Dame Merle Florence Park, DBE (born 1937, Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe)) was a prima ballerina. She joined the Royal Ballet in 1954 and became a soloist in 1958. At the age of 19 she danced the role of "The Milkmaid" in Façade in the Royal Opera House Company's Silver Jubilee gala on 6 May 1956. Her performance was admired for its "brilliance of execution and virtuoso technique". She was then chosen as one of the three soloists for the November 1959 première of the Ashton/Nureyev production of La Bayadère.
Her first full-length roles were Swanhilda in Coppélia and Lise in La Fille Mal Gardée. She created the role of Clara, partnered by Rudolf Nureyev, in The Nutcracker for the Royal Ballet in 1963, which was her breakthrough. A 1968 performance was filmed and widely viewed. Critics claimed that her Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) was the best of her generation. She gave more performances of Giselle than any other Royal Ballet artiste. After Mikhail Baryshnikov's defection in 1975, he accompanied Park in performances of Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake. Premiere roles include Jazz Calendar (1968), Mayerling (1978) and Isadora (1981).
In 1977, she was one of the dancers who performed along with Freddie Mercury at a charity gala which included a performance of Bohemian Rhapsody on behalf of the City of Westminster Society for Mentally Handicapped Children. During her career, Park's partners included Rudolf Nureyev, Anthony Dowell, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and David Wall.
- ^ a b c Fowler, Jim (4 November 1997). "Merle Park". Ballet Magazine. Retrieved 5 November 2008.