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Merrill Ashley


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I believe she's been working pretty constantly both setting Balanchine's ballets on other companies (particularly Ballo della Regina) and teaching and coaching at NYCB.

There's a long article I wrote in the current issue of Dance View that goes in depth into a coaching session for Ballo, and she also appeared as Madge in La Sylphide at Boston Ballet in March.

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I see Merrill Ashley (and Sean Lavery) almost every time I go to NYC Ballet. They sit together near the rear of the orchestra and - I assume - go back during intermissions to tell the dancers what was good or bad about the performance they've just seen.

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In my experience, she speaks about Balanchine with writer Nancy Goldner where she has been setting his ballets, both here in Chicago and in Miami Beach, sometimes talking about the ballets she sets and sometimes about others. Her and Goldner's remarks may be accompanied by dancing, or not. And sometimes Ashley gets up and demonstrates something, although she's wearing street clothes. Here's a couple of links to highlights of one of these speaking engagements:



Edited by Jack Reed
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Vipa, thank you so much for posting that interview with Merrill! It is wonderful, so rich with details and experiences. I enjoyed it tremendously, and will certainly watch it again. Really appreciate it.

My pleasure. It's rare to see an interview this long or in depth. I enjoyed the whole thing. The input that her husband had in her development as a dancer was something I didn't expect.

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Thank you for posting, vipa. Much of the material through the death of Balanchine will be familiar to those who have read Ashley's excellent book, but I didn't mind hearing it again. I was struck by what she said about doing unfamiliar Balanchine ballets after his death - that she had a few questions only he could answer and without him there she had to manage as best she could. For some things, not even the most dedicated curation can compensate for the loss of the maker of the dance, I gather. She also talks about the trauma of retirement. Very good interview.

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I agree with dirac: "A very good interview." Thanks, vipa. It was worth taking the time to watch it all the way through. Ashley is intelligent, articulate, and very charming. I was struck by something she said about Balanchine's willingness (at times) to adjust his choreography to suit the strengths and weaknesses of different dancers:

I think, from my point of view, there are times when a step just doesn't suit a specific dancer ... And he would change the step.

It's good to know that coaches and advocates like Ashley, those who actually worked with Balanchine in the creation and performance of his choreography, are still around. I guess it's time to re-read Dancing for Balanchine

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As Ms. Ashley rightly points out, Balanchine-trained coaches just cannot entirely replicate what

Balanchine did now that he is gone. Balanchine understood "families of gestures" [i think this is a

paraphrase of what he said]. Thus he could substitute one gesture for another to suit a particular

dancer. No one else can do that.

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Ashley says in her book, and also (with less detail) in the interview, that Balanchine would not necessarily change steps right away. Often he would want the dancer to try to overcome the obstacle, and only after demonstrated effort would he resort to changing the step. In the interview she mentions McBride as the big turner, but in the book she wrote specifically of her troubles with Marnee Morris' variation in "Who Cares?"

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