By Phil Chan • Produced By Joe Alexander
New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Sara Mearns joined the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall, to perform “A Dancers Dream: Two Works by Stravinsky.” The avant-garde work blended music with ballet, live animation, video, puppetry, and circus arts. Born in South Carolina, Mearns began training at age three and by thirteen she was being coached by former NY City Ballet prima ballerina Patricia McBride who danced under George Balanchine. An early test for her as a young dancer came was when she competed at Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest student ballet scholarship competition. “It was very challenging.
I didn’t realize the competition would be so good. It encouraged me to up my game and to see what other young talent was out there. It gave me a different mental state and the drive to get to NY. I knew that I wasn’t going to be like those other girls; I needed to work harder.” yagp.org.
It was through these trials that the Balanchine technique was solidified as the driving force in her dancing. “When I was studying with Patty McBride, that’s when it really sunk in that the School of American Ballet and the Balanchine style is what I wanted to do. When she would teach us variations in class, there was a certain sense of musicality. You felt free. You felt happier. It feels good on the body. You don’t feel like you’re struggling or you’re not going to make it; I’m just going out and dancing.”
In continuing to push her boundaries Sara signed onto “A Dancers Dream” in collaboration with the Phil’s Music Director Alan Gilbert, Director Doug Fitch and Producer Edouard Getaz of Giants Are Small. The choreographer was Karole Armitage, who has been affectionately dubbed the “Punk Ballerina.” “I had met Karole through mutual friends and then I saw a performance of Armitage Gone! Dance downtown, and I thought it was really fun – Very punk rock. When I got attached to ‘A Dancers Dream’ and heard that she was going to do the project as well, I got very excited because I knew we would work well together. She has a background of working with Balanchine, she knows the style, she knows my dancing, and she’s a huge fan of New York City Ballet. We did a story ballet, so the steps had to correspond to the story. Her rep is really fun: You’ll be doing a classical step and then all of a sudden you will do something completely funky. You don’t really do that a lot at City Ballet.”
The process of creating a new work pushed Mearns into developing her own points of view. “We are in the studio six hours a day for two and a half weeks. Every day is something new. I was able to work with Karole and the other artists to create this story. A lot of times it’s not about the steps – it’s asking, ‘who I am interacting with? Is it going to read well to the audience?’ I have never been able to do that before at this level, and put my opinions in there. The dancing thing is easy for me to get and to pick up – it’s creating the entire world around the story that was so exciting,” said Sara. •