Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Sara Mearns and Robbie Fairchild Talk About Fall For Dance, Working With Wheeldon, and Work Beyond Company Life
Sara Mearns and Robbie Fairchild began their careers as young and immensely talented New York City Ballet darlings. It is obvious, though, when you see these artists perform that their talents are so rich they can not be contained to one stage, one style, or even one medium. Sara and Robbie are taking part in this years Fall For Dance Festival present by New York City Center. We had the chance to chat with these two Fall For Dance veterans on what the festival means to them, working with Christopher Wheeldon, and their robust performing careers.
Fall For Dance is really a unique performance event. It takes place on the stage of the iconic New York City Center, brings together extraordinarily talented dancers from across the globe, and is centered around being both affordable and accessible. What does it mean to you to be a part of Fall For Dance?
Sara Mearns: I have been so lucky to be part of Fall for Dance for many years now. It gives me the opportunity to explore and challenge myself, but also to discover new ways of approaching dance and performing. It’s given me the incredible opportunity to work with my favorite choreographers and favorite dancers.
Robbie Fairchild: New York City Center is my favorite theater to perform in in NYC, you can feel the history on that stage when you’re on it. Fall For Dance is such a moment for the dance community every year and it’s an honor to be a part of it and on the program with such amazing dancers.
The Two Of Us, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, was originally commissioned for Fall For Dance’s 2020 digital season. It was created during the lock-down for film and Robbie is new to this role. Has the work evolved in the process of preparing for its live debut? How so?
SM: To be honest, the work is the same as it was. When Chris choreographed it in 2020, we didn’t create it as a film, we staged it as if there was an audience there and we were dancing a live show. That aspect was really important to us as artists, so the transition to dancing it live now is not that hard! But it has been two years since I’ve performed the full piece, so we’ll see!
RF: I remember watching this piece during the lockdown and crying at how beautiful it was. I texted Sara immediately after and said all sorts of wonderful expletives but then quickly added “I gotta do this with you somewhere.” Dreams. Now here we are.
Hanji Wang and Sara Mearns. Photo by Sarah Bergner.
You both have a long standing working relationship with Christopher. You have worked on projects from ballet to broadway and film together. What is your favorite part about working with him?
SM: Working with Chris is not only fun and challenging, but also like a master class in classical technique. He is so prolific in the classical ballet style, it is the root of his work. So it gives me something to work on in every show I do of his; I can’t let my guard down, I keep working, and I love that feeling. But also he is so fun and hilarious to work with. There is a huge amount of respect in the room from both of us and it frees us up to be ourselves.
RF: Not only is he one the most creative humans on the planet, he has a level of perfectionism that not many people do. He demands the best of you and it is so rich and rewarding to have his input and his ideas flowing through your body. You feel like you’re being molded and sculpted by a genius.
Many ballet dancers remain in the comfort of company life for their entire careers. However, the two of you have launched your career into many ventures including festivals, broadway, film, full-evening programs, and even flowers. What has it been like being self-governing artists?
SM: Well, I still live under the umbrella of the New York City Ballet. That is my core. Everything else is on top and has to fit around that schedule and part of my life. I have been very lucky to be able to explore and branch out on my off time and be able to fit it all in. Whatever I do outside of NYCB, I bring back with me and allow it to inform my performances at home. I am so grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way, but I do take credit for putting myself out there and making myself available. It’s about being curious.
RF: It’s amazing to have agency over your life and your career. Some of the jobs I’ve taken after leaving company life have been the most rewarding and most special projects I have done in my career. It’s scary, there’s less safety, but the reward is very, very high.
Fall For Dance consists of 5 diverse programs featuring 3 different companies or groups of performers each night. What is it like sharing the stage with such a diverse group of creative talent?
SM: I find it truly fascinating every year, to be able to watch from the wings, these world class artists, do their thing and giving their all to the New York crowd. New York is my home, this is my crowd, we’ve had a long relationship, but to most others on the programs, this is a huge deal to be here in this historic house, and it makes me emotional to be able to experience their performances.
RF: It’s called the dance community. We’re all just threads that weave a larger tapestry. It’s an honor to be onstage next to people who do the same thing, have the same heart and desire for dance as you do, and that live on the other side of the world. It’s very special.
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