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MERRILL ASHLEY TO TAPE VIDEO SERIES FOR
THE GEORGE BALANCHINE FOUNDATION
Dancers from New York City Ballet to be featured in excerpts from Ballo della Regina
New York City Merrill Ashley, one of the major Balanchine ballerinas during her 31-year career with the New York City Ballet, will teach and coach the principal roles in Ballo della Regina for The George Balanchine Foundation Interpreters Archive. Taping will commence April 3 in the New York City Ballet studios at the Rose Building, Lincoln Center, New York.
Ms. Ashley will work with Joaquin De Luz, principal dancer, and Ana Sophia Scheller of the New York City Ballet. As a student, Ms. Scheller performed the leading female role in Ballo della Regina at the School of American Ballet Workshop. Nancy Reynolds, director of research for The George Balanchine Foundation, will oversee the project; Deborah Jowitt, principal dance critic of The Village Voice, will conduct interview segments with Ms. Ashley.
The effervescent Ballo, a work for two principals, four female soloists, and corps de ballet, was created by Balanchine to showcase the talents of Merrill Ashley, partnered by Robert Weiss, in 1978. Of her performance, New Yorker critic Arlene Croce wrote: “She’s so fast, she can even appear to be two places at once. The ballet makes the audience very happy, especially at the end, when, to slamming final chords, Ashley takes three or four flash poses on the way down from a supported position in écarté to a kneel: it sums up her phenomenal high-speed accuracy.”
Ms. Ashley herself observes, “Balanchine always seemed to take special delight in challenging me with difficult steps, and since he knew I excelled at moving quickly, he decided to make that the feature of Ballo--virtuoso steps at high speed. He highlighted all my strengths in Ballo, giving me a ballet that not only was challenging and fun to dance, but one that gave me the opportunity to communicate the joy of dance, which was my favorite mood to express on stage. Ballo epitomizes the essence of the technique that he advocated, as it requires extreme precision, clarity, speed, and expansive movement. Dancers who are not trained in the Balanchine style are always startled to find how much easier the steps are when they use the technique Balanchine advocated. His choreography is constructed with the idea that the steps will be done as he would have taught them. That is what makes the angles of the steps look best, and what makes the transitions from step to step possible at high speeds.”
Ms. Reynolds commented, “Ballo is a work that manages to be both playful and brilliant at the same time. A close-up view of its myriad allegro movements as analyzed by Merrill Ashley will be illuminating indeed.”
MERRILL ASHLEY is currently the Teaching Associate at New York City Ballet. She joined the company in 1967, was promoted to soloist in 1974, and became a principal dancer three years later. After a stellar career, Ms. Ashley danced her final performance with the company on November 25, 1997.
Balanchine choreographed both Ballo della Regina and Ballade for Ms. Ashley, and she also originated roles in Jerome Robbins’s Concertino and Brahms/Handel, which he choreographed with Twyla Tharp. Her repertory included Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, Firebird, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (Dewdrop and Sugarplum Fairy), Prodigal Son, Serenade, Square Dance, Stars and Stripes, Swan Lake, and Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3 (“Theme and Variations”), as well as Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering. She also originated principal roles in three ballets by Peter Martins: Barber Violin Concerto (1988), Fearful Symmetries (1990), and The Sleeping Beauty (Carabosse, 1991).
Ms. Ashley danced throughout the world, including the major capitals of Western and Eastern Europe and in China. She appeared in several segments of public television’s “Dance in America” series, now available on video and DVD. Her autobiography, Dancing for Balanchine, was published in 1984 by Dutton. In addition, Ms. Ashley is the co-author and co-artistic director of the video series “The Balanchine Essays,” sponsored by The George Balanchine Foundation, and she has also appeared in the Foundation’s lecture series. She staged Ballo della Regina for The George Balanchine Trust for Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and for the San Francisco, Royal Winnipeg, and Boston Ballets. In 1987 she was the recipient of the Dance Magazine Award.
She recently performed as Madge in La Sylphide with the Boston Ballet.
JOAQUIN De LUZ was born in Madrid and received his training at the Victor Ullate School of Ballet. He danced with Victor Ullate Ballet Company from 1992 until 1995. In March 1996, Mr. De Luz won the Gold Medal at the Second Nureyev International Ballet Competition in Budapest, and then joined the Pennsylvania Ballet as a soloist. He became a member of American Ballet Theatre in 1997, where his repertory included the Bronze Idol in La BayadPre, the Red Cowboy in Billy the Kid, the first sailor in Robbins’s Fancy Free, Benno in Swan Lake, and leading roles in Theme and Variations and Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1.
Mr. De Luz joined New York City Ballet as a soloist in 2003, and in January 2005 he was promoted to the rank of principal dancer. He has danced featured roles in Balanchine’s Coppélia (Frantz), George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (Cavalier, Tea, and Candy Cane), Harlequinade (Pierrot), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Oberon), Symphony in C (third movement), Tarantella, and Valse-Fantaisie; Peter Martins’s Jeu de Cartes and The Sleeping Beauty (Bluebird); and Jerome Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering and Fancy Free. Mr. De Luz originated a featured role in Christopher Wheeldon’s Shambards.
ANA SOPHIA SCHELLER was born in Buenos Aires and began her dance training when she was six years old at the Instituto Superior de Arte del Teatro Colón. She received a scholarship as part of Argentina’s National Presidential Prize for Cultural Excellence in Classical Dance for three consecutive years before moving to New York at age 13 to enroll as a full-time student at the School of American Ballet in January 2000. At SAB, Ms. Scheller danced featured roles in Ballo della Regina and Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet and Aurora in the wedding pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty in SAB’s 2002 and 2003 Workshop performances, and she was awarded SAB’s Wien Award for Outstanding Promise in June 2003. Ms. Scheller joined American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company in August 2003, and joined New York City Ballet as a member of the corps de ballet in April 2004.
DEBORAH JOWITT, also known as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher of dance criticism and history, has been principal dance critic of The Village Voice since 1967. Her articles on dance have appeared in numerous other publications and in two collections. She is also author of the prize-winning Time and the Dancing Image and, most recently, of Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theater, His Dance (Simon and Schuster, 2004).
NANCY REYNOLDS, a former member of the New York City Ballet, is director of research for The George Balanchine Foundation, where she is in charge of the video archives program. Her most recent book, No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century (co-authored with Malcolm McCormick), was published in 2003 by Yale University Press.