Sara Mearns on her Guest Appearance in Jewels

by Caroline Dickie
April 26, 2024

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Sara Mearns in Diamonds. Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy of New York City Ballet.

This June, New York City Ballet (NYCB) star Sara Mearns returns to Toronto for her second guest appearance with The National Ballet of Canada following her debut in Alexei Ratmansky’s Romeo and Juliet last season. This time, Sara will showcase her expertise with the work of George Balanchine as she performs all three leads in Jewels on consecutive performances – Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds. We caught up with her to discuss all things Balanchine and bling!

How did this opportunity with The National Ballet of Canada come about?

Hope and I were brainstorming ways I could come back and guest with the company after the amazing experience I had with Romeo and Juliet, and it was actually her idea that I perform all three roles. That was exciting to me because it’s Balanchine and I’m from New York City Ballet, the house of Balanchine. She asked if I would be up for it, and I said of course!

What was your first experience of Jewels and which roles have you performed

I’ve been dancing Jewels since my first year with NYCB in 2003, starting with corps de ballet roles in Emeralds and Diamonds. Then, in 2007, I was cast in the principal role in Emeralds followed by the lead role in Diamonds in 2008. So, for a long time I was doing both principal roles. Then around 2014, I stopped doing Emeralds and have just done Diamonds ever since.

Diamonds is truly one of my all-time favourite ballets to dance. I think everything about it is just perfect. It definitely plays to my dramatic side, but I also feel I can be myself in it, whatever that may be on a given night. I also had the good fortune to work with Suzanne Farrell on it in 2019 when she returned to NYCB for the first time since her retirement. Balanchine created the role for her, so that was very special as well. 

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Sara Mearns in Emeralds. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of New York City Ballet.

Which means that Rubies will be a debut for you?

Yes, and while Diamonds is my favourite, I CANNOT wait to debut in Rubies! I learned the role in 2012, but I got injured and wasn’t able to perform it. I thought it was not in the cards for me anymore, so this is truly a dream come true. I think Rubies is the fiercest ballet and again a work of genius, so whatever happens out there I’m just so honoured to be doing it. 

Balanchine created Jewels to showcase top dancers at NYCB. How does your deep experience with NYCB impact your approach to Jewels?

Because my training is purely Balanchine, coming from School of American Ballet and then being in NYCB for over 20 years, ballets like Jewels just make perfect sense to me. I don’t have to really think about it at all. Of course, the steps are hard and will never get easier, but the approach just seems so natural. It’s like walking and breathing to me. The musicality is all right there, and the costumes and lighting are just perfect. I may not perform Diamonds the way I did in 2008 when I was much younger, but that’s the beauty of Balanchine’s ballets – you can literally grow in them as your artistry develops and changes.

Why do you think so many dancers love Balanchine’s work?

I think it comes down to the training and how you hear the music. Balanchine’s works have a very specific musicality that you will not find in any other ballets or choreographer. The speed, the drama, the way that you don’t have to be on balance all the time, the way you can play with the steps in real time – there is room for interpretation and every show can be different. All those things can be very daunting for a dancer who is used to doing things perfectly and “by the book.” Sometimes so much freedom can be scary, but that’s where I thrive. I just live in that place on stage. 

How do you feel about returning to The National Ballet of Canada following your appearance in Romeo and Juliet last season?

I remember the first day I was taking class at the National Ballet last June; it was like all the inflammation in my body had faded. I felt like I could breathe and be calm there. It was just incredible. I did some of my best dancing ever in my career last summer in Romeo and Juliet, and I truly believe it’s because of the environment, the dancers, the city, all of it. Needless to say, I am so excited and thrilled to be coming back again. I just can’t wait!

Don’t miss George Balanchine's Jewels on stage June 15 – 22, 2024! Learn more


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