I had grown up watching Kyra Nichols and Wendy Whelan dancing "Diamonds," and it was my absolute dream to dance it, too. I immediately connected to "Diamonds." It's big, dramatic movement, nothing small, and I don't think there's anything small about my dancing. I have to reach deep down in my soul to do this ballet, to rise to the level of the choreography, the costumes..."Diamonds" is just on another level from anything else I've done. It takes everything out of you, if you're willing to put that much into it.
When I first started dancing this ballet, I was so over-the-top and full-out. Now I've learned that I can find moments to calm down and just be me, and that's enough. I don't have to comment on top of the choreography. I can just let the audience take it in. I've danced it with five different partners now and always find something new to do, because it's a long, epic journey with each one. There's no story, but there are definitely moments of tension. There are elements in the pas de deux called "Swan Lake," and others we call "cavalier and queen," so it's not just dancing to pretty music. There's got to be something going on in your brain.
One of the hardest parts is the polonaise at the end. No matter how much I rehearse or perform it, I get to that last section and think, "I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I can get on relevé for that last pirouette!" One time it did happen—I didn't get up onto relevé. But it happens to everybody.
I always get emotional at the end. Everyone is onstage together, dancing to this glorious music. It's the culmination of everything Jewels is about. It was Balanchine's genius to use the music to celebrate dancers and make them look their best, and that's what I feel "Diamonds" does for me.
Mearns with Tyler Angle. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.