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Sara Mearns: The Great American Ballerina of Our Era


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#1 abatt

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Posted 01 January 2011 - 03:47 PM

In the Dec. 31 edition of the NY Times, each of the cultural critics was asked to write about the event in 2011 he is most looking forward to. Macaulay wrote that he is looking forward to seeing Ms. Mearns take on new roles. He calls her the great American ballerina of our era. No argument from me on that one. What new roles are we looking forward to seeing her in? If I were in charge of casting, my choices would be the girl in pink in Dances at a Gathering, Mozartiana, the lead in Apollo, and the final section of the Vienna Waltzes. I missed her last year in Cortege Hongrois, so I hope I can see her in the role this season. Any thoughts? Is Sara the great American ballerina of our era?

#2 bart

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Posted 01 January 2011 - 04:01 PM

Great topic, abatt. Here's what Macaulay said:

To judge by her 2010 form, Sara Mearns — currently the great American ballerina of our time — will be the single local dancer to watch in ballet. I find myself longing not only to know what new roles will come her way at New York City Ballet, but also what her influence will be on other dancers in the company.

In addition to the questions you raise in your post, I'd love to hear what people think about the matter of "influence ... on other dancers."

#3 Eileen

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Posted 01 January 2011 - 04:46 PM

I had the good fortune to see Sara Mearns on Thursday night as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Nutcracker at City Ballet. What a complete artist. Yes, she is the American ballerina of the 21st century, but I don't think she will "influence" other dancers any more than Suzanne Farrell was an influence. These are unique artists, they are inimitable. You can only hope that each dancer will find his or her path to artistry within the classical vocabulary and in shaping the great roles of the repertoire.

Great topic, abatt. Here's what Macaulay said:

To judge by her 2010 form, Sara Mearns currently the great American ballerina of our time will be the single local dancer to watch in ballet. I find myself longing not only to know what new roles will come her way at New York City Ballet, but also what her influence will be on other dancers in the company.

In addition to the questions you raise in your post, I'd love to hear what people think about the matter of "influence ... on other dancers."



#4 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 01 January 2011 - 05:16 PM

In the Dec. 31 edition of the NY Times, each of the cultural critics was asked to write about the event in 2011 he is most looking forward to. Macaulay wrote that he is looking forward to seeing Ms. Mearns take on new roles. He calls her the great American ballerina of our era. No argument from me on that one. What new roles are we looking forward to seeing her in? If I were in charge of casting, my choices would be the girl in pink in Dances at a Gathering, Mozartiana, the lead in Apollo, and the final section of the Vienna Waltzes. I missed her last year in Cortege Hongrois, so I hope I can see her in the role this season. Any thoughts? Is Sara the great American ballerina of our era?



I'd love to see her in "Liebeslieder Waltzer" -- any role.

#5 miliosr

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Posted 01 January 2011 - 05:17 PM

Any thoughts? Is Sara the great American ballerina of our era?

Once, a journalist asked Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones if the Stones were truly the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world. He replied simply that, "On any given Saturday night, any band is the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world."

#6 vipa

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Posted 01 January 2011 - 06:01 PM


Any thoughts? Is Sara the great American ballerina of our era?

Once, a journalist asked Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones if the Stones were truly the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world. He replied simply that, "On any given Saturday night, any band is the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world."


Great Keith Richards quote.

I love Mearns in so many roles. Kudo's to Martins for giving her opportunities. A problem that I have with ABT is that so many artists languish because of lack of opportunity. Of course some of this is determined by rep and the need to sell tickets.

IMO I don't think we have to declare anyone the "great American ballerina of our era." I guess I'm just not comfortable with that idea. Bouder is untouchable in some roles. Her technique will push female dancers in much the way Merrill Ashley did in her day. Tiler Peck is a great artist. At ABT Murphy has transformed her self from super turner to artist. What would Murphy be if she had to opportunity to develop in the NYCB rep? Another story.

Yes, Mearns has a more unconventional body and to some extent approach (as Farrell and before her Kent had) but to give her the "crown" is too simplistic. Alastair Macaulay is very prone to these pronouncements, I wish he would refrain. Was the "Great American Ballerina" of a past generation Farrell? or was it Kirkland or Gregory or did you make a point to go see McBride in some roles even if you would not have given her the crown?

#7 Drew

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Posted 01 January 2011 - 06:04 PM

I had the good fortune to see Sara Mearns on Thursday night as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Nutcracker at City Ballet. What a complete artist. Yes, she is the American ballerina of the 21st century, but I don't think she will "influence" other dancers any more than Suzanne Farrell was an influence. These are unique artists, they are inimitable. You can only hope that each dancer will find his or her path to artistry within the classical vocabulary and in shaping the great roles of the repertoire.



I don't think influence precludes people finding their own way. Suzanne Farrell had a lot of influence on other dancers--Arlene Croce at one point (in a very critical review of Farrell and NYCB from the 70's) argued that the influence had become a problem at NYCB and named several dancers she felt were "caricatures" of the "caricature she [Farrell] had become" before Farrell left the company for Bejart. And Croce also mentioned that one could see her influence even on the very young Kirkland. (I'm quoting from memory--I can't look it up, but I am reasonably confident).

Of course the best dancers will always find their own path to artistry--certainly Kirkland did--but often that path includes experiencing and experimenting with the influence of other artists, especially early in one's career. Farrell herself must have been somewhat influenced by Diana Adams.

There are more general examples as well. Critical consensus seems to be that Nureyev's career in the west led to a wholesale raising of standards in male dancing. And Guillem's extraordinary extensions obviously have influenced the look of today's ballerinas. Though, unfortunately, they only rarely seem to have her bodily control and command of line in producing those extensions or her judgment about how to deploy them...

#8 papeetepatrick

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Posted 01 January 2011 - 07:11 PM

Yes, Mearns has a more unconventional body and to some extent approach (as Farrell and before her Kent had) but to give her the "crown" is too simplistic. Alastair Macaulay is very prone to these pronouncements, I wish he would refrain. Was the "Great American Ballerina" of a past generation Farrell? or was it Kirkland or Gregory or did you make a point to go see McBride in some roles even if you would not have given her the crown?


I totally agree, and these things don't stop. One just stops paying much attention them, they're really little different from 'What's your fave five?' People who say 'the greatest' don't seem to realize that light-years difference it makes to say instead 'one of the very greatest', and the latter keeps it within the art, not in fanboy/fangirl form.


Drew wrote:

I don't think influence precludes people finding their own way. Suzanne Farrell had a lot of influence on other dancers--Arlene Croce at one point (in a very critical review of Farrell and NYCB from the 70's) argued that the influence had become a problem at NYCB and named several dancers she felt were "caricatures" of the "caricature she [Farrell] had become" before Farrell left the company for Bejart. And Croce also mentioned that one could see her influence even on the very young Kirkland. (I'm quoting from memory--I can't look it up, but I am reasonably confident).


Of course. If Farrell didn't influence, then who did as a ballerina? If she didn't, there's no such thing as influence, and there indisputably is. I remember well that passage from Croce, I believe she even made a verb of it 'farrellize' and also 'farrelization', and was referring mostly to Karin Von Aroldingen. What's fascinating about that is that Farrell had become so definitive in certain ways that, even at that early date, 20 years before she'd retire, she had already 'become a caricature'. Which means that then certain individual characteristics would still be there in 1975-6 onwards, but that most of these would have that greater aura of maturity.

I've seen Mearns a few times, and she's great, but I can't see any point in stirring up people with this sort of talk either. I've also seen Bouder a good bit more, and I wasn't less impressed with her. It almost seems like something for a high school yearbook.

#9 Mel Johnson

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Posted 01 January 2011 - 09:50 PM

Actually, Kirkland politely loathed Farrell. Kent was her model.

#10 Drew

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Posted 01 January 2011 - 10:08 PM

Actually, Kirkland politely loathed Farrell. Kent was her model.


That makes sense to me: Kirkland, even in her distinctiveness, recalls Kent more than Farrell.

Some (underline: some) elements of her off-stage career even recall Kent's slightly defiant relation to Balanchine though, in that case, if one is to trust Kent's memoirs, it led to three children -- not a career with ABT and a Ballet Academy with a commitment to story ballets. (This presumably is not a matter of influence.)

But I'm pretty sure about the Croce remark...and of course one can be influenced, if only unconsciously, by someone one loathes! But certainly it's easier to picture Kirkland with Kent as her model.

#11 papeetepatrick

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Posted 01 January 2011 - 11:05 PM

But I'm pretty sure about the Croce remark...and of course one can be influenced, if only unconsciously, by someone one loathes! But certainly it's easier to picture Kirkland with Kent as her model.


Yes, I didn't catch that part of your remark, Drew. You may well be right that it was there, but I don't remember a mention of Kirkland in that passage at all (I don't have the volume at home either.) The whole thrust of that was the attempt to bring some of those 'farrellisms' (wasn't the article called 'Farrell and Farrellism?' Yes, I'm pretty sure) onto Von Aroldingen (at least as I remember it, but it's been a good while, and Kirkland may well have been mentioned there), whom Croce was talking about as someone without a great deal of talent. Maybe that was just because the project was doomed from the start, but necessarily a reaction to the turmoil of that whole scene. Von Aroldingen was certainly a fine dancer, if maybe not quite 'great', I don't know.

It would seem logical that Kirkland could easily have been very influenced by Farrell, makes me wonder if she started 'loathing her' later (I would expect those two not to have ever been too close, though, even given the nature of the territory in general, which is not about divas being galpals so much.)

#12 Helene

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Posted 02 January 2011 - 01:56 AM

Some (underline: some) elements of her off-stage career even recall Kent's slightly defiant relation to Balanchine though, in that case, if one is to trust Kent's memoirs, it led to three children -- not a career with ABT and a Ballet Academy with a commitment to story ballets. (This presumably is not a matter of influence.)

Joseph Mazo mentions this in "Dance Is a Contact Sport", when he describes Kent leaving rehearsals to take care of her kids when the clock said so. Kent spoke about this sadly in the "Dancing for Mr. B" documentary when she describes how divided she was and how Balanchine stopped making ballets for her.

#13 atm711

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Posted 02 January 2011 - 07:30 AM

He calls her the great American ballerina of our era.



Hmmm---sort of like the Obama Peace Prize?

#14 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 02 January 2011 - 08:23 AM

"The great ballerina"...?...Why is that I notice an uncompromising feeling here..? He avoids to go too far as to name her "The GREATEST ballerina", or to be too soft to write "A great ballerina"... Is "THE GREAT..." phrase grammatically correct...? What is he really saying here...?

#15 papeetepatrick

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Posted 02 January 2011 - 08:43 AM

"The great ballerina"...?...Why is that I notice an uncompromising feeling here..? He avoids to go too far as to name her "The GREATEST ballerina", or to be too soft to write "A great ballerina"... Is "THE GREAT..." phrase grammatically correct...? What is he really saying here...?


No, he means by 'The Great' the same thing as 'the Greatest', it's just a more theatrical thing to say 'The Great'. Gramatically it's all right, just a bit annoying. In this case also, since he wants to emphasize her 'a great ballerina' is probably not quite enough, but he should be content with 'one of the greatest ballerinas' or 'one of the two or three greatest ballerinas' (in that case, he wouldn't even have to say 'American', which is pretty much beside the point these days anyway, since everything is more accessible than in past epochs. But critics are sometimes able to promote performers they want to by hyping them up, so it's no big deal really. That's probably all it means.


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