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Dame Merle Park


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Dame Merle Park was a member of the esteemed panel of judges for the NYIBC last month. It was an honor to meet at the closing night gala dinner.

I first saw her dance Lise to Nureyev's Colas in "La Fille Mal Gardee" when Mary Day called the dorm one evening and told me to get my butt over to Kennedy Center (in less than an hour!)

Merle Park was delicate and strong in a pas de deux (can't think of the name) choreographed by Ashton to Strauss which I saw at the MET, and of course as Titania in "The Dream" which I have on video.

It would be nice to hear your impressions of Merle Park.

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Although Park was never my favorite Royal Ballet ballerina, I have to say she was one of the most musical dancers I've ever seen -- and by that, I mean you could see the music when she danced.

She also gave one of the bravest, most honorable performances I've seen, in DC, with one of our tiny local ballet companies, now deceased (in 1975, I think). She danced three solos....to an audience of, oh, maybe 12 people in Lisner Auditorium, and she danced them as though she were at the Met. She didn't stint on anything.

Glebb, perhaps the Strauss pas de deux was Ashton's "Voices of Spring" that he made for a Die Fliedermaus very late in his career? I believe that was for Merle Park and Wayne Eagling.

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That's probably the one, Alexandra, and it was a clever piece of confection, with a bit of Sovietique thrown in, to add to the frothy nature of the opera. It's integrated rather well into Prince Orlofsky's party, when Adele says, "Oh, goodness, here comes my sister! I better hide!" In Act I, it's been established that Adele's sister is in the ballet, and she's written a letter, "Which is remarkable. Dancers don't know how to write!" :dry:

Park was only second to Fonteyn on my 60s RB superballerina list. Even higher than Sibley, Beriosova and Nerina, each of whom I adored.

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My mom and I were at that Lisner auditorium performance -- Park was wonderful! The company was, I think, called the Metropolitan Ballet and and made up of students not professionals. (Much of Mckerrow's early training was at that school. -- again I'm not quite sure of the name, something like the Metropolitan School of ballet. Alan Woodard and Charles Dickson were the teachers.)

The first Royal Ballet performance I ever saw was La Fille Mal Gardee at the Metropolitan Opera House with Park, Michael Coleman, Stanley Holden, and Alexander Grant. The evening was capped off by Fonteyn and Nureyev in Marguerite and Armand. Though quite young, I was very aware that Fonteyn and Nureyev were supposed to be the evening's big event, but I loved Fille the best! And, with the utmost respect for Fonteyn and Nureyev, I bet if I could see that exact performance today, I still would...

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Drew, what an incredible coincidence! Yes, that's the one. The Metropolitan Ballet. They did a goddess Diana piece too, I think. I don't remember anything else. It was in my first season of balletgoing. It was a wonderful lesson in professionalism.

I didn't see Park until the late '70s early '80s, when she was moving from demicaractere to classical roles -- she didn't do Fille, she did Swan Lake, by the time I saw her and I think she'd slimmed down to the bone so she'd have line (there are earlier pictures of her when she's downright chubby, and rather merry, and I can imagine she'd have been a wonderful Lise). I can't do better than say that for me, she wasn't magical. Musical, yes, but not magical :dry: Too much trying to be the Grand Ballerina. But I have seen a video of her in Symphonic Variations (in the Fonteyn role) where she is exquisitely musical, and that's the way I remember her dancing as well.

I did like her very much -- and this is perverse, I know -- in Isadora. I KNOW Seymour should have done it and would have been wonderful, but one moment I will always remember was when the Actress Isadora was intoning, turning on the crowd, and the Dancer Isadora (Park) slipped through that crowd, the "real" Isadora, going unnoticed. In an otherwise wretched ballet, I thought that was a stroke of genius on MacMillan's part, and also on Park's. Precisely because she was so un-Isadora-like, she made the dramatic point perfectly.

Ashton did a lot of little pieces for her late in his career (I'm sure because of the musicality). One that I never saw was La Chatte.

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Yes, it was "Voices of Spring" and it was a delight. Unforgettable entrance. :dry:

My first Fille was preceded by Sibley and Dowell in Kingdom of the Shades.

Sibley, Dowell, Jennifer Penny (as a soloist shade), Park and Nureyev in one evening.

What fun ballet performances used to be! :thumbsup:

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Mel - we must be siblings separated at birth. Park was also my favorite ballerina after Fonteyn in the 1960's and 1970's. The second or third ballet performance I ever saw was Park and Macleary in Macmillan's Romeo and Juliet at the Old Met, and I was sobbing by the final curtain. Two years later I saw Park and Dowell in the same production at Covent Garden, and it stands out in my mind as possibly the most completely perfect single performance I have ever seen. Her phrasing was always so perfect for whatever the music was, and she had the loveliest line. I know some of the early photos of her suggest a plumpness but by 1965 she was already lithe and sometimes almost too slender. I used to send her white roses at Covent Garden and she left a pair of her pointe shoes and a lovely thank you note at the stage door for me.

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