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.

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Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

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