With the Royal Ballet and New York City Ballet offering Swan Lakes in the theatre, and the Black Swan BAFTAing and Oscaring all over the place, we should be getting sick of the little flyers. But we’re not. And Sara Mearns is one of the reasons why.
Jocelyn Novek for the Associated Press:
Move over, Natalie Portman: You may be favored for the Oscar in “Black Swan,” but there’s a real-life, flesh-and-blood ballerina generating heat as the swan queen.
Her name is Sara Mearns, and she’s tall, blond, glamorous — movie-star beautiful, in fact. What’s really special about her, though, is her spectacular stage presence, her long legs, and the gorgeous, expansive shapes she creates with her body, particularly the stunning arch in her back.
Some have hastened to call Mearns, 24, the best American ballerina performing today. That might be a little premature — and it would overlook dancers such as the enticing Tiler Peck and several young colleagues at NYCB, veteran Wendy Whelan and Gillian Murphy at American Ballet Theatre, an estimable swan queen herself.
But certainly one can say that to watch Mearns dance Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake” is to watch a star ascendant — not to mention an absolutely glorious pairing of a dancer with the right role.
And the raves continue; Hanna Oldsman in the Califonia Literary Review:
The dual-role of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake is well-known — probably more now than ever, thanks to the Black Swan phenomenon. Odette is tragic and pure; Odile is darker, seductive, evil with a capital “E.”
Sara Mearns, who danced the parts in New York City Ballet’s production of Swan Lake on Sunday, has passed over this truism for a far more interesting interpretation. I have seen many dancers who pause (as if awaiting a photo op) in the attitude positions that pepper the beginning of the white swan pas de deux. Mearns dances through them, so that they seem not static poses, but failed attempts to take flight. Her Odette is trapped but not suffocated: she breathes with the music, whether trembling with distrust, or soaring through the air in a series of powerful sissonnes.
Mearns’ black swan is equally fascinating. This Odile is not particularly sultry or scheming: she certainly doesn’t throw around malicious smirks or flirtatious glances. Her demeanor, rather, is chilly, distant, glittering — and above all, empty. Those same sissonnes that once propelled Odette, flying, across the stage are now rigid; when she sinks to the floor and crosses her wrists over her ankle, there is no fluttering, nervous energy in her hands. Her arabesques, held a moment too long, are more poses than movement.
Over the pond, Apollinaire Scherr in the Financial Times was equally bowled over:
Mearns, 25, came to the public’s attention five years ago in this double role. She was still in the corps and had yet to be singled out for anything. The bone-thin principal dancer’s wide frame accentuates the capaciousness of her movement: her valiant cavalier, Jared Angle, had to run to support her in leaps around the stage.
When the huntsman-prince first stumbles into the woods, Mearns is a whirring tumult, eventually quieting to a stateliness that intimates creaturely strength – her leg crooked around the prince to anchor her as she plunges to the floor. As the calculating Odile, she trades vastness for blunt power, kicking her leg overhead as if punting a ball over a goalie. Always she slips in and out of poetry, sometimes dancing as the character and sometimes as the emotional air the character breathes.
And the hardest cookie to crumble? Yes, even Alistair MaCaulay for The New York Times gives her the thumbs up:
Her line lights up the stage space like a search beam. After Odile and Siegfried first meet, they sweep off together into the wings, but Ms. Mearns pauses in an imperious arabesque so suspenseful that it makes you impatient for her return.
There is no sentimentality to Ms. Mearns’s Odette. She doesn’t make the widespread mistake of looking searchingly into Siegfried’s face as he unfolds her at the start of the “White Swan” pas de deux; the drama begins with her reluctance even to meet his gaze. During this pas de deux, however, she takes one fleeting glance into his eyes, and then another, and each is a punctuation mark that perfectly illustrates the gradual progress of what her dancing has already demonstrated. Every time she withdraws from his arms, we understand her diffidence; every time she returns to him, we feel the courage and hope that motivate her.
And that’s only a part of his excellent review. As he says:
If you want to understand why “Swan Lake” is a more profound work than “Black Swan” suggests, there is no better performance to start with than hers. Without an ideal physique (her shoulders are high) or a defeat-all-rivals technique, the beauty of her performance is that she guides you to larger things.
Photo credit: Paul Kolnik
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.