Pas de deux

Dancers from the New York City Ballet perform works by Balanchine, Tharp and Gold.

ballets dancers311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
ballets dancers311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When you think of the ballet, what comes to mind? For many, ballet is synonymous with sparkly, glittery, dreamlike scenes where men in tights throw sylph-like women into the air. The fantasy world created in The Nutcracker and Swan Lake have invited millions of viewers to believe in a reality in which perfectly shaped snowflakes fall on beautiful tableaus, a place where princes and fairies exist.
As a departure from that classical world and lunging into the realm of modern dance, eight principal dancers from the famed New York City Ballet will perform at the Suzanne Dellal Center as part of Tel Aviv Dance 2010. The evening will consist of four works by American dance masters George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp and Tom Gold. In addition, Merrill Ashley, former soloist with the company and protégé of Balanchine, will teach a professional workshop in the style of the late ballet master and give a talk about her experiences working with him.
Ashley holds the record as the longest-standing company member of the New York City Ballet, boasting a career of 31 years. She joined as a teenager and was one of the last dancers to be trained by Balanchine himself. During Ashley’s three decades with the troupe, Balanchine created several roles specifically for her.
“I had lots of blockbusting moments with the company. I was lucky. Any time Balanchine choreographed for me was a blockbuster. When I could make him happy; when I could tell he was proud of me,” she reminisced in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Although Israeli dancers are trained differently from the students Ashley instructs as a teaching associate at NYCB, she believes that Balanchine’s technique can enrich any performer’s skill set.
“I don’t expect people to be able to do everything I ask. There will be new concepts. What I’m doing is exposing them to some ideas and suggestions that came from one of the most influential people in the dance world ever. It will be a trial, an education to try another way of moving and being aware of some subtleties they can use in their form of dance,” she said.
George Balanchine, known as the father of American ballet, was perhaps the most influential proponent of the art form in the last 100 years. Like Mikhail Baryshnikov, Balanchine used his skills as a dancer to eject himself from a turmoil-ridden USSR. After years in Europe, Balanchine put down roots in what would become New York City’s glorious Lincoln Center. To ensure that the rich education he received in Russia would live on in the Western hemisphere, Balanchine’s first order of business was to set up a school, now known as the School of American Ballet, the most prestigious conservatory for dance study in the US. His company, the New York City Ballet, is nothing short of an international institution.
Attending its annual performances of The Nutcracker at Christmas time has become a national tradition for Americans.
But Balanchine was about a lot more than tutus and tiaras. “What I like about Balanchine ballets is that there is no concrete story, no time frame – unlike the Russian ballets,” explained Ashley. “You could bring yourself into the work. The music, the steps made you feel things.
They created a mood. You had a picture frame and a lot of paints, and you have to use certain colors but you get to create pretty freely.”
To Dance, an evening with the New York City Ballet dancers, features two of Balanchine’s works: Apollo, danced to music by Donald Knaack, and Tchaikovsky’s Pas de Deux. In addition, Twyla Tharp’s Junk Duet from the ballet Known by Heart and Shanti by Tom Gold will help show off these phenomenal performers’ expertise.
To Dance will be performed at The Suzanne Dellal Center on October 22 at 9 p.m. Merrill Ashley’s workshop will take place at The Suzanne Dellal Center on October 21 at 5 p.m. and her talk on October 22 at 11 a.m.
For tickets, call (03) 510-5656 or visit