abatt

Sara Mearns: The Great American Ballerina of Our Era

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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?

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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."

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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."

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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.

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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."

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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?

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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...

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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.

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

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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He calls her the great American ballerina of our era.

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

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"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...?

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"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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"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.

Thanks Patrick and Happy New Year!! :flowers:

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I find the title making an odd harmony with the Eugene Loring/William Saroyan ballet-play from the first night of Ballet Theatre, "The Great American Goof". Surely, that couldn't be intentional on Macaulay's part? Or could it?

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Well one thing that I do think is true that after several years where the NYCB ballerina roster was weak (I can't tell how many times I passed up evenings because I had no desire to see Darci Kistler or Yvonne Borree) it's now extremely strong, and Mearns is part of the reason. I'd also add Ashley Bouder, Tiler Peck, Kathryn Morgan, as ballerinas I've never seen give a bad performance. It's become an exciting time to go to the NYCB again.

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I find the title making an odd harmony with the Eugene Loring/William Saroyan ballet-play from the first night of Ballet Theatre, "The Great American Goof". Surely, that couldn't be intentional on Macaulay's part? Or could it?

Ha ha.

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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.

Off topic: It doesn't matter what Kirkland does or doesn't think of Farrell personally. Farrell's influence on NYCB during a certain period was as pervasive in its way as T.S. Eliot's over poetry in his day - he was in your head whether you wanted him there or not and the available evidence suggests that applied to Kirkland in relation to Farrell, too.

(Kent was also a strong influence on Farrell's dancing in the early days.)

Not all critics agreed with Croce that Farrell had become a caricature of herself when she left in '69.

Returning to our moutons, I would say that Macaulay is free to hail Mearns in any way he likes, if he can back it up with action. I have not seen Mearns but I thought he made a good case.

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When I saw NYCB here in London at the Coliseum last year, Mearns was the absolute standout ballerina of the evening in the second movement of Symphony in C.

To be fair to the company they really didn't seem to be having a great time of it, the theatre was 25% sold, the lighting designer or technician at the Coliseum seemed to really have some kind of grudge against the company as I don't think I have ever seen a company lit so unflatteringly, flatly or badly. I think that was part of the problem they looked tired, under rehearsed and ill prepared for the season and that was reflected in the care given to the stagecraft.

But when Mearns came on it was like WOW, she was just dancing on a different plane from the rest of the company that evening (Bouder wasn't on that night, but I saw her later in Tarentella) Mearns was spiritual, lush, romantic just gorgeous a real ballerina in what had been a very lacklustre evening.

On a related issue: May I just take this opportunity to hail myself as The Great British Ballet Alert Poster of This (or any other) Era.

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On a related issue: May I just take this opportunity to hail myself as The Great British Ballet Alert Poster of This (or any other) Era.

Simon, please do! :) I would add: "a powerful influence on Ballet Alert Posters everywhere."

Thanks for your memory of Mearns in London. Such a cavernous theater. And with bad lighting. It must have had its depressing side.

But when Mearns came on it was like WOW, she was just dancing on a different plane from the rest of the company that evening (Bouder wasn't on that night, but I saw her later in Tarentella) Mearns was spiritual, lush, romantic just gorgeous a real ballerina in what had been a very lacklustre evening.
"Spiritual, lush, romantic, ... gorgeous, a real ballerina ...." You (and Macaulay) are making those of us who have not seen her rather jealous.:(

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On a related issue: May I just take this opportunity to hail myself as The Great British Ballet Alert Poster of This (or any other) Era.

Yes, you may do, and yet not all will agree that it's of any importance. or that you are either, of course (after all, there's Jane and leonid, you know). Because some of it's hype, even if you've actually seen these dancers. Yes, she's beautiful and a fine dancer, but this 'action' is publicity and nothing else. The Dewdrop I saw her do was good, but not great, and the Swan was great but not that great. A lot of us have seen the greatest dancers of NYCB and over decades, and even the ones who were the critics' darlings, as Suzanne Farrell definitely was, are not greatest because of this kind of critic-talk; she was still 'one of the greatest' in many people's minds, but even though I once thought she was 'THE greatest', I don't anymore (and those who do think it do not think because any critic told them to at any given point). And what does any of that matter? Or is that not allowed once these pronouncements are made? Is there a point at which these judgments become official? No, there never is, even when Tobi Tobias once wrote in New York Magazine that there was no understudy for 'Mozartiana', and that if Suzanne didn't do it, then they cancelled it. Why? Because 'she is simply incomparable'. Although I don't say that this sort of febrile prose does not come quite naturally as part of the 'greenhouse effect'. This is all common knowledge, of course, it's just that if it's possible to get worked up, it's very human to enjoy it, and it becomes part of the snob appeal that is always aimed for in all realms of the art, as everywhere else.

Not that I don't think this kind of 'promo criticism' is not par for the course. But, in that case, it's also another way of marketing your favourites. That's cool, but expect disagreement.

It's so elementary a thing that I recall when someone was shocked, she said, that I could be both and Anglophile and a Francophile.

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The thing is...how can he name her to be "The Greatest..." if he hasn't been able to see the whole range of this era's ballerinas...at least onstage...?

"The greatest ballerina I've ever seen live" sounds better to me.

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Cristian

I really think you'd like Mearns in the flesh, she's quite unmodern in her physicality, recalling a great deal of those 50s ballet bomb shells who float your boat in fact. She's got lush curves and a very womanly presence and plasticity.

She's by no means a technical Wunderkind like Valdes, Nunez, Rojo, Osipova etc as seen in that clip 32 fouettes are just that 32 (ish) singles, but she's a real dancer, a real ballerina, she has the technique she needs to accomplish the ballerina roles and that something extra, the indefinable quality that made Ulanova stand out above Dudinskaya, Fonteyn above Grey, Seymour above Park etc She's a ballerina.

It's that special quality that has to be seen in real life, like I said when she came on in what was a really turgid evening suddenly you were in a performance, she just made the evening, took such command of the stage. She's delish, the real deal. One of my best ballet memories of the past few years, in fact.

Simon G

The Great British Ballet Alert Poster of This (or any other) Era

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