MERRILL ASHLEY TO TAPE VIDEO SERIES FOR THE GEORGE BALANCHINE FOUNDATION
Leading Roles in Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 to be coached by New York City Ballet celebrated former principal dancer
New York City—Merrill Ashley, principal dancer with the New York City Ballet for over thirty years, will teach and coach Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 for the George Balanchine Foundation. Ms. Ashley will share her knowledge of this masterwork for the Foundation’s Interpreters Archive, a series of videos that documents the insights of dancers who worked closely with Balanchine on some of his greatest ballets. The archive’s mission is to preserve this knowledge and pass it along to the dancers, scholars and historians of today. The taping will take place October 10th and 11th, at the New York City Ballet studios inLincolnCenter.
Ms. Ashley will work with Tiler Peck and Jonathan Stafford, both principals with the New York City Ballet. Anna Kisselgoff, Chief Dance Critic for the New York Times from 1977 until 2005, will conduct the interview segment with Ms. Ashley. Solo pianist Susan Walters of the New York City Ballet Orchestra will play for the coaching session. The taping will be supervised by Nichol Hlinka, former NYCB principal dancer who recently was named Associate Director of the Foundation’s Video Archives Program. She will be assisted by Nancy Reynolds, Director of Research and Virginia Brooks, Editor.
Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, originally named Ballet Imperial, was choreographed by Balanchine for American Ballet Caravan, and premiered May 29, 1941 in Rio de Janeiro. He described the work as “a contemporary tribute to Petipa, ‘the father of the classical ballet,’ and to Tschaikovsky, his greatest composer.” The New York City Ballet revived the piece (staged by Frederic Franklin) in October, 1964. This version employed classical ballet’s traditionally elaborate tutus and scenery reminiscent of the grand Russian style. A new production under the title Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 debuted on January 12, 1973 inNew York. At this time, Balanchine restaged the work without scenery, and replaced the more formal tutus with flowing chiffon skirts. Anna Kisselgoff observed, “On the surface, ‘Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2’ might be considered the quintessential Balanchine ballet. It is plotless, Neo-classical and was one of the first models of the Balanchinian method of visualizing the music as a ‘floor for the dancers.’”
Ms. Ashley describes Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 as “the epitome of classical ballet. Only pure classical technique can fully meet the challenges of control, speed, lyricism, and grandeur the ballet presents. I always thought of it as an abstract and condensed Sleeping Beauty in terms of the mood changes and technical challenges the ballerina faces. It was thrilling and deeply satisfying to dance.” Ms. Ashley first performed the lead in the restaged version in 1974 while still a member of corps de ballet. “Balanchine started working with me right after I learned it,” Ms. Ashley said. “He made small modifications to the first cadenza, showing me what he believed it should be. There were other places later in the ballet that he asked for steps that were different from what I had seen on other dancers—like the piqué battu finishing ‘in’ instead of ‘out’.”
MERRILL ASHLEY was awarded one of the first Ford Foundation Scholarships to attend the School of American Ballet. In 1967, Balanchine invited her to join the corps de ballet of the New York City Ballet, and by the time she was promoted to soloist in 1974, she was already dancing two of the most technically demanding roles ever choreographed by him, Theme and Variations and Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No.2. Ms. Ashley was promoted to principal dancer in 1977, the year Balanchine choreographed his first ballet for her, Ballo della Regina. One of his last ballets, Ballade, was created on her in 1980. During her illustrious thirty-one year career with the New York City Ballet, her repertory included a diverse array of ballets, including Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15, The Four Temperaments, Raymonda, Square Dance, Stars and Stripes, and Symphony in C; Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering and Goldberg Variations. She originated roles in Robbins’ Concertino and Brahms/Handel and in Peter Martins’ Barber Violin Concerto. Ms. Ashley retired on November 25, 1997 at a gala celebration opening the New York City Ballet’s winter season. In summing up her career, the Wall Street Journal said, “she basically taught the world how ballet is danced.” Currently, Ms. Ashley stages Balanchine ballets and teaches at schools and companies all over the world. She previously taught and coached Ballo della Regina for the Interpreters Archive.
TILER PECK studied with former New York City Ballet dancers Colleen and Patricia Neary and former NYCB principal Yvonne Mounsey. At the age of 12, Ms. Peck entered the School of American Ballet. In February 2005 she joined the Company as a member of the corps de ballet and was promoted to soloist in December 2006 and in October 2009 was promoted to Principal Dancer. She has performed leading roles in numerous Balanchine ballets, including Allegro Brilliante, Apollo, Coppélia, Donizetti Variations, Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3, and Valse-Fantaisie; in Peter Martins’ Romeo + Juliet, The Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake; in Jerome Robbins’ 2 & 3 Part Inventions, Four Seasons, and Other Dances; and in Christopher Wheeldon’s An American in Paris, Carousel (A Dance), and Polyphonia.
JONATHAN STAFFORD began his dance training at the age of eight with the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, under the direction of Marcia Dale Weary. Mr. Stafford entered the School of American Ballet in the fall of 1997. He joined the Company as a member of the corps de ballet in February 1999. In March of 2006 he was promoted to soloist and in May 2007 he was promoted to principal dancer. Since joining New York City Ballet, Mr. Stafford has performed featured roles in many George Balanchine ballets, notably Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, Cortège Hongrois, Firebird, Divertimento No. 15, Jewels, Symphony in C, and Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.; in Peter Martins’ A Fool for You and The Sleeping Beauty; in Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering and In The Night.
ANNA KISSELGOFF was Chief Dance Critic for the New York Times from 1977 until 2005. Among her many awards are the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Achievement from the Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and an honorary doctorate from Adelphi University.
NANCY REYNOLDS, a former dancer with the New York City Ballet, is a dance historian, writer, and since 1994 the Foundation’s Director of Research. She conceived and continues to direct the Video Archive Program. Her books include Repertory in Review: 40 Years of the New York City Ballet, and most recently No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century (co-authored with Malcolm McCormick) and Remembering Lincoln.
NICHOL HLINKA was a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. She joined the company in 1975, at the request of George Balanchine, dancing principal roles in many of his ballets, including Divertimento from “Le Baiser de la Fée,” Coppélia, Harlequinade, La Source, Raymonda Variations, Scotch Symphony, Stars and Stripes, and Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux. She retired after over twenty years with the company, and joined the George Balanchine Foundation in 2010.
VIRGINIA BROOKS is Professor Emerita of Film at Brooklyn College/CUNY, where she taught film production for 26 years. She has directed several documentaries on dance including, most recently, The Nutcracker Family – Behind the Magic (2006), and Felia Doubrovska Remembered (2008). She has been on the Board of Directors of Dance Films Association since 1978.
The George Balanchine Foundation is a not for profit corporation established in 1983. Its mission is to create programs that educate the public and further Balanchine’s work and aesthetic, with the goal of advancing high standards of excellence in dance and its allied arts. Among the Foundation’s major initiatives are the Video Archives in which dancers who worked closely with Balanchine teach and coach their roles to the dancers of today (Interpreters Archive) or recreate Balanchine ballets that are rarely performed and in danger of disappearing (Archive of Lost Choreography). Legendary dancers who have taken part in this project include Alicia Markova, Maria Tallchief, Frederic Franklin, Alicia Alonso, Melissa Hayden, Allegra Kent, Todd Bolender, Merrill Ashley, Suzanne Farrell, Rosella Hightower, Marie-Jeanne, Violette Verdy, Edward Villella, Patricia Wilde, Yvonne Mounsey, and Helgi Tomasson, working with leading dancers from such companies as New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, among others.
In 2007 the Foundation announced the completion of another major initiative, the online publication of the Balanchine Catalogue, a fully searchable database giving first-performance details of all known dances created by Balanchine, supplemented by lists of companies staging the ballets, a bibliography, a videography, reference resources, a database of roles Balanchine performed, and additional related materials
The project was made possible by a leadership grant from The Jerome Robbins Foundation.
Earlier projects include Popular Balanchine, comprising forty-two boxes of material pertaining to Balanchine’s commercial work, housed at the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library; and Music Dances: Balanchine Choreographs Stravinsky, a video by Professor Stephanie Jordan of Roehampton University, London.