Sara Mearns in George Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3

Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

Dance Magazine Award Honoree: Sara Mearns

Sara Mearns is a force. There is a monumentality to her dancing that was apparent even as a young corps member of 19, cast in her first Swan Lake with New York City Ballet. She threw herself into the role heart and soul, stretching each shape to the limit, trusting the music to carry her to a deep place (and her partner to save her should she go too far). In the 13 years since, her dancing has gained in power and focus, while never losing that edge of risk.


In that time she has performed a wide swath of the repertory—period pieces, black-and-white ballets, dramatic works like La Valse and La Sonnambula, playful parts like the showgirl in Western Symphony. Her response to Tchaikovsky is particularly intense. Music, she says, is the thing that drives her.

"The music will tell you everything," she has said. "It's hard to describe how I go to that place when I hear that music. There's nothing else."

Who can forget the excitement of seeing her whip through the air as Dewdrop in the "Waltz of the Flowers," or walk slowly, solemnly, head thrown back, alongside her partner in "Diamonds"? In these moments, she seems to give herself over to a force mysterious and profound.

The courage of her performances has attracted many of today's top choreographers, including Justin Peck, Kyle Abraham, William Forsythe and Alexei Ratmansky. The last created a blazing solo for her in his ballet Namouna, A Grand Divertissement, a crescendo of hops and leaps and high-velocity turns that makes the audience gasp.

Mearns with Honji Wang

Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow

Always hungry for new experiences, Mearns has begun to look beyond ballet, seeking out collaborations with choreographers who have encouraged her to dance barefoot, to improvise, to speak onstage and to engage the floor in a whole new way. In recent seasons she has worked with the choreographers Pam Tanowitz and Jodi Melnick, Matthew Bourne and Joshua Bergasse (her husband); she has appeared with the Martha Graham Dance Company, performed a series of solos by Merce Cunningham and collaborated with the hip-hop collective Wang Ramirez.

But perhaps the most memorable transformation to date happened when she danced a suite of Isadora Duncan solos which she had learned from the Duncan specialist Lori Belilove. Dancing barefoot in a flowing tunic to Chopin, she seemed to become the essence of movement itself.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

Latest Posts


Courtesy Esse

What It Was Like When Ruth Bader Ginsburg Was in the Audience—or Backstage

The 27 years that Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent on the U.S. Supreme Court were 27 years that she spent as one of Washington, D.C.'s most ardent, elegant and erudite supporters of the performing arts. The justice, who died on September 18 of metastatic cancer, was also an avid cultural tourist, traveling to the Santa Fe and Glimmerglass operas nearly every summer, as well as occasionally returning to catch shows in her native New York City.

Ginsburg's opera fandom was well known, but her tastes were wide-ranging. Particularly in the last 10 years of her life, after Ginsburg lost her beloved husband, Marty, it was not unusual for the petite justice and her security detail to be spotted at theaters several nights a week. She saw everything, from classic musicals to serious new plays, plus performances that defied classification, like Martha Clarke's dance drama Chéri, with Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo, which toured to the Kennedy Center in 2014.

To honor Ginsburg, Dance Magazine asked three dance artists whose performances the justice attended to recall what Ginsburg meant to them.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS