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“The Music Comes First” — an interview with Sara Mearns (DanceTabs)

Sara Mearns as Dewdrop. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Sara Mearns as Dewdrop. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Here is a recent interview with Sara Mearns of New York City Ballet, for DanceTabs, in which she discusses  recent struggles with injury, her love of dance, and some interesting upcoming plans.

A little excerpt:

“The music comes first, hands down. The music will tell you everything. It will guide you to where you need to go. It’s hard to describe how I go to that place when I get out there and hear that music. There’s nothing else.”

What are some of your mental images of Mearns’ dancing?

The Waltz Project Returns to NYCB (For DanceTabs)

Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in one of the jazzy numbers in Peter Martins' "The Waltz Project." Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in one of the jazzy numbers in Peter Martins’ “The Waltz Project.” Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Here’s my review of Tuesday’s program at New York City Ballet, which featured the return of Jerome Robbins’ N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz and Peter Martins’ rarely performed Waltz Project.

And a short excerpt:

“I’m always surprised at how sexual Opus Jazz really is – remember, it was made in the fifties – especially the two middle sections, Statics and Passage for Two. In Statics, three guys hang out on a rooftop – denoted by a few chimneys outlined against a dark sky, by Ben Shahn – lunging and sliding, kicking and making fists. They’re gaming for a fight.  The accompaniment is all percussion (by Robert Prince), drums and cowbells, thumping syncopations. Into this hotbed of male adolescent aimlessness saunters Georgina Pazcoguin, super-sexualized and over-confident, taunting them with her curves.”

Justin Peck Redux

Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar in Paz de la Jolla. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar in Paz de la Jolla. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Here’s a link to my latest post for DanceTabs, a review of a triple bill at New York City Ballet that included Justin Peck’s smashing new ballet, Paz de la Jolla, as well as Balanchine’s rarely performed surrealist experiment Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir and Alexei Ratmansky’s rollicking Concerto DSCH (still one of his best works).

A short excerpt:

“With Paz de la Jolla Peck demonstrates that he’s no mere flash in the pan. Last season’s Year of the Rabbit, which also returned to the stage earlier this week, is fresh, overflowing with ideas, breathless, complicated. But Paz de la Jolla reveals an even rarer quality: the ability to make a ballet on command, quickly, and to make something significant out of it. The commission was a last-minute stop-gap for another ballet (by Peter Martins) that had to be postponed because of a delay in the composition of the score. Peck rather bravely took the leap. Yes, he had a piece of music in mind, an exuberant work for piano and chamber orchestra by Martinu, Sinfonietta La Jolla, inspired by the Southern California coastline. It just so happens that Peck is from the area.”

And here’s a link to an interview I did with Peck last year.

Comments are welcome! I’d love to hear what you all thought of the ballets, etc.

Balanchine’s Bait and Switch: Divertimento from Baiser de la Fée

On Sunday, at the New York City Ballet matinée, the company performed a mixed bill: Divertimento from ‘Baiser de la Fée,’ Tchaikosvky Pas de Deux, Bal de Couture, and Diamonds. As always, I was fascinated by Divertimento‘s ungraspable quality. It seems like one kind of ballet, but turns out to be something completely different. Its haunting ending makes you question everything you’ve seen before. Tiler Peck captures this transformation perfectly; she is able to transform herself, subtly, from country girl to spellbound woman, lost in a dream. You can see my review here.

Sara Mearns also performed, in Diamonds:

“Sara Mearns, back from an injury which had kept her off the stage for nine months, was in rare form, dancing with that special intensity that sets her apart from other ballerinas. One could almost hear her thoughts as she slowly zig-zagged across the stage toward her cavalier (Ask la Cour) at the start of their pas de deux. The deep arch in her back in the duet’s many backbends expressed enormous yearning; each unfolding of the leg was a momentous, slow, deliberate affair. “I am your queen, and I have suffered long.” Like a great opera singer, Mearns is able to sustain endless legato phrases, melodies that modulate and stretch and leave the viewer gasping for air.”

Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky (from DanceTabs)

New York City Ballet’s winter season (aka the “Tchaikovsky Celebration”) opened this week. I caught the Wednesday performance, with Serenade, Mozartiana, and Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 (once known as Ballet Imperial). It also marked Sara Mearns’ return to the stage, after a long injury. You can read my review of the performance, for DanceTabs, here.

And here’s a short excerpt:

“I’m not yet fully convinced of the wisdom of New York City Ballet’s thematic seasons, organized around the music of a single composer. A full evening of Balanchine and Stravinsky is bracing and illuminating, but a whole season can leave you begging for melody, harmonic resolution, a drop of pathos. One can’t be acerbic and witty all the time. This season it’s Tchaikovsky’s turn, and the dial flips in the opposite direction, to a sound world filled with mystery, soaring melodies, turbulent crescendi and majestic apotheoses. In other words, a welcome injection of grandeur into our mundane lives. But how long can the audience sustain this fever pitch before beginning to yearn for the sharp edge of modernism? We’ll see.”

An Interview with Troy Schumacher (DanceTabs)

Over the holidays, I sat down with the young choreographer Troy Schumacher, a dancer at New York City Ballet. He recently initiated a collaborative project, Satellite Ballet with a librettist and composer. This year they had their second season. You can find my interview with Troy here.

And a short excerpt:

“Like many dancers, I read reviews. I enjoy reading them, not that I always agree. I want to hear everyone’s honest perspective. I take a lot into account, and dance critics come at it from a position of knowing dance and watching dance all the time. Even too much, sometimes. They point out interesting things. I’m not doing this so people think I’m a genius. I just want to create works and add something meaningful to dance and to ballet and also bring other people to dance with intimate, accessible performances.”

Jennie Ringer is back!

Just received the casting for the final week of The Nutcracker at NYCB, and I see that Jenifer Ringer will be dancing the role of Sugarplum on Dec. 26 and Dec. 30. It’s one of Ringer’s best roles—or rather it suits her quite perfectly—because there is something so refreshingly adult, feminine, and musical about her dancing. Technique and razzle-dazzle are not the point. Ringer is one of those dancers who just let themselves be carried along by the ebb and flow of the music; she never looks forced, and she never tries to impress. While appearing to dance for her own enjoyment, she just opens up her imagination and allows us to come with her for the ride. (She’s a natural in ballets like Liebeslieder Walzer, that require an imagination.) And the way she responds to the kids onstage in Nutcracker, one can see she knows and loves children. This isn’t an essential quality for Sugarplum, but it does add a deeper level to the role. Ringer’s latest absence was caused not by injury but by her second pregnancy; she has spoken with joy of the pleasures of motherhood (and even of pregnancy). Since she’s in her late thirties, there was reason to worry she might not come back, which would have been a terrible shame. Her casting in Nutcracker is a good sign that she will return for the winter season, which begins on January 15 and features a festival of Tchaikovsky ballets. With her sense of scale, wonderful phrasing, and innate glamor, Ringer is a natural for Tchaikovsky. Something to look forward to.

Here she is in a moment from Melissa Barak’s Call Me Ben (not a good ballet, I’m afraid, but a wonderful shot that captures a lot.) The photographer is Paul Kolnik.

Jenifer Ringer and Robert Fairchild in Call Me Ben.
Jenifer Ringer and Robert Fairchild in Call Me Ben.

Curious to know what ballets others love to see Ringer in? Drop me a line.

Jeune Fille en Fleur: The Blossoming of Lauren Lovette

Lauren Lovette became a member of the corps de ballet at New York City Ballet only two years ago, but her star has been steadily rising ever since. With her sparkling eyes, delicate sensuality, and the quiet sense of joy that suffuses  her dancing, it’s hard to miss her, even when she’s at the rear of the stage, which happens less and less frequently. On Monday, she received the Clive Barnes (dance) Award, a prize that singles out young performers who reveal extraordinary promise.  (Rob McClure won the award for best young actor.) The timing seems just right; Lovette will début in the role of Sugarplum on Dec. 23, an event not to be missed (she’ll dance it again at the matinée of the 28th). She’s only twenty, and I’ll wager we’ll be seeing more and more of her. Over the past few seasons, she has illuminated the stage in various roles, from the introspective solo in Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia to the sensual, playful pas de deux in Balanchine’s Rubies, and even a throwaway part in Susan Stroman’s For the Love of Duke. Here are a few photos of her, all by Paul Kolnik.

With Anthony Huxley in Rubies. (All photos by Paul Kolnik.)
With Anthony Huxley in Rubies. (All photos by Paul Kolnik.)
In the quiet solo in Wheeldon's Polyphonia, where she drew us into her world.
In the mesmerizing solo in Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, where she drew us into her world.

At the time of her début in Polyphonia, I wrote: “A few days ago, when Sara Mearns performed the role, she seemed to expand, radiating energy outward; Lovette, instead, pulled us into her private world. She repeated a phrase, rising quietly on pointe and raising her leg, and then began to add gestures, a scooping up of the hands, a turn with the arms held aloft and then lowered into a kind of prayerful gesture. She accelerated slightly, she slowed down. Her fingers sparkled with life. She drew attention to every detail of the choreography and made us see it anew. In other words, she not only danced it beautifully, but made it her own.”

With Chase Finlay, again in Polyphonia.
With Chase Finlay, again in Polyphonia.
Here she is in Stroman's For the Love of Duke.
Here she is in Stroman’s For the Love of Duke.
And here, in Balanchine's Serenade, when she was still at the School of American Ballet.
And here, in Balanchine’s Serenade, when she was still at the School of American Ballet.

There’s a video of her in Peter Martins’ Mes Oiseaux here. She’s the one with the bangs.

At the awards ceremony on Monday Lovette, who seemed slightly overwhelmed by her nervous excitement, spoke touchingly of her colleagues, the art of dance, and her sense of wonder at her own good fortune. The event was organized by Barnes’ widow, Valerie Taylor-Barnes, whom I recently interviewed for DanceTabs. She first met the critic when she was a dancer with the Royal Ballet. Fifty (!) years—and various wives—later, they married. Ms. Barnes has quite an eye; recent award-winners include Isabella Boylston (of ABT) and Chase Finlay (of NYCB).

For  updates, feel free to check out @MarinaHarss on Twitter. And I’m eager for your comments!

Three Images from NYCB’s Nutcracker, Nov. 23

Lleyton Ho (Nutcracker prince), Robert La Fosse (Herr Drosselmeier), and Claire Abraham (Marie) in Balanchine’s “Nutcracker,” at New York City Ballet. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Tiler Peck as Dewdrop in the Waltz of the Flowers. (photo by Paul Kolnik.)
Rebecca Krohn as Arabian Coffee. (Photo by Paul Kolnik.)