Posts Tagged ‘Sara Mearns’

The Orchid of New York City Ballet

Monday, January 24th, 2011

By Rachel Straus

If you’re a ballet lover, you know her name.

Sara Mearns.

New York Times senior dance critic Alastair MacAulay recently called her “the greatest American ballerina of our time.” On January 21, she performed in Jerome Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering (1969) and Alexei Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH (2008) with the New York City Ballet at the David Koch H. Theater.

She was stunning.

But Mearns, 24, doesn’t look like a City Ballet ballerina. Since George Balanchine increasingly promoted female dancers that resembled Twiggy (and his successor Peter Martins followed suit), she is a departure for the company. Zaftig, Mearns is not. Instead her swan neck, wide back, and strong legs endow her with the potential for enormous physical range. She eats up space. She can spiral like a cyclone. She finishes her pirouettes with a plié that is as pliant as melting wax. This dynamic flexibility in addition to her emotional gravitas makes her a powerhouse.

Despite this power, Mearns doesn’t come across as a bruiser—all emotion, no subtlety. Like Greta Garbo or Lauren Bacall, she possesses a proto-feminist confidence. She has a glamour and maturity that recalls the French City Ballet principal dancer Violette Verdy. In an art form modeled on medieval courtship, Mearns consistently embodies queenlyness. Whether she is being propelled aloft or lassoed by her partner, these less-than luxuriant moments look like part of her grand design. These vertiginous thrills seem to embolden her.

In Dances at a Gathering, in which Susan Walters performed 18 Chopin piano pieces, Mearns was given one of the last solos. Like a racecar at the starting gate, the emotional tenor of Mearns’s solo escalated from 0 to 60 rpm. Mearns’s transformation—from statuesque to scythe-like—made me sit back in my seat. In Concerto DSCH, to Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1957 Piano Concerto No. 2, Mearns’s partnering with the emerging, lyrical dancer Tyler Angle was seamless, as though they had been dancing together for years.

The well-constructed program, which began with Balanchine’s Walpurgisacht Ballet (1980), possessed an overarched theme: Community. Balanchine’s community featured mauve-costumed women whose unfurled hair in the ballet’s last section suggested a sisterhood of wild lilacs who had sprung legs. Robbins’s community in Dances felt very American, resembling a group of enlightened youth, pondering their past and future. Ratmansky’s community in DSCH felt unmistakably Soviet. (Think utopian workers on holiday at a merry-go-round). In the last two dances, Mearns’s engagement wasn’t just with her partner and her steps, but with those around her. She may be a queen, but she is no snob. She’s more like an orchid, sprung out of ground normally reserved for less exotic flora.






* “The ballet is a purely female thing; it is a woman, a garden of beautiful flowers, and man is the gardener.”—George Balanchine