a lot of time together and it's a great feeling.
    Quote I had a lot of surgery on my right ankle and it got to the point where the school told me that I couldn't do ballet or pointe work anymore. I thought that my life was over and I gave up dancing completely for 5 years...

  • The Friedrichstadt-Palast dance ensemble is made up of 60 dancers from many different countries. Is it very difficult having a working relationship with so many different nationalities and cultures and how do you all communicate?
    HMD: There are two other British girls in the show, Lucy Barns and Rachael Oag, but we are from 18 nations and we all get on great. Our daily training and our rehearsals for Yma are in German, but when we have choreographers here for a new show, it's generally in English. In the dressing room, it's often in English, as most people can speak fantastic English. However dance is its own language, so it really doesn't matter what language we speak - we find a way. One of our choreographers, who did a piece in Yma is called Tatjana Ostroverkh. She is Russian and doesn't speak English or German, but she has done a fantastic piece, which is so creative and flowing. Being Russian, we couldn't talk to her, so we didn't know what she was thinking or if she had come with something in mind, but when she was choreographing on us, it was all about how we worked together and how things move. Everything is very original and the way it all came together was great.

  • One of the great things about Yma is that it incorporates so many different dance styles and from nine different choreographers who all have their own individual artistic styles. How do you feel about this and how challenging has it been for you?
    Berlin, Friedrichstadt-Palast
Yma - Zu Schön, Um Wahr Zu Sein
Miles De Pasajeros - Rap & Tap routine
Nikolay Golovanov, Koffi Missah, Aleks Uvarov and Dan Revazov
Photo by Ralph Larmann
2011 HMD: It's really challenging doing all the different styles, but that is what makes it interesting. We never get bored and there's always more work to be done, as there are so many styles. You could get absolutely perfect at one style, but that is no good! Working at the Palace, you have to be able to do everything. You have to achieve to be better at one of your weaker styles and be extremely flexible. I have been lucky because Laine's really broadened everything for me. Probably the hardest thing I had to face was the Latin American as that was the style that I'd done the least in. Dance schools In Britain tend to be either classical/modern or ballroom/Latin American and they don't mix the two. In my spare time at Laine's, I used to go to Karen Hardy's studio in London, as I wanted to be a very all rounded dancer. So, it's nice that I can get to do it here in the show.

  • How much rehearsal time do you put in each week?
    HMD: Probably about 20 hours a week. We have training in the morning for about an hour - which is ballet class with different guest teachers and then we have rehearsals. Of course if we are learning something new, or we have work shops, we have extra hours. We have Monday night off and we don't have training or rehearsals on Sunday.

  • What is your favourite part of the show and why?
    HMD: The tap number is my favourite. There are five of us who alternate to do that part and I'm lucky enough to be one of them and I just love it when it's my turn - which is almost every night! Berlin, Friedrichstadt-Palast
Yma - Zu Schön, Um Wahr Zu Sein
This Is the Dream of My Life
close up L>R: Nina Mako, Carolin Wagner, Esther-Lina Cardenas Ruda, Katharina Diedrich and Hannah McDonagh
Particular of photo by Ralph Larmann

  • What is your favourite costume?
    HMD: The girl dance costume. It's like a beige body stocking with beautiful crystals on it, which look really great with the lights.

  • What's been your funniest moment on stage?
    HMD: I once had a problem with my wig. I was dancing and hit my wig which has a funny ball on the top and the ball became loose and it ended up half off. Luckily I wasn't right at the front, so I don't think anyone in the audience realised, but it was amusing for those directly around me.

  • Do you have a special memory in your career that you would like to share with us?
    HMD: Being back on stage for the first time after I started dancing again, when I was at Laine's. It was big moment for me as I hadn't danced for a long time. It was very hard to start from nothing after such a long time off.

    Quote ......You could get absolutely perfect at one style, but that is no good! Working at the Palace, you have to be able to do everything...
  • What's the best thing about being a performer?
    HMD: That your job is also your passion. It's hard work having to train, rehearse and perform, but we do it because we love to perform. Every night you find something that inspires you to do a good show.

  • What advice would you give to young, aspiring dancers?
    HMD: Never give up. I could have easily given up… and I did for a while. A lot of time can go by and you can still do it. If that passion is inside you, you can make it. In the time that I didn't dance there was something missing. Along the way you get a lot of knocks, set backs and criticism, but you just have to keep going to push through the barriers and they will come down. It's a hard business to be in and you have to love it. If you don't love it, it's not nice business to be involved in, but if you love it, everything makes it worth while.

  • What are your plans for the future?
    HMD: To keep dancing for as long as possible, try and do many different styles and push myself to my limit. I would love to do some of the acrobatics in the show on the silks etc.

    Thank you Hannah for this great interview and best of luck with your career!