New York City Ballet is performing Swan Lake, choreographed by Peter Martins after Petipa/Ivanov/Balanchine to Tchaikovsky’s score, a few more times through the end of its winter season, which ends on February 27. The women dancing Odette/Odile vary fairly widely, from allegro dynamo (Ashley Bouder) to willowy and lyrical (Teresa Reichlen). But I can’t imagine anyone fitting into—no, seizing—the role better at the moment than Sara Mearns, whose style expands easily, incomparably, into the more elusive “black swan” range. (My only reference, I promise.)
Mearns is on the taller side, with long limbs and a heart-shaped face. But her expression doesn’t emanate just from her facial expression. It’s in every cell—her carriage, the openness of her torso, her flexible spine, her épaulement. She’s a skilled technician with great dramatic range, extreme flexibility, and a go-for-broke daring. And she has the rare ability to truly transcend self-consciousness onstage while inhabiting a role, a trait managed by very few of even the finest dancers.
Jared Angle was paired with her as Siegfried. I doubt there’s any better partner at the company now, other than perhaps his elegant brother Tyler, who will partner Reichlen in another cast. Jared, with his strong, muscular legs and trunk, trends toward noble and unaffected, a solid foil and foundation for all the drama Mearns brings.
Ballet is so much about tradition, and I confess that I’m accustomed to ABT‘s Swan Lake, choreographed by Kevin McKenzie (after Petipa/Ivanov), even though it’s certainly not without flaws. This two-act NYCB version, with designs by Per Kirkeby, varies enough to sustain interest, most notably including a kangaroo-like jester (Daniel Ulbricht), who adds gymnastics and forced comic levity, and variants on the Act III international dances, which feel overly long and monodynamic. (I particularly missed Von Rothbart’s slinky purple boot solo and the Neapolitan twins in their striped tights.) Not to mention the (with apologies) swan dives off the cliff.
And while Martins leavens certain passages—the ungainly “chugs” now mercifully promenade—others seem to ignore the natural impulses in the music. But it’s a decent vehicle to show off the company’s fine new generation of dancers in dramatic roles. Now if we could only have a “subway Swan Lake” with Sara Mearns and David Hallberg… one can dream, right?