A dancer with New York City Ballet since 2004, Sara Mearns continues to astonish audiences in classic ballets by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins and inspire contemporary choreographers who work with the company. We caught up with the principal dancer after class to talk about her busy fall season, the challenges and rewards of being a dancer, and why her sights aren't set on Broadway (yet).
Lincoln Center: How was your summer?
Sara Mearns: I traveled around the country a lot. I was in Nantucket for its dance festival, then San Diego visiting my boyfriend [Broadway choreographer Joshua Bergasse], who’s working on a musical there. I went to Vail and performed there for a week but got very, very sick with altitude sickness.
LC: I saw your hospital bed photo on Instagram! That must have been challenging. So what are you dancing this fall?
SM: I’m starting with Swan Lake. We have five new ballets premiering this fall, and I’m in two: the new Robert Binet and the new Kim Brandstrup. Slaughter on Tenth Avenue and Concerto Barocco, too. I’m also rehearsing to debut in Liebeslieder Walzer—I was supposed to earlier but was injured.
LC: You’ve said that the experience of dancing Swan Lake is always changing for you. How is it changing this time around?
SM: I was just thinking, I’ve been doing Swan Lake for 10 years now… I was only 19 the first time.
LC: Wow! That’s so young.
SM: Exactly! Having done it six times now, I’ve matured. I've gone through a lot in my life and career, which plays into how you approach a role like that. It’s not all about the technical side anymore. And every time I dance Swan Lake, I feel something different during the ending—it’s not something I can put into words. Dancing Swan Lake this season is also going to be different because my coach, Albert Evans, is no longer with us. He was a huge part of how I prepared for that role. But I’ll find my way, and I’ll channel everything he gave me into it.
LC: You’ll also reprise the role you originated in Justin Peck’s 'Rōdē,ō, which was a smash hit when it premiered in the spring. What’s it like to dance Peck’s work compared to, say, something by George Balanchine or Jerome Robbins?
SM: His musicality is completely different. He has his own, very unique musicality—where the accents are in the steps with the music. And the way you approach each step is different. His dancers are very athletic, and they're always moving.
LC: The word “momentum” always comes to mind when I watch Peck’s ballets. What’s the biggest challenge a dancer faces?
SM: Taking care of your body—really listening to it. You can lose sight of that. Your body is your tool—it’s everything to you. Throughout your whole career, that’s your hardest challenge: getting through injuries, making sure you’re healthy. You have to keep a checklist of the things that are going on with your body.
LC: And what’s most rewarding about being a dancer?
SM: The greatest reward for any artist is to show off your hard work. The moment you step on stage, you want to show what we’ve been working on for months. And it's rewarding to show another side of yourself, which you aren’t able to be in everyday life.
LC: Do you have a favorite ballet to dance?
SM: It’s always changing, because we have so much repertory at New York City Ballet. There are favorites in every season.
LC: I imagine Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht Ballet is among your favorites. You always look like you’re having so much fun when you dance it.
SM: It is—definitely in my top five. It never stops being challenging, and I love challenges.
LC: What’s it like to date a Broadway choreographer? Do you weigh in on each other’s work?
SM: We sometimes do. He’ll ask me what I think when I watch rehearsals. He’s called me the “choreographer’s consultant,” which I love. If he comes to see me in rehearsal, I always ask his opinion. He’s honest. I need honesty.
SM: It’s been amazing to watch my colleagues on Broadway, but that’s not in my plan right now. I’m excited about everything happening at City Ballet. I have so much going on in my ballet career, and so many things I’m excited for in the years to come.
New York City Ballet’s fall season runs from September 22 to October 18 at the David H. Koch Theater.