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What Was It Like Working With Merrill Ashley?

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By TurnedOutPointeOfView on Monday, January 27, 2020

Thank you for the question @andreeaunicorn

Working with the legend, Merrill Ashley, was everything and more a dancer can wish for during a rehearsal period! She is AMAZING!

Studio Time with Merrill Ashley. Working with Jonathan Chmelensky and myself on the Pas De Deux

When I saw Merrill in the hallway of the Royal Danish Ballet for the first time, I ran up to her, gave her a big hug and I started crying. I was THAT excited! Absolutely, a complete, 100% fan girl moment. I knew ever since my boss, Nikolaj Hubbe, announced that she was coming to set Ballo Della Regina on us that she would be the highlight of the season!

Merrill Ashley working with George Balanchine in the New York City Ballet.

I trained in NYC at the School of American Ballet which is the ballet school that feeds in to the New York City Ballet, aka Balanchine’s company. So of course, I’ve grown up knowing exactly who Merrill Ashley is. She is someone I’ve admired greatly for a long time. Living Balanchine royalty. I also read her book when I was a teenager, Dancing For Balanchine, (I recommend it if you have not read it, to take a look) and as I read it, I kept nodding my head in agreement to the words on the page. Her opinions and views on things struck home when I could recognize the same thoughts from within myself.

Merrill and I working on a bit of the Sugar Plum Variation.
Merrill was so kind to come and watch my stage call and share her thoughts with me, even though she had just arrived from the USA and was most likely very jet lagged!

You could feel from day one in the studio with Merrill, that her goal for every dancer in the room, was bigger than just getting the ballet on and up to par. Merrill wanted to help you improve to be a better all around dancer. That is an exciting energy to feel from your coach. When you are already working hard, and then feel that energy coming from her, it just makes you want to work ten times harder. To soak up every second, every word of wisdom she has.

Studio Time with Merrill Ashley.

Under her eye, we explored every step in Ballo Della Regina. We spent six weeks, for five days a week with extended rehearsals everyday, to work on Ballo. This process came at our busiest time of the year which is of course, The Nutcracker season. So yes, some days were long. Some days we were more tired than others. Some days we wouldn’t even leave the theater until after the evening’s performance. We’d go straight from Ballo rehearsals to getting ready for the Sugar Plum Fairy or Cavalier. We were working very intensely but it was without a doubt, the best rehearsal process I’ve ever had. (Powerade did become a must have) 😉

Merrill doing the pas de deux with me, when my partner was busy in a different rehearsal.

I defiantly didn’t want to disappoint Merrill or let her down in any way but she made the atmosphere so nice and supportive that I was able to forget that I was dancing in front of one of the ballerina’s I admire and idolize the most in the world. The fear and intimidation vanished. There was room for jokes and stories! Oh the stories! To hear about Balanchine and that epic period of time she danced in was 100% ballet heaven. Everyday, I looked so much forward to going to work. I was completely inspired by her.

On stage rehearsal in the Raymonda Sets.

There is truly nothing more rewarding than to feel that you are improving as a dancer with your coach. My time with Merrill was a gift. I know in 5-10-20 years, I’ll still be talking about how lucky I was to get to work with Merrill Ashley!

xoxo
-Hol

Back stage after the premiere with Merrill Ashley and Stacy Caddell.
Bows at the premiere on January 12th, 2020 at the Royal Danish Ballet.

Which Are Your Favorite Costumes?

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By TurnedOutPointeOfView on Friday, January 17, 2020

Photo: With Ulrik Birkkjær. Diamonds

Thank you for the question, @elisabethbjornholst


Costumes!! So many beautiful costumes! We are so lucky at the Royal Danish Ballet to have a super talented costume department that makes THE most incredible costumes! I’m absolutely blown away by what I get to wear on stage. They are amazing!

I am 100% a tutu person. I love all tutu’s! To be extremely specific, my favorite costumes are the tutu’s that are considered to be “small”. For example, the tutu I wore for Theme & Variations or for Diamonds.

Photo: NYC Dance Project. Theme & Variations Tutu

The tutus used for more of the classical ballets such as Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty, or Raymonda are also very beautiful but they can be quite large! The smaller tutus just feel like they fit the best.

Photo: With Ulrik Birkkjær. Swan Queen (Odette) Tutu

Here are some of my favorite tutu’s!!

Diamonds Tutu
Photo: With Gregory Dean. Gamzatti Tutu.
Black Swan Tutu
Photo: With Jonathan Chmelensky. Princess Florine Tutu
Photo: With Sebastian Haynes. Coppelia Tutu
Photo: With Jon Axel. Sugar Plum Fairy Tutu.
Photo: With Jonathan Chmelensky
Raymonda Tutu.

My other favorite type of costume is a leotard with a flowy skirt. For example, Ballo Della Regina or T. Pas.

Photo: With Jonathan Chmelensky. Ballo Della Regina.

I’m a fan of dancing in a tight fitting costume that doesn’t get in my way. 😉 Here are some of my favorite flowy dresses.

Photo: With Marcin Kupinski. T. Pas
Photo: With Magnus Christoffersen. Schubert Pas De Deux
Dew Drop.
Teresina Second Act

Soon (April 2020!!) in Come Fly Away, I will get to wear the costume below and I’m positive that it will be going on my favorite costume list! I mean look at those sparkles!!

Kate Costume.

Xoxo,
-Hol

Is It Hard To Be A Ballet Dancer?

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By TurnedOutPointeOfView on Monday, January 13, 2020

Thank you for the question, @frederikke.schmidt

The quick answer is yes. Yes, it is hard work to be a ballet dancer! BUT if you love it, love it with your heart and soul, then it is worth every second of pain, every sacrifice, every drop of sweat and every tear.

Photo: Morten Eggert

As a ballet dancer, you don’t do it for the money. You don’t do it if you are lazy. And you don’t do it if you don’t have a passion for dance. It’s too hard.

We spend hours upon hours trying to push our bodies to the extreme. We have constant body pressure to look a certain way. Long days. A six day work week. (Sometimes seven days, like last week 😉 )Vacations always include an element to stay in shape. We are more in our leotards then in street clothes. We are at the theater more then we are at home. It can be difficult to make friends outside of the theater because of our demanding and weird schedule. Friday nights are not to party. Friday nights are to recover because you most likely have a show the next day.

The hardest part is to stay strong mentally. When you are working so hard physically, it wears you down and you know the saying, “Life Isn’t Fair…” well ain’t that the truth. Things will happen, out of your control that will hurt you, and they most likely will never be explained. You have to stay focused. You have to continue working. And that is wayyy easier said than done.

Photo: Ravn

You need to fall in love with the training. Fall in love with rehearsing and fall in love with performing. Then you no longer see the work as hard. You see it as a part of “you.” It is just what you do. The reward you get for dedicating your life and working so hard, is in my opinion, absolutely worth it. I love being a ballet dancer. And I love working hard to be a ballet dancer.

Xoxo
-Holly

Do Professionals Really Hate The Nutcracker as Some Say!?

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By TurnedOutPointeOfView on Saturday, January 4, 2020

Photo: KGL Teater

Thank you for your question, @idaspedtsberg

Well… personally,

I LOVE The Nutcracker!! I absolutely love it!

I think there is a kind of magic around it because it is THE reason why so many people become dancers! Ask any room full of dancers, Why did you start ballet? More then half will say, “I saw The Nutcracker.”

You can see a child’s face entirely light up when they watch it! You can almost see the dream forming in their own minds. Hoping that one day they to will get to be on that stage! And that is magic! It is so rewarding to witness, especially now as a Professional because it reminds us that this life that we have, was once just a dream. It reminds us of just how lucky we truly are to do what we love.

Photo: KGL Teater

I think why The Nutcracker has a bit of a reputation among dancers, is because we do a lot of shows, in a short amount of time, of the same thing, everyday. And in many companies, The Nutcracker, comes around EVERY December. (The Royal Danish Ballet is also jumping on that train from this year forward.)

Companies tend to not switch up the version that they perform either. At the Royal Danish Ballet we dance the George Balanchine version. Personally, I love this version. But the girls do have more opportunities to dance then the boys. Girls get the magical dance of Snow, filled with jumps, great music and teamwork. Boys get heavy costumes and large masks as Mice. The girls can dance as Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, Marzipan, Flowers, Dew Drop, or the Sugar Plum Fairy. The boys get Spanish, one boy in the Chinese dance, one boy in the Candy Cane dance or the Cavalier to the Sugar Plum… Not quite as many thrilling options.

Photo: KGL Teater. Dancer Julien Roman

After you’ve done several weeks of rehearsal and then you are on show twenty something of The Nutcracker… you are tired. You are border line exhausted and still have ten plus more shows in front you. That is when, sometimes the patience for The Nutcracker starts to run thin. Which is where that reputation of professionals hating the Nutcracker comes from.

IN reality, ALL dancers have a soft spot for The Nutcracker. We owe that ballet our life. It created our dreams.

Xoxo,
-Hol

Me as The Sugar Plum Fairy with ALL my beautiful Angels.