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Sara Mearns: The Great American Ballerina of Our Era


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#31 papeetepatrick

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Posted 04 January 2011 - 10:24 AM

This thread has been good for talking about and discovering specific nature of Mearns's great talent, but this is what I was talking about, and it wouldn't be so easy to forget it, since it was only in June of this past year. Macaulay wrote:

Dancing as Kitri in “Don Quixote” on Tuesday night at the Metropolitan Opera House, Natalia Osipova proved herself the most sensational ballerina now before the public. Kitri was the first major role for which Ms. Osipova — a Russian star of the Bolshoi Ballet, now in her second spring season as guest artist with American Ballet Theater — earned international acclaim. It’s clear why. She has a gamine quality; you can imagine this Kitri as the most riveting of street urchins. And she’s a theater animal. The turn of her head, the flash of her smile, the immediacy of her response to the music, the intensity of her attention to her colleagues: these and other signs show she is never more alive than onstage.

Even if you knew from other roles that Ms. Osipova has the most remarkable vertical takeoff of any ballerina today, her jumps in Act I of “Don Quixote” were, time and again, astounding. She’s in the air in the blink of an eye, and, once up there, she can stay, exploding sideways. Or, in the image that Russian Kitris over the past 60 years have made a signature, she splits her legs in profile so that while the front one aims downward like a hovering javelin, her head and raised arms arch back to reach the other foot. (This is known as “the Plisetskaya head-kick” after the Bolshoi ballerina who first made it phenomenal.) On Tuesday, a sideways jump that is usually a mere transition became colossal. Sweeping across the stage in other jumps, Ms. Osipova became the first dancer in memory to make the vast spaces of the Met seem too small.


So we get what people used to tell me were 'Southern superlatives' in some of my own extreme assessments (I've since curtailed this severely.) So you could then have, after 'Greatest American Ballerina', and 'Most Sensational Ballerina Now Before the Public', you could then have 'Most Versatile Ballerina', 'Best Body on a Womanly Ballerina', 'Most Virtuosic Ballerina in Balanchine', I guess. What Simon finally wrote about 'this is what makes a ballerina' (even if I'm a lot more interested in Osipova personally) is more meaty than this kind of 'Ballet Oscar' thing, so it was worth it going through the thorns. Then there could be 'Most Beautiful Feet on a Danseur Noble', etc., etc., and give them all to Hallberg or Gomes could get 'Best-Fitting Purple Tights on a Rothbart', etc., 'Most Likely to Inherit the Mantle and Occupy the Place Left Vacant by Suzanne Farrell'.

But there should be a unisex Oscar 'Best All-Around Dancer in the Whole World'. You know. A sort of 'Super Bowl Award'.

#32 Slant

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Posted 04 January 2011 - 03:36 PM

I would think that Balanchine would hate the concept of "Greatest Ballerina." America's preoccupation with rankings (sports) and polls (politics) diverts and blurs our judgment and appreciation with what we see and experience everday. Sarah is a wonderful dancer. Simply that. The moment you start ranking dancers is the moment that another comes along to upset the applecart.

#33 Simon G

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 05:28 AM

I would think that Balanchine would hate the concept of "Greatest Ballerina." America's preoccupation with rankings (sports) and polls (politics) diverts and blurs our judgment and appreciation with what we see and experience everday. Sarah is a wonderful dancer. Simply that. The moment you start ranking dancers is the moment that another comes along to upset the applecart.



Balanchine certainly publically stated his distaste for a star system, but his actions, especially his actions regarding his own vision of ballet and ballerinas were pretty much the opposite of that. He definitely had no problem with rubbishing the abilities of "star" or great ballerinas from other companies whose style and ethos were the antithesis to his, which is as much as saying that his way was the right way and in his actions towards certain ballerinas, his muses, the parts he made for them, the lion's share of the rep he saved for them and the way he promoted them, it's pretty clear who he thought was the "greatest" ballerina at any one given time. Though of course he had no problem relegating the "greatest" to the side lines once a new "greatest" came along.

#34 papeetepatrick

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 09:17 AM

Very true, Simon, but it's still different if a choreographer does it, even if it appears to be unfair. At least it's within the profession, and strong competition can fight it back if they've got the spine (and they have.) The rest is just, as Kojak, used to say 'pah-ty fa-vahs, not the BADGE', when people write these 'superlatives' within short periods of time which give a buzz briefly, and then are relegated to the rest of the amnesia. There's actually something a bit on the 'hick' side to always be doing the rankings which 'slant' describes very well (indeed that IS 'very American' to always have to categorize as in a competition), although I tend to agree with your assessment of Balanchine's tactics, which were pretty transparent. What he did was make an 'understated star system', but this convinced many people that it was not, in fact, a star system, because of not announcing in advance, etc. But everybody always knew who was dancing, even if they had to wait longer; and the difficulties caused by that gave it that 'kiss of chic' thing that a lot of urbanites always go for (in a sense, you could say, it made it an even more enhanced, however specialized, 'star system', in making itself more special that way--no getting around it, it was a shrewd, effective strategy at such a high level, and that's uncommon)--and they were definitely talking about afternoons with 'two Farrells' and days with 'three Ashleys', etc. That was written up in a piece a few years ago about Bouder, which apparently was then going on for her (talk about 'two Bouders today!'), even further back a New Yorker Magazine writer started saying 'they're all boring, until now I've found PART', etc.. Mearns could, in fact, with her clearly burgeoning development, be doing just what 'slant' said, by beginning to eclipse Bouder (for those interested in such things, and sometimes they are to a degree, if it becomes very obvious.) In 2006, people were talking about Mearns here a lot, but she's clearly a much bigger star by 2011.

#35 Marga

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 02:00 PM

Macaulay wrote that he is

longing ... to know ... what her influence will be on other dancers in the company


I was going through old NYT unread Arts' sections yesterday for the recycling box. Stopping to read the article about Darci's Kistler's retirement, I was fascinated by a couple of anecdotes. One of them: When Balanchine saw the newly-hired Kistler watching Suzanne Farrell from the wings, he turned her away from the stage and walked her backstage, telling her not to watch Farrell.

He didn't want his dancers influenced by one another and, in this case, at least, actively tried to stem a new'un's desire to pick up any of Farrell's ways because he wanted her to develop her own.

I think Balanchine wouldn't take kindly to the suggestion that Mearns, for example, should be an influence to other NYCB dancers.

Edited to insert following quote (and to show how I liberally interpret what I read!):

Kistler:

The thing that he was on me about constantly was to just be myself. He’d even pull me out of the wings when Suzanne Farrell was dancing.


Full article here:
Last Dance


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