Reverence: Wild Abandon

NYCB principal Sara Mearns reveals the secret of fearless dancing.
Published in the August/September 2011 issue.

Photo by Paul Kolnik

How did you become a fan of tennis star Rafael Nadal?
I started following tennis when I was in SAB—it’s a very elegant sport. I like that Nadal doesn’t take anything easy. You see the effort in his strokes. I watch him like I’m working with him.

Do you think Nadal is reflective of your own style?
Definitely. I don’t hold anything back onstage or worry about what I’m going to feel like afterwards. I don’t see the point in “saving yourself.” What are you “saving yourself” for?

What’s your secret for going so all-out?
When I step onstage, something just happens, a spark. I want the audience to feel so involved in what I’m doing that they’re not able to think about anything else. They deserve to see something that’s not going to make them fall asleep.

What do you do on your days off?
I try to do something that involves another art. Recently I’ve been getting portraits done by painters. Alex Katz and Francesco Clemente, two pretty famous artists, are using me as their—I don’t want to say muse—but their instrument to paint.

You’ve mentioned Natalia Makarova as one of your idols. What is it about her that inspires you?
She really knows the story she’s trying to tell, the emotions she’s trying to convey. In the black swan pas, you can’t stop looking at what she’s doing with her upper body. She pulls you in, just with her presence. It’s genius.

You’ve worked with some amazing choreographers. Do any of those experiences stand out?
Ratmansky was incredible! He has this clear view of the ballet and the steps he wants before he walks in the studio; he’s studied your dancing so much that he already knows what would look good on you.

What is your biggest challenge as a dancer?
Fast movement. Because I’m tall, and have long feet, and I love to luxuriate.

Do you consider yourself a New Yorker?
I do. When I go home to South Carolina, maybe I get a little bit of an accent back. But after just a couple of days, I’m itching to get back to New York. The energy of the city keeps me going.