Jayne

Now it's Sara Mearns turn in the Bullseye (Not that again!)

35 posts in this topic

From Robert Gottlieb at the NY Observer:

http://observer.com/2013/06/a-season-of-ups-and-downs-justin-peck-has-earned-his-place-out-in-front/

Hyltin shone throughout the rest of the season. Her debut as the central girl in Serenade was convincing and moving, even though we associate the role with dancers less ethereal. She was enchanting in Western Symphony, poignant in Stravinsky Violin Concerto. She doesn’t have the brio, the supreme musicality of Tiler Peck (who does?) or the plangency and inner life of Sara Mearns when Mearns is at her best (at the moment, she’s just too heavy).

Yeesh, I find it hard to believe Sara Mearns is too "heavy". I've seen recent pics and videos and she has the same physique as Carrie Imler at PNB: both have classic mesomorph structures. There is absolutely nothing they can do in class or cross training to force their muscle fibers to become ectomorphs. But both are throwbacks to an earlier age of ballerina physiques and have more in common with Maria Tallchief than Tanny leClercq.

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Yes, dancers like this should put bags over their heads and hide in shame:

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Going by what he actually wrote, he did not say that Mearns was too heavy in general. He said she was too heavy right now to be at her best. Not having seen the lady live it's not for me to judge his accuracy, but it seems fair comment enough. There are figures where extra weight tends to show up more prominently than on other shapes. Perhaps that's the issue here, or maybe Gottlieb needs a new prescription from the eye doctor.

Her photos do not put me in mind of Tallchief, but certainly she doesn't confirm to the stereotype of the "Balanchine look." No problems with that.

There are right ways and wrong ways to discuss a dancer's weight, but I do not think the topic should be ruled out of discussion; performers present themselves to be looked at and weight can matter. It's a difficult question, especially in a culture where women are expected to be slender and physical fitness, otherwise a Good Thing, has become something of a cultural fetish for both sexes.

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Watching that clip of Imler again -- as impressive as the fouettes are, it's the chaine turns that really amazed me. She does just what the classic textbooks say to do, stand in 1st position on pointe and do a series of 180 degree turns, shifting weight from one foot to the other. You hardly ever see a series of turns that tight -- it's quite astonishing.

In terms of body type, there were a couple of moments in Diamonds in this last rep at PNB where Imler reminded me of photos of Danilova -- lots of cross-lateral gestures. They were complex and sophisticated shapes, contrasting with the large, open arabesque saute -- it was really interesting.

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The chainees were the high point for me, too, both in the video and live.

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I found Sara Mearns' blog from early May, and you can see some practice video from Slaughter and Who Cares? - I don't see fat on her frame, but she carries bulkier muscle (part of being a mesomorph) than Sylvie Guillem or Diana Vishneva. What is important is how she uses the muscles that she has - her control is tremendous.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WiGOOiaKRcg#t=354s

Her shoulders are broader, her neck is short, and her measurements from hip bone to hip bone are going to be wider than Hee Seo. In terms of athletes, she looks more like an American gymnast (think Carly Patterson) than a Russian gymnast (think Svetlana Khorkina). I would wager money that if her BMI were professionally measured, it is extremely low.

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Yes, dancers like this should put bags over their heads and hide in shame:

Thank you Heleneflowers.gif - Imler is one of those dancers who I am so sorry I won't ever get to see perform live. I wish there was more film available. Everything I see of her I love - not only tremendous technique, but she seems to exude joy.

I saw Mearns last week in Allegro Brilliante and didn't notice anything different about her size or weight. She looked gorgeous to me. I guess Gottlieb recalls seeing her thinner, but it's strange to me that he felt it worth mentioning.

I wonder how he felt about Lynn Seymour. She was a wonderful dancer in dramatic roles in the 1970's Royal Ballet. She was far from thin.

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Sara did look heavier during the Winter Season, when I saw her in Swan Lake and Serenade. But she was coming back from an injury. In the spring season she looked back to her old shape. Her build is wide-set and there's nothing she can do about that.

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Sara did look heavier during the Winter Season, when I saw her in Swan Lake and Serenade. But she was coming back from an injury. In the spring season she looked back to her old shape. Her build is wide-set and there's nothing she can do about that.

My question is - Why assign weight as the problem. When I saw Mearns in the Winter Season there was a performance when she looked like she was holding back, and wasn't herself (I later learned that she was injured), but I didn't attribute it to weight.

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Sara did look heavier during the Winter Season, when I saw her in Swan Lake and Serenade. But she was coming back from an injury. In the spring season she looked back to her old shape. Her build is wide-set and there's nothing she can do about that.

My question is - Why assign weight as the problem. When I saw Mearns in the Winter Season there was a performance when she looked like she was holding back, and wasn't herself (I later learned that she was injured), but I didn't attribute it to weight.

I didn't assign the problem to weight. But dancers often say that when they have a long layoff due to injury they gain weight, so it's not a surprise Mearns was a little heavier during the Winter Season since she had been injured for a long time.

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I didn't assign the problem to weight. But dancers often say that when they have a long layoff due to injury they gain weight, so it's not a surprise Mearns was a little heavier during the Winter Season since she had been injured for a long time.

Sorry Canbelto I didn't mean to say that you had, only that Gottlieb seemed to go to that conclusion

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It's hard to believe that in today's world a critic (and a male critic at that) has the nerve to say that a ballerina is too heavy. First of all, she's not. I saw her dance 'Serenade' on Sunday and she looks the same as always, which to me is just perfect. This is reminiscent of Alistair Macaulay saying that Jennifer Ringer had been eating one too many sugarplums (I forget the exact wording) when reviewing NYCB's 'Nutcracker' a few years ago. Again, not at all true. Ballerinas, no what what their height or build, are much thinner than the rest of us (except for actresses and supermodels). And in an industry where eating disorders are a huge problem, it just seems irresponsible to comment on their weight. (That's the way I feel about it anyway).

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It's hard to believe that in today's world a critic (and a male critic at that) has the nerve to say that a ballerina is too heavy. First of all, she's not. I saw her dance 'Serenade' on Sunday and she looks the same as always, which to me is just perfect. This is reminiscent of Alistair Macaulay saying that Jennifer Ringer had been eating one too many sugarplums (I forget the exact wording) when reviewing NYCB's 'Nutcracker' a few years ago. Again, not at all true. Ballerinas, no what what their height or build, are much thinner than the rest of us (except for actresses and supermodels). And in an industry where eating disorders are a huge problem, it just seems irresponsible to comment on their weight. (That's the way I feel about it anyway).

I think it's Gottlieb's job as a critic to report the truth as he sees it, not to worry about how the dancers will respond to it, or censor himself because of how male taste and expectations have historically hurt women. The ideal standard of thinness for female dancers may be a matter of taste, but ballet is an art of ideals, and if he thinks she’s too heavy to be dance to the best of her abilities, he should say so. I don't want a critical universe in which gender determines what someone is allowed to remark upon. The problem with Macaulay's remark was that it was worded unkindly. He couldn't resist the joke. Fortunately, his little one-liner backfired.

Having said that, whether Mearns was at her ideal dancing weight or not (and given that's she was coming back from a long injury-related layoff, she might agree she wasn't), in the recent videos and pictures I've seen, she looks as beautiful as ever.

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I thought Mearns looked heavy during the Winter Season, but looked like she had lost most of the weight by the spring season. Perfectly understandable since she was injured for so long. I don't think weight detracted from her performances and would be interested in knowing exactly what performances Gottlieb felt were diminsihed due to Mearns' weight.

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Macaulay might have been trying to be clever, which backfired, but it was his point, and most people ignored that he continued and was much harsher about Jared Angle's weight. If Gottlieb wanted to discuss Mearns' weight in terms of the season, he could have gone down that path directly, not literally parenthetically, because to have compared other ballerinas' expression to "the plangency and inner life of Sara Mearns when Mearns is at her best" alone would have been just as strong.

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If Gottlieb thinks Mearns isn't at her best for this particular reason I don't see why it's out of bounds for him to say so. Athletes, whose performance can also be affected by weight gain (and loss), receive this kind of comment all the time, and much more harshly - the fluctuating weight of Pablo Sandoval of the SF Giants and any relation it has to his current foot injury is a topic of daily discussion, and it's not always very kind.

That said, cultural considerations do matter. Baseball, unlike ballet (or gymnastics and figure skating) doesn't come with a lot of historic baggage about ballplayers with eating disorders, and such disorders and other considerations related to weight do affect women disproportionately in our society and the ballet world in particular. It is no bad thing if critics keep such things in mind when writing about dancers and weight.

(I remember Dick Button commencing an interview with Elaine Zayak, whose battles with weight were well known, with "Elaine, you look so thin and pretty!" Urrgggghhhh.......)

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Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Macaulay wasn’t criticizing her weight, just that I only objected to the way he did it.

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I think this came up after Macaulay made his comments about Jennifer Ringer and Jared Angle, but I don't think it's a critic job to criticzie someone's physical appearance. If you want to mention that a dancer is out of shape and talk about how that affects their dancing, that's fine. Aren't critics supposed to be talking about how someone performs, not what they look like? Is it okay to say that a performer has a big nose or crooked teeth? I don't think so.

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Colleen, I suppose there's room to wonder, but that's just what I read Gottlieb as saying, that she's "just too heavy" to dance "at her best," not that she's too heavy to look her best. But I think either opinion would merit expression, and that's why I only fault Macaulay for how he expressed his opinion, not for expressing it. Dancing on stage is about using the body to make visual images, and the shape of the body can't be separated from those images.

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But frankly Gottlieb just doesn't know what he's talking about. Mearns is in great shape this season, neither worse nor better than over the past couple of years. She's actually been very consistent.

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Thank you,Michael, for making such an important point. Just becuase someone has a job as a critic with a national publication does not mean they know what they are talking about.

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I will say though that ballerinas are constantly praised for their beauty both here and by critics, and they should also accept the flip side. For instance hardly a review of Maria Kowroski fails to mention her physical beauty. Aesthetics are just an important part of ballet, like it or not.

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(I remember Dick Button commencing an interview with Elaine Zayak, whose battles with weight were well known, with "Elaine, you look so thin and pretty!" Urrgggghhhh.......)

---------------

From "Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear"; the context is at the beginning of Korbes' apprenticeship, after she had been out for two years with an injury caused by errant stage tape:

"I was kept in the company, and he said that he really liked me, but when he saw me before I got injured I was so much thinner. " Korbes was realistic. "I was out for two years. My body was not looking like what it was two years before I left. He was very unhappy about it. he said, "You have to lose some weight, get strong, and then you'll be fine."

Before a two-week break, Martins told her "if in two weeks we don't see results, you know, I just can't renew your contract. " Korbes wen ton a crash diet. "So I'm all kind of unhealthy, and I come back really thin and Peter Martins is, like 'Oh, you look so good.' Then all of a sudden he's giving me all these parts. I'm doing Darci Kistler's" -- his wife's-- "parts. There was one season in there that I never did a corps part, I would always do soloist parts."

But Carla came to see a vicious circle. "If I was thin, I would get parts. Then I would get hurt because I would have a lot of parts and I wasn't eating....I would gain weight and I would come back and he'd be like, 'You're not good anymore.' Then he would take me out of all the parts. Then I would lose the weight. It was like that for the whole time I was there"--about six years.

--------------------

This is not to say that the NYCB schedule would have been too much in the long-term for Korbes -- she's been injured several times since she's been at PNB, including for the second weekend of the final rep, and PNB has a much more humane schedule -- but had she had been managed reasonably at NYCB, NY audiences would have been able to see her instead of read about her.

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I will say though that ballerinas are constantly praised for their beauty both here and by critics, and they should also accept the flip side. For instance hardly a review of Maria Kowroski fails to mention her physical beauty. Aesthetics are just an important part of ballet, like it or not.

I agree, and the thing is that everyone probably agrees that whether or not they’re at their ideal weight, Ringer and Mearns are quite lovely women. Part of a critic’s job is to measure a performer against the ideal. Dancers, of all people, are understandably sensitive about their looks, and we can be sensitive for them, but to say someone doesn’t look her best (or just can’t perform at her best at her present weight) is not to say she isn’t still beautiful.

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I will say though that ballerinas are constantly praised for their beauty both here and by critics, and they should also accept the flip side. For instance hardly a review of Maria Kowroski fails to mention her physical beauty. Aesthetics are just an important part of ballet, like it or not.

Dancers are constantly praised for their beauty because, well, they're beautiful people. It’s true that how you look onstage matters, and performers have to deal with poor reviews as well as good ones. There is no way to avoid such discussion – we are after all talking about dancers, and the look and shape of bodies is important. It’s more a matter of what’s within bounds to say and how to say it. Comments about a dancer’s beauty aren’t equivalent because paying a compliment about looks is different territory. A critic can remark that Maria Kowroski is beautiful but he or she is not going to say that Dancer X is plain, certainly not in so many words, and for good reason.

Nor is it true that constant and sometimes unseemly harping on a dancer’s beauty is necessarily flattering or complimentary, given that women tend to be assessed disproportionately on the basis of appearance (although the same can apply to very handsome men). Of course, there are worse problems to have.......

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