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Ballerina and author Merrill Ashley will discuss “Dancing for Balanchine” in her lecture on October 13, 2009.

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY—On Tuesday, October 13, ballerina Merrill Ashley will discuss her years with George Balanchine in her role as a principal dancer with New York City Ballet in the lecture “Dancing for Balanchine.” The program, free and open to the public, will begin at 8:30pm in The Frances Daly Fergusson Dance Theater in Kenyon Hall. A brief reception will follow the lecture in the south gallery of Kenyon. Reservations are suggested as there is limited seating (on a first-come, first-served basis). For information and reservations, call (845) 437-7470 or, for reservations only, email dancetix@vassar.edu.

In addition to the lecture, there will be a question-and-answer session with Ashley and screening of some of Ashley’s performances with the New York City Ballet. Ashley’s 1984 biography Dancing for Balanchine will be available for purchase.

Professor John Meehan, who recently joined the Vassar faculty, will serve as host for the evening and will also guide the interview and discussion with Ashley. Jeanne Periolat Czula, professor of dance, noted that “John and Merrill share a deep professional camaraderie and danced together frequently.”

Czula added that “After her visit to Vassar for the lecture, Ashley will return to campus during the fall break to set Balanchine's, ‘Valse-Fantaisie’ on Vassar dancers.” (This work will be in the repertoire for the Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre’s Final Showings, November 19-21 and the annual Bardavon Gala, February 27 and 28, 2010.)

The lecture by Merrill Ashley is presented by The Department of Dance, the American Culture Program, the Women’s Studies Program, The Office of The Dean of the Faculty, Athletics/Life Fitness Program, the Art Department, and The Jeanne Periolat Czula Fund and Endowment.

Merrill Ashley was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and raised in Rutland, Vermont, where she began her ballet studies at the age of seven.  In 1964, at the age of13, she was awarded one of the first Ford Foundation Scholarships to the School of American Ballet in New York, the official school of the New York City Ballet.

In 1967 George Balanchine invited Ashley to join the corps de ballet of the New York City Ballet, where she soon appeared in many corps and soloist roles in all facets of the Company’s vast repertoire. By the time she was promoted to Soloist in 1974, she was already dancing two of the most technically demanding roles ever choreographed by Balanchine, THEME AND VARIATIONS and TCHAIKOVSKY PIANO CONCERTO #2 (formerly BALLET IMPERIAL). Balanchine also choreographed a solo for her in COPPELIA and CORTEGE HONGROIS. In addition, other choreographers such as Jacques d’Amboise and John Clifford created principal roles for her.

The year 1977 held two milestones for Ashley: she was promoted to Principal dancer and Balanchine choreographed his first ballet for her, BALLO DELLA REGINA. The New York critics described the ballet as a “paean to Ashley’s lightning bravura” and Time Magazine called her “an allegro dancer without peer”. In 1980 Mr. Balanchine choreographed one of his last ballets, BALLADE, for Ashley. It was of this ballet that the New York Times said hers “was the kind of dancing that helps to shape standards of greatness.”

She also danced in a wide variety of ballets in the Jerome Robbins repertoire, including DANCES AT A GATHERING and THE GOLDBERG VARIATIONS. He originated roles for her in CONCERTINO and BRAHMS /HANDEL, the latter of which he choreographed with Twyla Tharp.  In 1988 she originated a principal role in Peter Martins’ BARBER VIOLIN CONCERTO, and in 1989 premiered another principal role in his FEARFUL SYMMETRIES. In 1991 she originated the role of “Carabosse” in Peter Martins’ THE SLEEPING BEAUTY.

During her 31-year career in the New York City Ballet, Ashley danced throughout the world, including in many of the major cities of Western and Eastern Europe.  In 1978 she danced at the White House for President and Mrs. Carter and their guests from NATO. In 1981 she joined a group of New York City Ballet stars, led by Jerome Robbins, which performed in China. In 1986 she was chosen as the American ballerina to represent the United States at a gala, televised throughout Europe and the USSR, celebrating the 40th Anniversary of UNESCO at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. She was a guest artist with many ballet companies, including the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet in London (dancing in PAQUITA and THE SLEEPING BEAUTY). In 1980 and 1981, she led her own group, Merrill Ashley and Dancers, on tours in the United States. In 1987, she received the Dance Magazine Award.

Ashley’s television appearances include PBS’ “Dance in America” series (including Balanchine’s BALLO DELLA REGINA, DIVERTIMENTO No. 15, the “Emeralds” section of JEWELS and THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS and Bournonville’s Pas de Deux from FLOWER FESTIVAL AT GENZANO) and the “Gala of Stars” in 1980, 1982, 1984 and 1985.

She 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.”  She immediately joined the artistic staff of the New York City Ballet where she was the teaching associate, coaching dancers in their roles and teaching Company class until January 2009. She continues to be a guest teacher at the New York City Ballet.

Currently, Ashley stages Balanchine ballets and teaches at schools and companies all over the world. She is a guest teacher at New York City Ballet, and has also taught at, inter alia, the Mariinsky Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, the School of American Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet School. In 1999 she went to Stockholm, Sweden, where she staged TSCHAIKOVSKY PIANO CONCERTO #2 in 1999 for the Royal Swedish Ballet. Early in 2000 she went to Havana, Cuba to stage BALLO DELLA REGINA for the National Ballet of Cuba. She is the first American ever to go to Cuba to stage a Balanchine ballet. This ballet was the highlight of the International Havana Festival of Ballet held in October, 2000.She has also staged BALLO DELLA REGINA for the American Ballet Theater, the Boston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Pennsylvania Ballet and the School of American Ballet Workshop. In 2005 she staged an excerpt from Divertimento #15 for the American Ballet Theater Studio Company and in 2006 went to Hong Kong to stage TSCHAIKOVSKY PAS DE DEUX for the Hong Kong Ballet.

Her autobiography, Dancing for Balanchine, was published in 1984 by E.P. Dutton.  She is the co-author and co-artistic director and dancer in the video series The Balanchine Essays, which gives explanations and demonstrations of the Balanchine Technique®, as well as showing excerpts from Balanchine’s ballets.

Ashley participates in the lecture program WATCHING BALANCHINE/DANCING BALANCHINE, which is sponsored by the Balanchine Foundation. She has been a part of the Ballet Insights program of the New York City Ballet and has lectured on Balanchine at various colleges, museums and libraries throughout the United States such as the National Museum of Dance and the Morgan Pierpont Library. In June, 2004 she spoke at the Balanchine Symposium at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

She is married to Kibbe Fitzpatrick, a retired United Nations simultaneous interpreter, and makes her home in New York City.

The Department of Dance offers a non-major, elective course of study at Vassar. The faculty consists of three full-time (Jeanne Periolat Czula, John Meehan, Stephen Rooks) and two part-time teachers (Abby Saxon, Katherine Wildberger). Dance’s Resident Lighting Designer, David Ferri, lights all dance department productions. There are three Adjunct Artists who serve as accompanists and who compose, direct, and sometimes perform with the student company, the Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre, which is directed by John Meehan (http://dance.vassar.edu/).

This fall The Department of Dance will offer several other public events at The Frances Daly Fergusson Dance Theater in Kenyon Hall including the Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre’s (VRDT) performance First Showings (10/9, 8pm); the lecture by Balanchine ballerina, Merrill Ashley (10/13, 8:30pm); a performance by the Dance Theater of Harlem Ensemble (11/8, 3:00pm); and the VRDT performance Final Showings ’09–’10 (11/19-21, 8pm). Additional details will be announced. For advance reservations for the performances, please email dancetix@vassar.edu.

Individuals with disabilities requiring accommodations or information on accessibility should contact Campus Activities Office at (845) 437-5370. Without sufficient notice, appropriate space and/or assistance may not be available.

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Monday, September 28, 2009