Tuesday, January 22, 2013

When a ballerina falls

I'm coming down off a dance high this week, after seeing Martha Graham Dance Company Thursday and going to New York to see back-to-back performances by New York City Ballet of all-Tchaikovsky programs Saturday and Sunday. (I actually went to see just one, but it was so amazing my wife and I blew off our Sunday plans to attend the matinee.)

All six pieces were set by George Balanchine, who would have turned 109 today. (He's a subject for another blog entry sometime: NYCB promotes him as the greatest ballet choreographer of the 20th century, and my limited historical understanding of dance supports that.)

His pieces feature dazzlingly fast footwork -- even for the corps, which never gets a rest -- with which he updated classical ballet, giving it a lightness for the modern era. (He set his first works during the Jazz Age,  when cars and airplanes transformed the pace of life.) And in the middle of "Swan Lake," which he condensed to one intensely emotional act, the Swan Queen landed on her butt.

Sara Mearns had been giving (and went on giving) a terrific performance: She's a strong dancer, larger than many principals, and her womanly Odette had extra warmth. When Mearns hit the stage, the somnolent matinee audience gave a collective grunt and sat up at once. So did she. When she finished her solo, the applause was louder than at any other time during the piece. (New York crowds seem oddly unresponsive in general, also a topic for another post.)

That night, Mearns tweeted, "Had such an amazing day, swan lake felt like a dream, even tho I fell, it was the best fall ever! I felt like myself again on stage." (These are her first leading roles after a back injury.) She was gratified to dance without pain, even after tumbling. 

But I was most impressed by her ability to return immediately to the high level of her performance. She was like a baseball pitcher who was throwing a no-hitter, gave up a 500-foot home run, then went right back to striking batters out. So few of us can immediately snap back to full concentration and top achievement after a public setback, but the great ones do.