Yes! Fabulous that you would like to
learn more about the ballet world. In order to not over load you with
ideas and suggestions, as there really is a huge supply of materials out
there that can take you in all sorts of fascinating directions. I’ve
compiled two videos each about the two choreographers that I find the
most interesting and influential in my life, George Balanchine and
Fantastic Clips of many Balanchine Ballets showing the diversity and range:
the legend, Merrill Ashley, was everything and more a dancer can wish
for during a rehearsal period! She is AMAZING!
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!
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.
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.
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) 😉
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.
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!
Thank you so much for the question @rendezvous_at_midnight
There are actually three particular performances that come to mind. The first was the live stream filming of Alice In Wonderland in to the movie theaters all around Denmark. I don’t think I’ve ever danced better in my life. The second was my second show of Giselle with Jonathan Chmelensky. We had had a five day warning, and then two shows back to back. Our second show together was when we were the most tired but… something magical happened. There was something eternal in the air. We both danced our hearts out. But the most life changing performance, that most definitely left a lasting mark on me, was the night I was promoted to Principal Ballerina.
I was promoted to Principal Ballerina on stage after I danced George Balanchine’s, Theme and Variations with my partner Ulrik Birkkjær. The life changing day was February 27th, 2016.
We had learned the ballet a few months before the premiere. Then we moved on and started rehearsing our Dance To Go program which included the white swan pas de deux.
I remember it was a day that I wasn’t supposed to dance in the rehearsal. So I had just been sitting and watching the rehearsal. Then, last minute, the ballet master finished early and surprised me by asking me to run the white swan variation. I was young, ambitious, and wanted to please everyone, so when asked to do it, despite being cold, I said yes… That was when I hurt my ankle.
I rolled my ankle and I kept dancing on it. Oh, how I could hit myself if I could go back today to that moment! The coming days came and went and my ankle just kept getting weaker. I dropped out of Nutcracker all together. I stopped dancing to try and get as strong as possible for the premiere of Theme in January.
In first cast, I was dancing the demi- soloist role and then in second cast, I was dancing the lead. Doing the ballet back to back like that was very hard on my foot. The demi-soloist role was tougher on my foot then the principal. I talked to my ballet masters at that time in hopes of figuring out what to do with my load. I hoped that I could post pone my demi-soloist role until I was stronger to do the two parts back to back.
I also had the pressure of my entire family flying out to see me dance Theme. They had already bought their tickets. I didn’t want their dollars and time to be wasted.
At that time, the position I was in, I was not allowed to take the night off before doing a principal role. It was either, do both or do none. I.. was.. absolutely.. heart broken. I knew that if I did the demi-soloist role the first night then my foot would be screaming at me the next day. Some days, I struggled even walking after running the demi-soloist part. I wanted to perform the principal of Theme at my best! I didn’t want my family to see a half baked version. I dropped out.
When I was doubtful, I had been encouraged to drop out. Everyone stressed to me that I should want to look my best when I step out there for Theme. But I tell you now, if I could go back… I would have told myself to do it. The depression that followed that decision created a very dark world for me.This might sound dramatic, but in that moment in my life something died inside of me. I hurt so badly in my heart. I was angry that that had been my only option, that my family had wasted thousands of dollars to see nothing and that I didn’t even get to dance my dream role. I really can’t even describe how dark those days were for me.
The ballet company then had a two or three week vacation. My family was going to Italy. I canceled my entire trip with my family so I could do intense rehab in Copenhagen and make sure that I could get back and dance Theme. I worked everyday. Almost to the point of crazy. Every exercise, every treatment… whatever I could do, I did.
The run of Theme started again. I was ready. I had made it back. My mom flew back over from the USA to see my premiere. (ummm best mom ever) She knew that Theme meant more to me then even Swan Queen. Growing up I wanted to be a Balanchine ballerina! So this was it!
I remember being very nervous. I didn’t quite trust my body in the same way as before due to the injury and I hadn’t been on stage for months. No stage call. No dress rehearsal. Just go!
But I did it!
I did about five shows and then on my last show, Nikolaj Hubbe came out on to the stage after the bows and announced to the entire audience that he had decided to promote me to Principal Ballerina.
Especially since it had been such a struggle to even get to perform Theme, my first emotion was gratitude. I was so happy. My smile was so big and so sincere. I was proud of my body, proud of beating the injury and all the obstacles that came in my way. I did a fist bump in to the air as if screaming, I did it!
I really wasn’t sure if I was ever going to get to dance Theme, let alone get promoted. That show without a doubt left the most lasting mark on me and it always will.