New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
New York, New York
June 8, 2011
Copyright 2011 by Michael Popkin
Sara Mearns, partnered by Jonathan Stafford in "Diamonds" helped elevate the final week of New York City Ballet's spring season out of the commonplace. Seeming to use the sense of anticipation in the full house as a springboard, she and Stafford danced a mesmerizing pas de deux, approaching each other with a sense of ritual solemnity as Mearns in particular remained distant and neutral, seeming to focus within herself rather than on her partner while extending into arabesques that stretched her lines to their utmost physical limits. A brilliant scherzo followed, with both dancers exchanging powerful solos before the final polonaise where she at last focused radiantly upon Stafford, their initial courtship seeming to have led to a ceremonial procession of state recalling an imperial marriage or coronation.
Emotional expression and a complete lack of calculation are the hallmarks of Mearns' performances right now. A tall, powerful, extremely coordinated woman with a body hard as steel, her unconventionally high shoulders have become an advantage because of the way they seem to lengthen her arms. As the music swelled during the final processional and the entire company except for the principals went to their knees, she carried her long, curved and poetic lines through her body, from her legs up through her back and into the arms in majestic sweeping positions that never seemed to stop in moments of stillness, as if the poses had a life of their own and the elements of her physique were sentient and alive. Because it was expressiveness of the body, though, it never read as the result of a priori emotions she had thought out; rather it seemed the result of spontaneous experience. Great singers and actors use their voices to impart emotional meaning to words; Mearns uses her body to express choreography in a similar way. Jonathan Stafford is a strong partner who handles tall women well (one remembers him partnering Sofiane Sylve in "Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2") and danced his own variations here with a bravura and strength I don't remember seeing from him before.
Earlier in the evening, Rachel Rutherford danced the Violette Verdy role in "Emeralds" with the lyricism she has always brought to it, and the performance was particularly moving because it was one of her last. After sixteen years, she is retiring from the company and danced her last ""Emeralds" over the weekend. Apart from Rutherford, however, the rest of "Jewels" was uneven. Her partner was Sebastien Marcovici; and Jenifer Ringer and Ask la Cour danced the walking solo; but nothing in their ensemble performances seemed to matter. There was no sense of artistic urgency; it was exactly the opposite of what Mearns and Stafford brought to the table.
The trouble with "Rubies," danced by Sterling Hyltin and Gonzalo Garcia, with Teresa Reichlen as the taller solo ballerina, was more complicated. Hyltin and Garcia did all the steps (she seemed to try almost too hard) but their interpretation had no definition or overarching shape. The pas de deux at the heart of "Rubies" depends upon a unique blend of jazzy dance style, slight but bold distortions of the standard physical shapes of classical dance, and the personality of the dancers (proud, flirtatious, sophisticated, and playful). Hyltin and Garcia are not there yet: she in particular seemed weak in the middle, to be all limbs with little holding them together in the center. Reichlen was commanding as always in her role, but it's a secondary one that can't carry "Rubies" on its own.
Photo of Sara Mearns in "Diamonds" by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of New York City Ballet.