Sara Mearns

The New York City Ballet principal talks about her new outlook on dancing

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Time Out New York: What is your intention for your videos?
Sara Mearns:
I started doing them right before the winter season, and I have one every week; I basically video what I do during the week—the different events I go to or different places I perform. Some weeks, it’s about a certain ballet that I’m dancing; one week, I interviewed my partners. They’re not longer than six or seven minutes, and I write something with it. Sometimes it’s just basically [me] talking. It’s personable. It’s making our life real.

Time Out New York: But you like Instagram the best. Why?
Sara Mearns:
I don’t know. I never thought I’d be into photography. I love capturing a beautiful moment, and there are so many in the ballet world, in the life that I live and in where I go. I like to show people what you can do in this city. Maybe they’ll go, Oh that looks really cool—maybe we should go do that, too. Or maybe we should go see this ballet that she’s rehearsing and that I see on Instagram. It’s a way of promoting and then New York City Ballet can use those pictures and put them on their Facebook page, which they’ve been doing, and it’s great. They used a lot of my Opus Jazz pictures that I took in Denmark.

Time Out New York: What was it like hanging out with Natalia Makarova at the Kennedy Center?
Sara Mearns:
[Laughs] That was so cool. I met her when I was 16 for this thing we did at the theater. I danced Chopiniana. At that point, I was really young and hadn’t really done anything. I hadn’t done Swan Lake. She hadn’t really helped me yet—meaning her dancing and her career and what she was for me hadn’t translated yet in my dancing. But now, ten years later, her movement and what she is and what she was, I really have incorporated into my dancing and into how I work on things. People have noticed. I had to be there because of what she’s done for me. I went by myself just to be in that moment of the United States honoring her, because it was a way for me to honor her and to thank her for what she’s done. I knew I was going to the dinner afterward, and I guess I had something prepared to say; David Hallberg was really excited for me. He knew how much this meant to me. There was a moment when her assistant, a friend of mine, brought her to me. David saw that and got his camera out, but when she started walking over, my mind went blank. It was gone. I didn’t know what to do. She came over, and I had nothing to say. I was like, Ahhh, okay. She put her hands on my face and was like, “Hi, how are you?” She knew I was going to be there; I couldn’t say anything to her. I was like, Oh my God. What? This woman has done everything for me, and I can’t believe I’m standing with her. She started asking me about Swan Lake. And then she sat down a few seats over and I think Eddie Villella was there, and she looked over at me and said, “You don’t look like what I thought you would look like in person.” I was like, Oh, okay…I don’t know if that means she’s seen me perform? She said, “Onstage, you’re so dramatic and tall and long, but you don’t look like that here.” I’m like, Basically you’re saying I look fat. [Laughs] It’s fine—I don’t care.

Time Out New York: She’s Russian.
Sara Mearns:
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly. It was an amazing thing, and I got a picture with her. It was just so cool. People are like, “Wouldn’t you want her to coach you?” I’m like, “No.” I have her on such a high pedestal that I don’t want anything to screw that up. I don’t want to be in the studio with her and start getting frustrated with me, with her, with anything that would happen. I’d rather watch her videos that I’ve had for 20 years and keep that.

Time Out New York: It’s like a private conversation.
Sara Mearns:
Yes! It’s like a private conversation that no one else needs to be part of. She doesn’t even need to be a part of it! Just leave it at that.

Time Out New York: I get it. Who do you like to be coached by?
Sara Mearns:
I like to be coached by somebody who is not afraid to tell me what looks bad, but also respects what looks good and tells me that as well. Most of the time they’re former dancers. I want somebody who can come in the studio and is not caught up in what it used to be and what it used to look like and what their experience was. I want them to be in the here and now and make it the best it can look with my dancing. I want someone who will tell me what I need to fix in every aspect: technique, emotionally, feeling-wise. The more the merrier for me. I don’t like being at a rehearsal where they don’t say anything. That’s the worst. I can’t correct myself. I can kind of look in the mirror and see what looks bad, but you need a second pair of eyes, someone you can trust that will make you look good. There are two people right now that I really feel I have that with, one of them being Albert Evans, who is new to being a ballet master. He’s getting to that point where he can tell you something does not look good, but he doesn’t say it in a judgmental way. He always tells you what looks great.

Time Out New York: What roles do you think you’re performing this season?
Sara Mearns:
Barber. Slaughter. Slaughter’s awesome. It’s just this other world. So much fun. I love doing Barber Violin Concerto: The music is so beautiful, and you create your own story. By the end, I’ve created this whole fantasy world, and it’s different every time. I get so emotionally wrapped up in it. I don’t even realize how far I’m going to go until I get onstage. That’s when I really love doing something. Fearful Symmetries is really fun.

Time Out New York: You also dance I’m Old Fashioned?
Sara Mearns:
That’s a fun Jerry [Robbins] ballet. I’m only doing one show if it, but it’s such a nonstressful, easygoing ballet. Sonatas and Interludes, Dick Tanner’s ballet—that’s a really interesting ballet. It’s quirky. It’s hard. You’re really tired at the end.

Time Out New York: Do you prefer to be tired at the end?
Sara Mearns:
I do. [Laughs] I do! I love ballets where I’m completely wasted at the end. I feel like I’ve put it all out there and accomplished something, and that I couldn’t possibly give any more. I want to be able to not do any more at the end of the night. I just love that feeling. I don’t like being fresh after a ballet is done. I don’t. [Laughs] Which is good, because most of the ballets that I do, I’m like completely done afterward.

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