Theo Kossenas, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

Ashley Murphy-Wilson's Dancer-Approved Southern-Style Meal Prep

While Ashley Murphy-Wilson was growing up, her grandmother, Ella Bowers, owned a restaurant in their hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, and taught The Washington Ballet dancer how to cook. "She's still teaching me!" Murphy-Wilson says with a laugh. Big family meals were Southern soul food and pure decadence: fried chicken, fried fish, collard greens, sweet potato pies and all kinds of cakes and casseroles.


She spoke with Dance Magazine about how she incorporates those traditions into her own kitchen today while still fueling a healthy dancer lifestyle.

Her Healthy Swaps for Southern Comfort Food

Murphy-Wilson still enjoys making indulgent Southern dishes. But she typically opts for healthy swaps. For example, instead of boiling the nutrients out of collard greens and adding bacon fat for flavor, she'll sauté them with olive oil, salt, garlic and red pepper.

Her Meal Prep Plan

She usually cooks three to four recipes every weekend to rotate for dinners and lunches throughout the week—typically a fish, a chicken and a red meat (for the iron), with accompanying veggies and starch, like quinoa or sweet potatoes.

Her Splurge Philosophy

Sometimes dinner a splurge, like a gooey, cheesy casserole. "It's okay to have that stuff every now and then," Murphy-Wilson says. "You just can't eat like that every day and expect it not to take a toll."

Her Favorite Hack for Busy Weeks

During busy six- to seven-day theater weeks, Murphy-Wilson's a big fan of the meal-box delivery service Blue Apron. Each dish takes about 20 minutes, and you can get six meals (three recipes, two portions each) for around $60. Plus, Murphy-Wilson says, the ingredients help her experiment with new flavors.

Her Favorite Injury-Healing Ingredient

"Every time I'm coming back from an injury I try to learn more about what I'm putting into my body to help me recover," says Murphy-Wilson. A favorite healing ingredient? Turmeric. She'll use the powder in teas and rubs to reduce inflammation. "I prefer to do something like that instead of taking Advil every single day."

Her Lemon Turmeric Salmon Recipe

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"There are so many different ways to cook salmon, so I never get tired of it," Murphy-Wilson says. This recipe's protein and healthy fats coupled with turmeric's anti-inflammatory properties make a powerful combination—and nearly a week's worth of nutritious lunches.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup very cold or frozen salted butter, plus more for greasing pan
  • 4 fresh, skin-on salmon fillets, cut about 1 1/2 inches thick
  • 1 tbsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 large lemon

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and butter the bottom of a baking sheet.
  2. Rinse the salmon, pat dry and place skin-side down on the sheet.
  3. In a small dish, mix the thyme, turmeric and salt. Sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over the top of the fillets.
  4. Slice the lemon into 4 thin rounds, remove the seeds, then halve the rounds.
  5. Top each fillet with two lemon slice halves, then grate the cold butter evenly over the top of the fillets.
  6. Cover the pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. (Cut into center to check doneness.)
  7. Remove from the oven, uncover, spoon the butter sauce from the pan over the fish and serve.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021