What Was It Like Working With Merrill Ashley?

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.

Comments

  1. Elena Kelly

    Thank you so much, dear Holly! Did Merrill Ashley work also with other ballerinas? I’m asking because I don’t live in Copenhagen and can only come to see ” Ballet de luxe” on the 21st of February, so I won’t see you but Emma Riis-Kofoed.

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  2. Andreea Micula

    I had such high expectations for ballo della regina and they were even exceeded 😀 you were spectacular!
    And thanks for the book recommendation, I will definitely get my hands on it!

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  3. alan

    Holly- I enjoyed this account of your work with Ms. Ashley. I started going to NYCB performances in 1981, when I discovered ballet. I was fortunate to see her dance numerous times. I came upon this web page by accident and am glad that I did, because I had not seen anything about her in decades. Best of luck. Alan

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