Sara Mearns Comes to Jacob's Pillow

By: Jul. 29, 2019

In the Jacob's Pillow-exclusive production Sara Mearns: Beyond Ballet, New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns performs in multiple cross-genre collaborations in the Doris Duke Theatre, August 14-18. Acclaimed as a "a dancer who leaves everything she owns on the stage while realizing movement fully, all the way to her fingertips" (The New York Times) and the recipient of a Bessie Award for sustained achievement, Mearns has expanded notions about what it means to be a versatile dancer today. Mearns performs No. 1 with Honji Wang of the French hip-hop duo Wang Ramirez; the world premiere of Opulence with Jodi Melnick choreographed by Melnick; a new solo by Christopher Williams from the developing ballet Daphnis & Chloé; Liz Gerring's Duet alongside Ashley Bouder; and Ekstasis by Martha Graham.

"Sara Mearns is arguably one of the most extraordinary dancers of our time in great measure because of her deep curiosity and interest in exploring new movement worlds that challenge her. We are thrilled to have been an artistic home for her investigations and are delighted to produce a performance that unites innovative dancers and choreographers who value artistic exchange," says Jacob's Pillow Director Pamela Tatge.

Created in 2017, No. 1 is a Pillow-commissioned work that brings together French hip-hop duo Wang Ramirez (Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez), recipients of two Bessie Award recognitions (2013 award for Outstanding Performers and 2017 nomination for Outstanding Production) and Sara Mearns. Developed at Jacob's Pillow as part of the Creative Development Residency program under the artistic direction of Wang Ramirez, No. 1 is a dialogue between Mearns and Wang, who communicate through their seemingly disparate movement vocabularies. As Mearns hovers in pointe shoes and Wang slides in sneakers, the two interact playfully by imitating and initiating the other's movement. Dance critic Deborah Jowitt says "...[Mearns and Wang] display their different senses of the same steps, sometimes in synchrony, sometimes patterning them as a question-and-answer session" (DanceBeat). No. 1 received additional development and co-commissioning support from Fall for Dance Festival (New York City Center) and Fall for Dance North Festival (Toronto).

In the world premiere of Opulence, a new duet choreographed by and performed with postmodern dancer Jodi Melnick, Mearns explores idioms through a postmodern movement lexicon. A recipient in the first group of Doris Duke Impact Awards and two-time Bessie Award winner for Sustained Achievement in Dance (2001 and 2008), Melnick had a close collaborative relationship with the late Trisha Brown. Designing intricate movement to explore the dynamic relations between human beings, "Melnick smudges the line between being and doing with it often appearing like the movement happens to the mover" (Erin Bomboy, Dance Enthusiast). Mearns and Melnick met during Danspace Platform 2015, curated by Judy Hussie-Taylor and Claudia La Rocco. Their creative relationship continued in 2016 when Mearns was craving to work with a female choreographer. She approached Melnick, who creates highly celebrated works with a refined vocabulary of nuanced, silky, everyday movement that Mearns wanted to experience. The duo went on to have a residency at Jacob's Pillow and then at the Guggenheim's Works & Process series.

In a new solo by Christopher Williams from his developing ballet Daphnis & Chloé, Mearns plays Chloé, a shepherdess made to dance for her pirate captors. Hailed as "one of the most exciting choreographic voices out there" (The New York Times), Williams' work commingles elements of mythology, folklore, and literature with contemporary movement, puppetry, and intricate costumes. Set to Maurice Ravel's 1912 composition for the Ballets Russes, Williams' developing designer-driven project reimagines the original ballet through a contemporary queer lens with costumes by Reid & Harriet Designs. Costumers Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung (of Reid & Harriet Designs) curated an evening of dance based in costumes at the Guggenheim Museum Works & Process, where excerpts from Daphnis & Chloé premiered in May 2019.

Duet is a pas de deux for Mearns and fellow New York City Ballet principal Ashley Bouder, choreographed by modern choreographer and Jacob's Pillow Dance Award-Winner Liz Gerring with music by Michael J. Schumacher. The duet originally premiered to music by Anna Webber in a triple bill of female artists at Symphony Space in 2017. Duet was deemed by Alastair Macaulay of The New York Times to be "the evening's most remarkable and most experimental piece."

Mearns also performs a reimagining of Martha Graham's monumental solo Ekstasis. Believed to be Graham's 37th choreographic creation dating back to 1933, Graham stated that the genesis of Ekstatis emerged from a pelvic thrust gesture that she discovered one day, which is now a foundational movement characteristic of her technique. Mearns performed the pivotal solo in April 2019 at The Joyce Theater with the Martha Graham Dance Company as part of their annual gala and The EVE Project, the Company's season theme celebrating female empowerment and the upcoming 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

Sara Mearns, originally from Columbia, South Carolina, has been dancing since the age of three. Mearns entered the School of American Ballet in the Fall of 2001 and became an apprentice with New York City Ballet in the Fall of 2003. She joined the corps de ballet in June 2004, was promoted to soloist in 2006, and to principal dancer in 2008. Mearns is known for her roles as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake and for Balanchine ballets including Jewels (Diamonds) and Symphony in C, among countless others. She has originated roles in ballets by choreographers including Justin Peck, Kyle Abraham, Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon, to name a few, and has appeared as a guest artist with the Paul Taylor Dance Company with Dances of Isadora (Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation), The Martha Graham Company (2019 Gala in Etkasis), The Ashley Bouder Project (Duet by Liz Gerring) and Company Wang Ramirez (No. 1). Mearns appeared in New Bodies, a collaboration with Jodi Melnick, which performed at the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina and at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. At New York City Center, she has appeared in the Fall for Dance Festival (2013, 2014, 2017, 2018), where she most recently performed the piece Dances of Isadora Duncan - A Solo Tribute, and the 2018 Balanchine Festival. Mearns was a guest artist alternating the role of Victoria Page in the U.S. premiere of Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes. She recently collaborated with Pam Tanowitz Dance in Time forever dividing itself toward innumerable futures, a world premiere performed outside at the 2019 River to River Festival in New York. She is a Benois de la Danse and Princess Grace Award nominee and winner of the 2018 Bessie Award for Outstanding Performer. Mearns made her musical theatre debut as the Angel in New York City Center Encores! I Married an Angel in March 2019, directed and choreographed by Josh Bergasse. In April 2019, Mearns was a performer in the Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event in New York City, celebrating what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. This coming fall Mearns will premiere in a new commissioned piece by Kim Brandstrup at the Fall for Dance Festival at New York City Center.


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