NYCB's Sara Mearns Looks for Cross-Genre Collaborations

Performing with Honji Wang at Jacob's Pillow; photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy of Jacob's Pillow

Celebrated New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns has recently been exploring collaborative possibilities with dance artists outside ballet. Just this year she was guest artist with Lori Belilove & The Isadora Duncan Company, and performed on Broadway in her husband Joshua Bergasse's choreography for I Married an Angel. This summer she appeared in a highly anticipated series of cross-genre collaborations at Jacob's Pillow, titled Beyond Ballet, with Honji Wang of the French hip-hop duo Company Wang Ramirez, postmodern dance artist Jodi Melnick, choreographer Christopher Williams and more. Here she speaks with DT about the effects of her explorations.

On the development of her latest project at Jacob's Pillow "I worked with the Pillow for the first time [four] years ago with Jodi Melnick, and ever since then we have had a very close relationship. They keep me up to date on any residencies I might be interested in. So, it was sort of natural that this would come up. Pam [Tatge, director of Jacob's Pillow] and I brainstormed what we would like to do, and exploring different genres is what it became. I did a new piece with Jodi, which made sense because this is where it all started. I always think of her first whenever I want to do something outside of City Ballet."

On expanding her range "I know my limits at NYCB, but I don't know my limits outside of it, and this inspired me to consider that. One of my friends was joking that I am officially going to become a modern dancer, and I think that's pretty epic. I had never worked with a modern choreographer before working with Jodi, because I was so focused on perfecting my career and my technique. I didn't have the headspace until I got to a certain point in my career. It had to be at the right time."

How it fuels her work with City Ballet "A lot of the people I collaborated with had never worked with a ballet dancer before. They didn't know what I was capable of doing. We were all scared to be working with someone from a different technique, but working with them has made me a stronger dancer and a more complete artist onstage. I've learned to think about all the angles in my space—it's not just the front that you perform to in other genres. I feel more well-rounded. I'm not two-dimensional."

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