Celebrated Balanchine Muse Merrill Ashley Guests at CPYB

New York City Ballet former principal dancer inspires young dancers

Merrill Ashley, renowned former New York City Ballet principal dancer, will teach class for Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (CPYB) dancers on stage at the Whitaker Center, Harrisburg, on Friday, June 22. The distinguished George Balanchine Trust Répétiteur, Ms. Ashley is the author of “Dancing for Balanchine” and also co-author and co-artistic director of the video series “The Balanchine Essays.”

Also on Friday, June 22, ballerina Ashley will discuss her years as a principal dancer with Balanchine in a special pre-performance program “The Faces Behind the Steps.” Joining Ms. Ashley will be CPYB Associate Artistic Director, former New York City Ballet dancer and CPYB alumna Darla Hoover, and CPYB CEO and Resident Choreographer Alan Hineline. The pre-performance program, free and open to the public, will begin at 6 p.m. and be held in the Whitaker Center Sunoco Theatre Amp Lobby. In addition to the program, there will be a question-and-answer session with Ms. Ashley.

The last ballerina fully trained by Balanchine, Ms. Ashley danced in the New York City Ballet for 31 years, twenty of those years as a principal dancer. Known for her virtuosity, speed and clarity, Ms. Ashley stages Balanchine ballets around the world. She most recently returned from staging Ballo della Regina at the Royal Ballet, London, and Diamonds for the Bolshoi Ballet, Moscow.

Ms. Ashley’s guest teaching is particularly timely as CPYB will perform three Balanchine masterworks during the Company’s upcoming June Series production: Divertimento No. 15, Who Cares? and Serenade.

“Ms. Ashley’s artistry and legacy are internationally renowned,” says Ms. Hoover. “She has been an inspiration to me throughout my career.  It is a dream come true to expose our students to her astounding skill and dynamic presence.”

Divertimento No. 15 is the ballet in which Ms. Ashley performed her first solo. Choreographed for eight principal dancers, five women and three men, with an ensemble of eight women, the ballet’s sixth role became one of Ms. Ashley’s signature roles because of the speed of the choreography.

Ms. Ashley was the original understudy for the jumping solo in Who Cares?, the masterwork Balanchine choreographed to 16 George Gershwin songs, including “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” and “Embraceable You.” She went on to perform all three principal women roles in the ballet – something no other New York City Ballet dancer has yet to accomplish.

 

In the iconic, soulful and mysterious Serenade, Balanchine’s first ballet created in America, the Los Angeles Times commends Ms. Ashley’s “tautly reined power in the latecomer/fallen-woman role.

About Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet
Established in 1955 by Founding Artistic Director Marcia Dale Weary, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet is a nationally and internationally recognized school of classical ballet headquartered in Carlisle, Pa. CPYB’s mission is to inspire, educate and enrich the lives of the students and the region through training in and the performance of classical ballet.

About Merrill Ashley
Merrill Ashley was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and raised in Rutland, Vermont, where she began her ballet studies at the age of seven. In 1964, at the age of 13, she was awarded one of the first Ford Foundation Scholarships to the School of American Ballet in New York, the official school of the New York City Ballet. In 1967 George Balanchine invited Miss Ashley to join the corps de ballet of the New York City Ballet, where she soon appeared in many corps and soloist roles in all facets of the Company’s vast repertoire. By the time she was promoted to soloist in 1974, she was already in some of the most technically demanding roles ever choreographed by Balanchine.

1977 held two milestones for Miss Ashley: she was promoted to principal dancer and Balanchine choreographed his first ballet for her, Ballo della Regina. In 1980 Balanchine choreographed one of his last ballets, Ballade, for Miss Ashley. It was of this ballet that the New York Times said hers “was the kind of dancing that helps shape the standards of greatness.” During her 31 year career in the New York City Ballet, she also danced in a wide variety of ballets in the Jerome Robbins repertoire, including Dances at a Gathering and The Goldberg Variations. He originated roles for her in Concertino and Brahms/Handel, the latter of which he choreographed with Twyla Tharp. In 1988 she originated a principal role in Peter Martins’ Barber Violin Concerto and in 1989 premiered another principal role in his Fearful Symmetries. In 1991 she originated the role of “Carabosse” in Peter Martins’ The Sleeping Beauty.

Miss Ashley retired on November 25, 1997, at a gala celebration opening the New York City Ballet’s winter season. She immediately joined the artistic staff of the New York City Ballet where she was the teaching associate, coaching dancers in their roles and teaching Company class until January 2009. Currently, Miss Ashley stages Balanchine ballets, teaches at schools and companies all over the world as well as lecturing about Balanchine and his teaching and choreography.

Outside of her work at New York City Ballet, Miss Ashley danced in many guest appearances around the world and appeared on television numerous times, particularly in PBS’ Dance in America series. In 1984, her autobiography “Dancing for Balanchine” was published by E. P. Dutton. She is the co-author and co-artistic director and dancer in the video series “The Balanchine Essays,” which gives explanations and demonstrations of the Balanchine Technique®, as well as showing excerpts from Balanchine ballets. In 1987 she received the Dance Magazine Award and in 2011 she was given the Jerome Robbins Award.

She is married to Kibbe Fitzpatrick, a retired United Nations simultaneous interpreter, and she divides her time between New York City and Naples, Florida.