(Photo by Erik Tomasson)
You trained partly at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC. What's the most important thing you got out of that experience?
The opportunity to go to Russia at age 16. Oleg Vinogradov, the director at the time, chose me to be an apprentice with the Kirov (now Mariinsky) Ballet. I worked with Andris Liepa and Ninel Kurgapkina, and took class next to ballerinas like Diana Vishneva and Uliana Lopatkina. It was an honor.
Since then, you spent your entire career at San Francisco Ballet. How have you grown as a dancer?
When I first came I was very focused on technique. I was 18, in the corps, and all of a sudden I was Sugar Plum. At this point 20 years later, I'm focused on the emotional aspects of my performance. I'm not concerned about how many turns I'm going to do, or how long I'm going to balance.
How do you prepare for full-length ballets?
You're celebrating 25 years with the National Ballet of Canada. What makes it home?
I wanted to join the National Ballet because it had one of the best repertoires in the world. We do all the staples of the classical canon and yet get to work with amazing creators like Jirˇí Kylián, William Forsythe, Glen Tetley and all the iconic choreographers of the 21st century. I still feel that way.
What have you learned that could be helpful for young professionals?
Look around and really watch the people around you. I can't tell you how important that was for me, to have so many great dancers to learn from. You can absorb a lot by watching, you don't always have to do.
Your tenure has spanned three directors. Do you have tips for surviving directorial changeover?
Artist, Milwaukee Ballet
Favorite role: Clara
“Clara was my first soloist role and the first role I did where my character danced through the entire ballet. I liked playing with different ways of making her sweet and lovable or bratty and funny. Switching from Clara to the corps to divertissements makes the rehearsal process exciting and challenging.”
Number of Nutcrackers per season: 17–18
“In the morning I take a hot bath for 5–7 minutes as a way to pre-warm my muscles before class.”
“If I have a quick change into pointe shoes, I rip a piece of soft, white tape off my toes and use it to hold my ribbons.”
“I take a homeopathic supplement called Quietude, which helps me wind down after a show.”
Corps de ballet, San Francisco Ballet
Favorite role: Spanish
“It’s a very energetic and dynamic part, and there’s a lot of character dancing.”
Number of Nutcrackers per season: approximately 33
“When I’m doing Maid or Party Parent in the Party Scene, I wear legwarmers under the long dress so I’m ready for Snow.”
“I stick my pointe shoes under the heater at the theater to warm them up.”
“Take advantage of the differences between each conductor by really listening to the changes in the music.”
Company artist, Oregon Ballet Theatre
Favorite role: Sugar Plum Fairy
“I love that in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, the Sugar Plum Fairy does her variation at the beginning of Act II surrounded by the angels. Sharing the stage with young students reminds me that every audience is full of children who are seeing ballet for the first time.”
Number of Nutcrackers per season: 15–19
Time Your Hydration
“I drink water well before the show so I can stay focused but not have to go to the bathroom once I’m in costume.”
Pointe Shoe Prep
“I sew as many pointe shoes as possible before we even get to the theater.”
Check Off Christmas Shopping
“I do all of my Christmas shopping before Nutcracker!”
Demi-soloist, Tulsa Ballet
Favorite role: Maid of Honor, in “Waltz of the Flowers”
“In Marcello Angelini’s Nutcracker, the Maid of Honor is partnered by four different cavaliers, and it flows together beautifully. I wouldn’t say it’s easy to dance, but it’s very enjoyable.”
Number of Nutcrackers per season: 8
“Soup is my go-to meal. It keeps you hydrated and makes you feel full, but you can still move.”
“I take my makeup off immediately after the show, wash my face as soon as I get home, and I don’t put any makeup on until I have to, the next night, so my skin has a chance to breathe.”
“Epsom salt baths help my muscles to recover from that feeling of lactic acid crunchiness.”
Second soloist, National Ballet of Canada
Favorite role: Bee, in “Waltz of the Flowers”
“Although it’s an extremely difficult and tiring role with a lot of jumping and quick movements, the fast-paced choreography makes it a joy.”
Number of Nutcrackers per season: 24
“We bring a blow-up mattress into the change room, to lie down between shows.”
Be a Team Player
“I always volunteer to do a new spot if someone gets sick or injured. Everyone will go to the wings to watch, and if you make eye contact onstage it’s fun!”
Balance Is Key
“Doing the same roles all the time works the same muscles. For example, the Snowflake choreography has a lot of quick footwork and relevés, so it’s taxing on our calves and ankles. To balance that I do lunges and squats with weights to engage my hamstrings, quads and glutes.”
Soloist, Pacific Northwest Ballet
Favorite roles: Cavalier and Mother Ginger
“The Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier is the most rewarding role because of the beautiful music, and Mother Ginger is an all-out hoot to perform.”
Number of Nutcrackers per season: approximately 35
Natural Skin Care
“Coconut oil is an all-natural way to moisturize your skin. It doesn’t have to be refrigerated, so you can keep it in your makeup case.”
“I always check in with my partner before a pas de deux. Maybe my shoulder hurts that day or her shoes are more dead than usual.”
“It helps to step out of the theater, even if it’s just for lunch or coffee, especially on double show days.” P
Murphy with Johnathan Jordan. Photo by Theo Kossenas, courtesy The Washington Ballet.
The Washington Ballet's Ashley Murphy isn't afraid to step outside her comfort zone.
Why did you make the move from Dance Theatre of Harlem to The Washington Ballet?
I had been at DTH for 13 years, and I wanted to see what else was out there. I felt like it was time for me to experience other choreography and a bigger company setting.
Has the change helped you grow as a dancer?
Definitely. At DTH, they knew me and trusted me with a lot of principal roles. Here, I had to work my way back up. I'm more of a performer onstage than in the studio, so it was hard for me to show them what I could do. But the people around me were so encouraging, which helped my confidence. As my first year went on, things got better.
New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild brings lessons from Broadway to her performances.
You took a year off to perform on Broadway as Ivy Smith in On the Town. What did you learn from that experience?
If I’m not being classical I can be kind of a goofy dancer, so it was a good push for me. And dancing for a different audience, where it’s purely based on how much fun everybody’s having, takes the emphasis off being technically perfect. That was something I held on to a little too tightly before. I learned that just being me is enough.
What role do you find particularly challenging?
The Cuckoo Bird in Justin Peck’s The Most Incredible Thing! He’s very specific about the steps and the timing he wants—it’s a whole new vocabulary for me. The costume has heavy wings that “whoosh” as you turn. During my first show I fell. Then the next show, I fell again. To get out there and try a third time after falling twice was a fun challenge, but a difficult one.
What do you still hope to dance?
My biggest dream is to someday be in Jerome Robbins’ The Concert. I’m trying to grow my hair out for it. More than anything, I absolutely love to hear the audience laugh.
You’re a math and economics major at Fordham University. What do you like about math?
I like the discipline of it, and that you can use its tools every time you approach a problem: If you do this step, this step, and this step, you’ll get to an answer. It’s like ballet: If you do this, this, and this, you’ll do a good triple pirouette. It’s just the way my brain works.
What inspired you to start your weekly “Ask Megan!” podcast?
When I was finishing my Broadway run, I thought about starting a blog. I had done some interviews for the “Balancing Pointe” podcast with Kimberly Falker, and we collaborated to create “Ask Megan!” I didn’t want to just talk about myself—I wanted to advise. It’s been a way to give back.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
I enjoy the Kardashians from time to time. It makes me feel better about my life!
You’ve been at the Joffrey Ballet for your whole career. What do you love about the company?
When I joined, at 16, I was drawn to their repertoire. We were doing John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet, and not many companies in the U.S. do that version. I was fortunate to dance Juliet my first year. And I love working with choreographers who have created on me or had special visions for me—I love the things they pull from my body and the way they push me.
What do you enjoy more: performing or being in the studio?
I cherish every moment in the studio, because it’s vital. I believe in hard work and repetition, although not to the point of killing myself. But the more prepared I am, the more understanding I have of the role, the better I feel onstage.
You recently danced the goddess Diana in John Neumeier’s Sylvia. What was that experience like?
It was magnificent just to be in the same room with him. Neumeier kept saying, “This is Chicago’s version.” He modified certain things; it almost felt like he was creating or recreating movement. He gave us an opportunity to show how we as people, how we as dancers, express ourselves.
Your husband, Temur Suluashvili, also dances with the Joffrey and is a partner of yours. What’s different about dancing with your husband?
It’s very special because we have that love affair in real life. We tend to understand each other really easily. Perhaps we have higher expectations. When we get an opportunity to dance together, it’s really fun, and it works for our schedules with our baby, which is convenient!
You have an extraordinary extension and an incredible jump. Are these both natural abilities?
I’ve always had flexible hips and a flexible back. My jump was something that I developed—I worked hard for it. Now, I’m very proud that I’m one of the jumpers in the company.
Do you have advice for the next generation of dancers?
It’s so important for a dancer, especially now, to be able to adapt. Like a chameleon, in a way. Really listen to what the choreographers want from you.