Sara Mearns on Preparing For Her New Role in Matthew Bourne's "The Red Shoes"
Matthew Bourne's dramatic ballet The Red Shoes, which earned rave reviews in England last year, is heading stateside this month. Based on the Academy Award–winning 1948 movie of the same name, the show follows the passionate aspiring ballerina Victoria Page as she tries to dance her way to the top, but ultimately must choose between her love of dance and the love of her life. Joining Bourne's company, New Adventures, as guest artists are New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns, who will perform the role of Victoria for select performances at New York City Center; and American Ballet Theatre principal Marcelo Gomes, who will tour with the company, dancing the role of Julian Craster in select cities. DS chatted with Mearns to see what the rehearsal process has been like, and how it's been different from preparing for a typical NYCB season.
What do you identify with most in Victoria?
Sara Mearns: She's dying to succeed. Everybody has this push inside of them where you want to make it to the top, you want to be in the front. I'm still always pushing my boundaries and going out of my comfort zone.
What kind of character research did you do?
It was a lot of watching old movies and studying that generation of actresses. I watched the film a lot. Moira Shearer, who played Victoria, paid so much attention to detail in her acting. I wanted to stay true to the character she portrayed in the movie, but also have my take on it.
What's been the most challenging part of the process?
In this show I'm in character shoes, I'm barefoot, I'm in flat shoes, and I'm in pointe shoes. I perform many forms of dance, which I don't get to do a lot, and that's fun for me. It was a lot of work, though. I'm pretty stable in a pointe shoe, but sometimes when I put a character shoe on I can't even walk.
What's it been like working with New Adventures?
I got to work with the whole company onstage in Liverpool, and I was so intimidated by the dancers. But they couldn't have been nicer. They acted like I was already part of the family, which let me relax and really focus on what I needed to do.
What are you most excited about?
I'm very excited to perform at City Center again. It's kind of like my second home in NYC. I'm also excited for everyone to see another side of myself. And to just be in that character. Every time I watch the show, I'm in tears at the end. I just can't wait to be in that moment onstage with everybody.
A version of this story appeared in the October 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "A Film Classic, Reimagined."
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.