Sara Mearns and Jodi Melnick: An Unconventional Collaboration

Sara Mearns with Raushan Mitchell and Jodi Melnick at Dancespace Project. Photo Courtesy Melncik.

The best artists never stop exploring. Lately, world-class ballet dancers have been pushing their limits with new styles and collaborators from outside the classical ballet world. There was Wendy Whelan's Restless Creature project. There's Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin, who are performing a program of contemporary work at New York City Center this week. And there are the many ballet dancers dazzling audiences on Broadway stages, in shows like On the Town, An American in Paris and CATS.

The latest ballerina to embark on an out-of-the-box collaboration is New York City Ballet's Sara Mearns. Last fall, she approached choreographer and dancer Jodi Melnick, a legend of New York's downtown dance scene, about working together. The two had originally met at Dancespace Project's “Platform 2015: Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets," a project that brought NYCB dancers and downtown contemporary dancers together.


Jodi Melnick. Photo by Ian Doulgas, Courtesy Melnick.

Mearns told The New York Times that her initial impulse to reach out to Melnick came from a desire to work with a female choreographer. (The lack of women creating work at NYCB is something the company has been criticized for, though this fall season's lineup was encouraging). Melnick was hesitant at first, and when she did agree, she wasn't planning to make a ballet, preferring to keep the focus on process. But creating a ballet is exactly what she ended up doing, in a residency at New York's Guggenheim Museum.

Sara Mearns in NYCB's "Swan Lake." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

Working in Process/ New Bodies, the work Melnick choreographed for Mearns and fellow NYCB dancers Jared Angle and Gretchen Smith, will be presented at the Guggenheim this Sunday and Monday as part of their Works & Process series. The work combines dance, spoken text and moderated discussion with writer Claudia La Rocco, and is set to live music.

It will be exciting to see how these two artists have influenced one another—and here's hoping that more dancers and choreographers are inspired to think beyond what they know, ask each other questions and always stay curious.

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