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I was at a showing of The Dance Goodbye followed by a Q&A with Merrill Ashley and the film makers. Anyone else there? I enjoyed the film and especially the Q&A but I don't think the film was particularly well done. In the film, 3 or 4 different people expressed the idea that a dancer who retires questions their identity as in - I was a ballet dancer and now I am not, so who am I? A valid question but hearing the same thought from several different people felt like padding. The idea behind the film is universal. Anyone who goes through a transition not of their choosing can relate.

I was surprised that no NYCB people were interviewed aside from Jacques D'Amboise. John Meehan was interviewed as a "frequent partner." We see a little footage of Meehan and Ashley rehearsing Sleeping Beauty wedding pas but they couldn't have danced together a lot. That had to have been a guest appearance. The footage of Ashley's dancing was wonderful. The Q&A was delightful. I particularly liked a questions asked about how much choreography of Ballo was left on the cutting room floor - so to speak. The answer was, one step, and that was at Ashley's request.

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I was at a showing of The Dance Goodbye followed by a Q&A with Merrill Ashley and the film makers. Anyone else there? I enjoyed the film and especially the Q&A but I don't think the film was particularly well done. In the film, 3 or 4 different people expressed the idea that a dancer who retires questions their identity as in - I was a ballet dancer and now I am not, so who am I? A valid question but hearing the same thought from several different people felt like padding. The idea behind the film is universal. Anyone who goes through a transition not of their choosing can relate.

I was surprised that no NYCB people were interviewed aside from Jacques D'Amboise. John Meehan was interviewed as a "frequent partner." We see a little footage of Meehan and Ashley rehearsing Sleeping Beauty wedding pas but they couldn't have danced together a lot. That had to have been a guest appearance. The footage of Ashley's dancing was wonderful. The Q&A was delightful. I particularly liked a questions asked about how much choreography of Ballo was left on the cutting room floor - so to speak. The answer was, one step, and that was at Ashley's request.

I own the DVD of the film so I didn't bother to come to the Filmlinc showing. But I agree that the film was not particularly well done. If memory serves, it was also rather dated; i don't think it went into how Merrill now travels around for the Bslanchine Trust, setting and coaching ballets around the world.

As for no other NYCB dancers, I'm sure they could have made some effort to get some former dancers for the Q&A. I don't know if Ib Anderson lives here but Robbie La Fosse and Damian Woetzel both do. However, in a NYT article on Friday (I believe) Merrill said something to the effect that the current crop of NYCB dancers aren't willing to work hard and Merrill didn't want to feed them pablum. Well that remark drew a lot of anger from at least Sara Mearns in an Instagram post. She responded that NYCB dancers were the hardest working dancers she knew and that the remark was completely disrespectful. It doesn't surprise me there were no current NYCB dancers in attendance.

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The timing (of production and distribution) of this film seems a bit slow to me -- I know a project like this takes time, and there are all kinds of road blocks that can come up, but I think this would have been more significant if it had come out at least a couple of years ago, when our images of Ashley as a performer were more fresh.

It seems to me that we're really starting to expect a shorter turn-around time for projects like this one. With films like the Misty Copeland bio that made the festival circuit last year and was just on PBS, we see a film of someone who is currently working, and is still breaking ground. We're watching something as it unfolds, rather than reflecting on something that already happened.

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I own the DVD of the film so I didn't bother to come to the Filmlinc showing. But I agree that the film was not particularly well done. If memory serves, it was also rather dated; i don't think it went into how Merrill now travels around for the Bslanchine Trust, setting and coaching ballets around the world.

As for no other NYCB dancers, I'm sure they could have made some effort to get some former dancers for the Q&A. I don't know if Ib Anderson lives here but Robbie La Fosse and Damian Woetzel both do. However, in a NYT article on Friday (I believe) Merrill said something to the effect that the current crop of NYCB dancers aren't willing to work hard and Merrill didn't want to feed them pablum. Well that remark drew a lot of anger from at least Sara Mearns in an Instagram post. She responded that NYCB dancers were the hardest working dancers she knew and that the remark was completely disrespectful. It doesn't surprise me there were no current NYCB dancers in attendance.

More than the Q&A I was surprised that there weren't more NYCB dancers interviewed in the movie. Sean Lavery, Adam Luders, Peter Martins and others partnered her a lot yet in the film John Meehan was interviewed as a frequent partner. It seemed strange to me. I was too polite to ask in the Q&A

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I acquired a DVD of "The Dance Goodbye" recently. I thought it well worth seeing. Much of the dance footage is now available on YouTube, but a couple - like the clips of Meehan and Ashley dancing the pas de deux from Agon at Jacob's Pillow  - are not. Also enjoyed the clips of Ashley performing Madge with the Royal Danish Ballet.  It is a little odd to see Meehan interviewed instead of one of her regular NYCB partners - in addition to the others mentioned above, Robert Weiss danced with her frequently in earlier years. However, Meehan had good and interesting things to say as did Ashley's husband Kibbe Fitzpatrick. 

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However, in a NYT article on Friday (I believe) Merrill said something to the effect that the current crop of NYCB dancers aren't willing to work hard and Merrill didn't want to feed them pablum. Well that remark drew a lot of anger from at least Sara Mearns in an Instagram post. She responded that NYCB dancers were the hardest working dancers she knew and that the remark was completely disrespectful. It doesn't surprise me there were no current NYCB dancers in attendance.

The NYT article is here

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“I knew what I wanted to work on, but to find combinations that I liked and thought would be palatable,” she said, with a pause. “Some were not so palatable.”

Her classes, in other words, were rigorous.

In her day, she said, “If Balanchine gave it, we did it.” But she wasn’t Balanchine. “They didn’t want to work hard,” she added, “and I didn’t want to just give them pablum.”

 

I  have the impression from interviews that Ashley is franker than most about the frustrations of coaching and teaching as well as the rewards, and it takes some courage to speak your mind that way, even if you're a prominent retired principal like Ashley, because as a freelance coach and teacher you are not where the power is.

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In the interview with Megan Fairchild, who views her as a mentor, it seemed to me that Ashley wants to spend her life now actively retired with Fitzpatrick, who is in his '80's and giving her body a rest away from trying to demonstrate ballet.  My impression was that it's not worth it to her anymore.  Why would she give up this time with anyone she feels isn't working up to Balanchine's standards as she interprets them?

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Merrill recently set Ballo della Regina on the Royal Danes. She's still sought after as one of the best Balanchine stagers around. I have a feeling she's enjoying retirement but still mentors and stages Balanchine ballets if requested. I loved the interview between her and Megan. There was such obvious respect between the two ladies.

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I was a bit disappointed by the Fairchild interview, although I enjoyed hearing about what Ashley (and Fairchild) are doing now. It's too bad because with ninety minutes of time they could have explored ground less traveled - if you've read Ashley's book, followed her interviews over the years, or seen the (very good) Houston Ballet interview from a few years back with Connor Walsh, "The Dance Goodbye," etc.  many of the anecdotes were familiar. 

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